Like many automotive-news outlets, our reporting of the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupé makes a big deal out of the car's lavish 47-Swarovski crystal headlights. They're much easier than using a bullhorn to yell "I'M RICH!" at everyone, and they help with night driving a bit. Too bad they're not really what they seem.
First of all, I should provide a disclaimer here: I think Swarovski crystals are some of the stupidest objects in the known universe. I don't have anything against crystalline or sparkly things in general, really, but the usual use of Swarovski crystals is to just slather them over some object to magically make them "luxury." Like those goofy cell phones that are two generations or more behind technologically, but you can't tell because they're so slathered in crystals you can't tell what's what.
These new headlights, which everyone is referring to as Swarovski Crystal headlights, aren't really Swarovski crystal lights, whatever that means. The headlight units are absolutely crammed with Swarovski crystals, that's for damn sure, but those crystals have nothing to do with the light production or focusing of the lights.
The crystals are doing two primary things: reflecting and refracting ambient light in ways that we've culturally become trained to identify with wealth and luxury, and refracting the light generated by arrays of LEDs that act as the daytime running lights and turn indicators of the car. The headlights are not affected by the crystals at all.
The reason the headlights aren't bedazzled with Swarovski crystals is that, unlike the light from the daytime running lights and turn indicators, the light from headlights needs to be used to see things in the dark as opposed to just being seen in the dark.
Mercedes is clear about this, to be fair, saying
"In combination with the standard LED Intelligent Light System, unique headlamps with no fewer than 47 Swarovski crystals are available. 17 angular crystals form the flare-shaped daytime running lamps, with 30 round-shaped crystals making up the turn indicator lamps."
So, even though everyone calls the light units Swarovski Crystal Headlamps, they're not really that. Yes, the headlight unit is crammed full of all those crystals, and those crystals are being illuminated by the orange indicator light and the white LED daytime running lights, but not the actual headlights. For good reason.
Crystals are great at reflecting and refracting light, but they're awful for directing light in the sort of controlled patterns that modern headlight regulations demand. Using Swarovski crystals as lenses for lights as bright as headlights would probably give you some lovely disco-ball effects and lots of lovely little spectra everywhere and may attract unicorns and pixies, but they would seriously suck at letting you see down a dark road.
The Swarovski company does have a Swarovski Optik subsidiary that probably is capable of producing effective headlight lenses, but that's not what's being used here. The Swarovski company also has a division for industrial bonded abrasives and sawing and drilling machinery, but I'm not sure if any of those products are included on the new S-Class, either. Maybe in the tool kit.
While we're talking about other stuff Swarovski owns, check out this terrifying "centerpiece" to the Swarovski Kristallwelten crystal-based theme park. Enjoy staring at that giant drooling green foliage-face with your Swarovski headlights that don't really exist, Mercedes.