Alabaster FAQ

What is Alabaster?

Alabaster is a form of gypsum. It is a crystalline mineral, hydrated calcium sulfate (CaSo42H2O). Spain is the source for most high quality alabaster today.

Alabaster occurs naturally in a variety of colors, like marble. But, the type used in lighting is white with beige or taupe veins and inclusions. Pieces used for lamp bases and other small parts might be cut from lower quality, less translucent stone.

How do I clean alabaster?

Simply use a damp - not wet - soft cloth and gently wipe the piece clean. Never use detergents or abrasives.

Why is alabaster so expensive?

There are 2 reasons. Limited quantities and high labor.

There is a lot of labor in producing your alabaster lighting. Alabaster is found in veins between 6" and 20" deep surrounded by other minerals.

It deteriorates from exposure to the surface. Weather damages it, so alabaster found near the surface cannot be used. Alabaster is mined from deeper sources. And remember, that when found, the alabaster is only 6" to 20" deep.

Much of the alabaster that is mined cannot be used. Only the translucent stone can be used for lighting. The other is cut away.

How long has alabaster been around?

Alabaster has been around for a very long time. Alabaster was used in Bible times. Ancient Egyptian alabaster carvings and vessels can be seen in many museums. Both the ancient Chinese and Greeks also carved alabaster.

Alabaster has been used for lighting nearly as soon as electricity was.

Early bulbs were clear and glary. The beautiful translucence of alabaster is the perfect way to hide the bulb and other electric parts and soften it's glare.

Alabaster lighting was used in both the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements.

In the early 1980's alabaster was"discovered" by modern lighting designers with unique results. Now alabaster can be seen in many public buildings, as well as homes.

How can I tell the difference between a vein and heat discoloration?

This is easy. Heat evaporates the water from the stone. If the dark area is surrounded by a chalky white ring, it is most likely heat discoloration. Another clue is that it is on the inside and not on the outside, where it was exposed to less heat.

This is a good reason to never use hotter bulbs than your fixture was designed for.

If the dark spot is on the outside or does not have a white chalky ring around it, it is naturally veining.

Why can't a manufacturer who uses alabaster guarantee that fixtures will match?

Alabaster is quarried. It is a natural material. Unlike marble or granite, it is found in thin veins, 6" to 20" deep. Marble and granite can be found in huge deposits. So, they can be cut in matching tiles.

Alabaster is delivered to the factory in huge rocks weighing from 30 lbs. to almost a ton. Much of it must be cut away to reveal the translucent material that can be used for lighting. So, some may be almost completely milky white and others may have beautiful veining.

To get the matching pieces for a single chandelier, the larger rocks are cut into slices. They are then cut apart into the sizes necessary for each alabaster piece. They are worked on a lathe to cut out the individual shapes. Up to 75 percent of the rock must be cut away.

How is Alabaster shaped?

Alabaster can be intricately carved, but larger pieces of alabaster are usually worked more like wood than like conventional stone. It is more art than science, each stonecutter creating a unique piece after seeing the characteristics of each stone.

Once the alabaster is shaped, the piece is sanded. Four different grades of sandpaper are used ranging from very rough to very fine. In the final sanding, steel wool leaves the sensuously smooth surface that is so attractive.

Finally, the piece sprayed with a coat of polyurethane to close the pores and prevent surface deterioration. Sometimes a stain is added to shade the alabaster.

Above: Stained Carved Band, Sconce with out stain
Below: Stained Carved Band, Stained Sconce

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