Crystal is glass that has had lead oxide added to it while it is molten. The lead oxide makes the resulting crystal more brilliant than plain glass -- clearer, more sparkly, and more likely to produce a sonorous ring when struck. These properties are why lead crystal has been the material of choice for high-quality glassware for centuries. Riedel, maker of the wine glasses that I have been using, manufactures their stemware with 24% lead crystal, which is pretty standard for glasses of this caliber. And the glasses are beautiful: the shape is perfect, they're perfectly clear, the rims are thin, and the sound when you strike them is deep, resonant, and clear. Unfortunately, they're also high-maintenance. They must be hand-washed because the lead makes crystal soft and likely to scratch in the dishwasher. It also makes the crystal brittle: I have had glasses come apart in my hands while washing it without me striking them against anything. And at $20 a stem, having a glass come apart in your hands is enough to make you cry.
Because of the high maintenance with Riedel glasses, I was intrigued when I read about the Tritan line of stemware from Schott Zwiesel, a German glass manufacturer. Schott Zwiesel uses a titanium compound instead of lead oxide to make the crystal for these glasses. The result is that the crystal is significantly harder than lead crystal, scratch-resistant enough to wash in the dishwasher and break-resistant enough to ensure that normal use won't cause them to break consistently. At least, that's what the press says about them. I found them on the website of K&L Wine Merchants, a San Francisco wine and liquor retailer, for $9 a stem, and I decided to give them a try. The bad news is that they're not as sensually excellent as Riedel. The walls of the glass aren't as thin, there's more distortion when looking through the glass, and the glass's tone when struck isn't as deep or pretty. But the shape and size of the glass is excellent, and the clarity and thickness is better than any non-Riedel glass that I've seen. And I can indeed wash them in the dishwasher without scratching. I think that they're keepers.