The transparent willemite, Zn2SiO4 (ZS) glass-ceramic nanocomposites were prepared from melt-quench derived ZnO-Al2O 3-B2O3-SiO2 (ZABS) precursor glass by an isothermal heat-treatment process. The generation of willemite crystal phase, size and morphology with increase in heat-treatment time was examined by X-ray diffraction (XRD) and field emission scanning electron microscopy (FESEM) techniques. The average calculated crystallite size obtained from XRD is found to be in the range 80-120 nm. The decreased refractive index with increase in heat-treatment time attributed to partial replacement of ZnO4 units of willemite nanocrystals by AlO4 units and simultaneous generation of vacancies in the Zn-site. Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) reflection spectroscopy exhibits the structural evolution of willemite glass-ceramics. The photoluminescence spectra of Sm3+ ions exhibit emission transitions of 4G5/2 → 6HJ (J = 5/2, 7/2, 9/2, 11/2) and its excitation spectra shows an intense absorption band at 402 nm. These spectra reveal that the luminescence performance of the glass-ceramic nanocomposites is enhanced up to 14-fold with crystallization into willemite. © 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.