The Dark Crystal

When I planned a trip to the Swarovski factory in western Austria, I guess I was expecting a “this is how we make our products” type set-up, and maybe the chance to grab a few bargain buys at the end.

Wrong, and wrong!

I’ve got a few Swarovski trinkets. I don’t much go for the dust-collecting glass owly-type whatsits, but my wedding earrings and bracelet are both from them. We did buy a commemorative star for the girls birth years, and I was given a beautiful star as a 21st gift from a dear friend. While not aficionados, we know a bit about their wares, so when I found out the factory was on our way, we thought we’d take a peek.

Kristallwelten in Wattens is a fantasy world beneath the ground, where artists such as Salvador Dali, Keith Haring, Alexander McQueen and Brian Eno have been/were given free reign to express what crystals mean to them. It’s part installation, part modern art, and all a bit bizarre. There are crystal sculptures, illusions and fantastical creations. Some provocative and intelligent; and some a bit uni-student “jeepers, it’s due in tomorrow” rubbish. My favourite room was the Crystal Dome, 595 mirrors set up in a huge kaleidoscopic igloo, made to feel like you’re inside a giant crystal. The room is bathed in different colours, and varying intensities. I didn’t want to leave!

The shop at the end of the tour had every crystal thing you could think of, and was SO expensive. Fancy a 7000euro crystal Hello Kitty? No thanks! While I purchased one of the cheapest items I could find (some green four leaf clover crystal beads at 10 euro), others were piling the registers high. In particular, many Middle Eastern tourists had special cabinets and displays opened up for them, and they pointed to and purchased 100s and even 1000s of euros worth of the stuff!

The strangest sight? A Hindu holy many, resplendent in orange robes and a painted third eye, discussing with the shop assistant the merits of a particular crystal tiara. The mind boggles!

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