In the idyllic Alpine town of Wattens, Austria, Daniel Swarovski founded the crystal company that would eventually become an international household name. In 1995, the Swarovski Kristallwelten (Crystal Worlds) was unveiled near where the Swarovski enterprise started, 120 years ago. Crystal Worlds is a playground for the brand’s most ardent enthusiasts. Every year, roughly 650,000 of them flock to the destination to take in the small but dynamic art offerings, shop through a massive collection of crystal inventory, and gawk at the moss-covered giant by multimedia artist André Heller—The Giant has become an icon for Swarovski.
“Our guests travel to Wattens so they can have a real-life experience of Swarovski at its place of origin,” says Stefan Isser, the managing director of Crystal Worlds, of the facilities’ blend of artistic experience and year-round programming. Crystal Worlds is the second-most visited site in Austria, only falling behind the rococo-chic Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna.
This past April saw Crystal Worlds reveal its third and most expansive renovation yet, adding more sparkle to its sprawling now-7.5-hectare (double the original size) homage to crystals. Chamber of Wonders is the entryway to the complex’s museum component, which was expanded with five new galleries to number 16 in total. All of them feature original works by contemporary artists: one of the largest is by Korean sculptor Lee Bul, whose Into Lattice Sun is a mirror-and-crystal wonderland that plays with spatial awareness; American glass artist Paul Seide’s Crystal Calligraphy was inspired by Charles Baudelaire’s “The Lovers’ Wine”. Here, mouth-blown glass spirals are meant to represent the two angels Baudelaire describes pursuing a distant mirage at dawn.
Crystal Cloud, an installation by American-French duo Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot, located in the new garden, is a mystical tribute to Swarovski. “Our intuition said that here was the place to unleash the power of crystals by bringing them outdoors,” Perrot explains. At over 15,000 square feet in size, this showstopper is the garden’s centrepiece, where 800,000 crystal droplets were hand-mounted to stainless steel wire mesh. Floating over a mirrored pool, Crystal Cloud provides a dramatic welcome regardless of when you arrive—and nature plays a big role. When there’s plenty of light out, the crystals are brilliant, like “walking under a diaphanous crystal chandelier,” says Perrot. At other times, Perrot describes it as an enchanted birch forest.
The expansion wasn’t strictly about art, though. Oslo-based architecture firm Snøhetta built a glass-façade tower (a four-floor playground with a vertical climb and trampolines) as well as the supersleek Daniel’s, a whitewashed restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to the garden so that, even during mealtime, crystals are never far from your mind.