This has to be one of the most common questions that I have been asked over the 10 years that i've been making bridal tiaras and jewellery!
There seems to be quite a divide within the industry as to which of them is "better", which is more sparkly, and which works best with other colours. So I should probably at this point add a bit of a disclaimer - whilst this article contains some facts, which can't be disputed, a lot of it is MY opinion, based on my tastes and preferences. That means that there is no right or wrong, and if you don't agree, well, hey - isn't it great that we all like different things!
So let's start with what they are, and how they are different.
In the photo above, are two Swarovski crystals. On the left is a single Clear crystal, and on the right are 4 images of the same Clear AB crystal*. AB stands for Aurora Borealis, which of course is the name of stunning natural phenomenon otherwise knows as the Northern Lights. On the Swarovski crystal, the effect is created by applying a coating to several of the faces of the crystal. I've always thought that the best way to describe the colour effect is to ask someone to imagine the rainbow colours that you see on a bubble. The bubble itself has no colour, but you can still see all the gorgeous colours of the rainbow shimmering across its surface.
I took several photos of the same Clear AB crystal from various angles to show just how many colours there are, and also to demonstrate how strong the colour is from some angles, and how subtle from others! This photo of the Serendipity crystal bridal bracelet shows a really good comparison of the Clear and Clear AB as it uses both. There are only a few of the AB in there, but its quite clear to see which ones!
So which ones is the MOST sparkly? To be honest with you, in my opinion the Clear wins this in terms of true sparkle. It is as close to the sparkle of diamonds as you can get and I am a really rather huge fan. The Clear AB is incredibly sparkly, and light will reflect off the coating, which is why some people will consider it to win in the sparkly stakes. However this reflection will be full of colour, as opposed to the pure, brilliant white flash of the Clear, which for me actually detracts from the sparkle itself (demonstrated here with the Adore crystal flower necklace, which has Clear crystal flowers, with a Clear AB crystal in the centre of each).
Other colours can work well when combined with Clear AB, but I do think they need to be carefully chosen. Blues and purples can look stunning, but I try and avoid putting it with reds and pinks as I think the overall look can be cheapened by the coating. I'm not a huge fan of Clear AB with jet, I think it really brings out the yellow in the coating, although it does work fantastically well with whites, such as White Opal.
Interestingly, the demand from my clients for Clear as opposed to Clear AB has dramatically increased over the last few years. There was a time when almost all my orders were for Clear AB, whereas I now find that I am rarely asked for it. I do think that the crisp sparkle of Clear against the luminosity of ivory pearls is a perfect combination for vintage inspired jewellery and tiaras, which continue to be an absolutely huge trend within the Bridal industry.
I definitely think that Clear AB creates a beautiful effect, but for me, its an effect that should be used sparingly, amongst a majority of Clear crystal.
* The official Swarovski name for these are in fact Crystal and Crystal AB, however I also use the word crystal as the name of the material in discussion, so in order to avoid confusion for the purpose of this article I have used Clear instead of Crystal, and Clear AB instead of Crystal AB.