Aurora Borealis: An iconic stone for a visionary designer

Christian Dior explained: “You can never go wrong if you take nature as an example”

Aurora Borealis Swarovski crystal
© Swarovski Corporate Archives

Swarovski is honored to partner Les Arts Décoratifs in staging Christian Dior, Couturier du Rêve, which pays eloquent tribute to Christian Dior’s talent and limitless creativity in founding one of the most innovative and influential fashion houses, now 70 years old.

For over 120 years, Swarovski has been an incubator for fashion creativity and craft. The founding of the house in 1895 also coincides with the birth of haute couture. Company founder Daniel Swarovski, a young visionary and entrepreneur, invented a machine for cutting and polishing crystals to an unprecedented quality. At home in the glass and jewelry-making region of Bohemia, he decided to take his machine and resettle in the Austrian Alps and there launched his family company. His innovative process succeeded in creating a flawless stone with brilliant multiple facets.

Working with the early stars of haute couture in Paris, the company went on to provide creative inspiration and glamor to many top designers of the era and among them, one of the most iconic of all, Christian Dior and his revolutionary New Look.

The 1947 hourglass silhouette was a vision of luxury for the new woman and accessories were crucial to Dior’s vison: a total look for every outfit, down to the last details of jewelry and perfume. Indeed, he believed that beauty and expression exceeded the value of jewelry. He blazed a new trail of more accessible, yet extremely refined fashion jewels, seamlessly fusing fashion and jewelry. It was the abundance of Swarovski crystals, from limpid, drop-shaped crystals set like antique diamonds to lush clusters of vibrantly colored beads that made this possible.

In 1956, Manfred Swarovski, grandson of the founder, began to work personally with Christian Dior, to produce a special crystal tone to embody Dior’s now well-recognized vision. The encounter between these two visionaries, both pursuing innovation and perfection, led to spectacular results: the creation of an extraordinary new crystal effect, which gave the whole world a new shine. A micro-thin layer of vaporized blue metal was used to coat the lower facets of crystal, shooting explosive iridescent, rainbow glints of light through the crystal. The result was dramatic and beautiful, otherworldly, like the Northern Lights, and the stone was named Aurora Borealis, or “AB” as it came to be known.

The new effect enjoyed incredible success, and the stone became a fashion phenomenon. Its appeal lay not only in the theatrical nature of the crystal effect but also in the versatile way in which it complimented colors and textures by picking up individual tones in fabrics. AB added an entirely new element to traditional crystal stones. It first gave Dior the opportunity to scatter crystal on jewels and then use the effect for embroideries, down the sides of dresses and sleeves, or on the trains of evening gowns.

“The necklaces are renewed by several notable innovations: the “Aurora Borealis” stone whose iridescent reflections are at the same time lively and discreet and match all colors.” Extract of Christian Dior’s Autumn Winter 1955 -1956 Collection Press Release.

The sparkle not only brought glamour and style to the garments in the collection; they also added elegance by subtly embellishing the grace of movement. It helped give women an extra dimension of femininity, and at the same time, preserved their modesty. The mania for Aurora Borealis, especially for beads, reached a peak in the late fifties and continued in the sixties.

Advertisement, Christian Dior, dress by Lanel with Swarovski crystals,1964
© Swarovski Corporate Archive

The success story of Swarovski’s celebrated Aurora Borealis stone is today still one of the ultimate illustrations of the company’s symbiotic ties to fashion. Over the course of its 70-year collaboration with Dior, Swarovski has provided millions of crystal stones, and has worked with all of its seven emblematic artistic directors: Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri. Swarovski crystals and AB allowed them to create hundreds of breathtaking crystal looks and accessories. They each adapted their individual style and vision of Dior by selecting and using the cuts, colors, and effects in a whole range of different ways, and in the process, challenged the limits of the world’s finest craftsmanship.

Together they achieved dazzling collections, and they created some of the most exceptional garments and accessories in the past half-century. Swarovski is very proud that many of these sumptuous creations are now included in this beautiful exhibition because they serve to illustrate the unique bond and shared history between two historic, yet innovative and avant-garde houses.