S. Ireland

A Crystal Soiree

After a crazy week with Andy traveling to San Francisco and back Monday to Thursday, we decided to get out of the house for some simple family bonding time this weekend.

Destination: Waterford.

If you didn’t know already, Waterford, Ireland is most famous for-you got it- Waterford Crystal.  So, of course, we decided to pack up a rental car and head south to The House of Waterford Crystal.  After all, it was rated as the #2 attraction in Waterford, Ireland, and for some pretty obvious reasons!

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When we arrived to the city, it was a bit resembling of Dublin, just a quieter, smaller version.  The city of Waterford lies south off the Suir River-King’s Channel.  This channel eventually leads out to the Celtic Sea that borders the southern regions of Ireland.  Waterford is the oldest city in Ireland, and it was the first and largest port in Ireland at the time it was established.  It was such a cute city, although, we only saw a small part of it.

We followed the traffic queue, alongside the river to our end destination.  I must say, we were pretty excited about this little adventure!  Upon entering the building, we were kindly greeted at the concierge desk where we purchased tickets for the next tour.  Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait but five to ten minutes before it began.  This gave us time to do our initial gawking in the adjacent retail showroom.  Stunning and sparkling, we browsed (and got to touch!) some of the most beautiful pieces!  That was until our tour was announced, and we had to meander over to the tour queue.

As the tour began, we were all led outside and across the small plaza in the entryway to a smaller entrance.  This was an entrance that was for tours and staff only.  Just beyond the front doors, we were greeted with the largest champagne flute in the world.  As we all funneled into the introductory “Heritage” hall, our guide informed us of the Waterford Crystal history and information on some of the most incredible pieces.

Fun Fact: Legend has it that in 1947, a distinctive symbol for Waterford crystal was to be designed for each crystal piece.  The symbol was either to be a lion or a seahorse, both which can be found on the Waterford Coat of Arms.  It was decided that the seahorse would be used, as a symbol of Waterford’s maritime correlations. If you look closely enough, the tail of the seahorse is backwards, and on the inside of the tail lies a shamrock.  This is to signify that Waterford is an Irish company.

The factory in Waterford, Ireland is home to the craftsmanship of the world’s premier sports trophies.  These range anywhere from rugby, golf, to even the American football trophies.  They are all handcrafted right from Waterford.

Before any of these fabulous pieces can be molded, marked, cut and sculpted, the craftsmen must undergo quite the training.  It is an eight-year process to become a Master Cutter at Waterford Crystal.  The first five years are considered an apprenticeship with the final three years consisting of a grueling attempt to perfectly cut an exact replica of the Apprentice Bowl, by memory.  Each candidate is given three attempts to complete this task.  If not met by the third attempt, the candidate can either choose to walk away from working at Waterford, or repeat the five years of training all over again.  Wow!  Such meticulous training for such brilliant, and masterful crystal.

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As we continued, we were led into the factory grounds where we explored the art of crystal production. The first stop, the Mould Room.  This is where the wooden molds for the premier, specialty items were made.  The wooden molds are only used for such pieces as the lifespans are quite limited.  Wooden molds generally last about six to seven uses due to the exposure to such high heat.  All of the wooden tools used to shape the molten crystal during the molding process were also made here.  They typically have a longer lifespan than the molds.

From the Mould Room, we walked a few paces down to watch the Apprentices and Master Blowers shape and blow the crystal into what would become a beautiful vase.  Kieghan thought that this part of the process was pretty cool.  Honestly, I would have to agree.  As we watched a ball of glass form into the shape of a vase, it was a pretty fun sight to see and experience!

Fun fact: the difference between glass and crystal is the amount of lead content in the raw material.  If the lead content is less than 24% of the raw material, it is considered glass.  Anything over 24% is considered crystal.  Waterford uses crystal with 33% lead content, and of course, the lead is considered to be safe and non-toxic for use in drinking glasses.

For the crystal to move from the molding and blowing stage to quality control, it is placed in a kiln and left to slowly cool for 24 hours.  Once the cooling of the crystal is complete, craftsmen remove the crystal and set it to be examined.  Each piece is stringently examined for any flaws.  Cracks, bumps, and uneven edges meant a fated end for any piece through this step in the process.  Craftsmen would reject these pieces to be recycled and thrown back into the furnace to be molten and reshaped again.  Only the finest and perfect pieces passed to be cleaned and move on to the marking phase.

The next room on the tour was filled with boxes and crates.  In this room, pieces were marked with black horizontal and vertical lines as a guideline for the Master Cutters to cut the corresponding patterns by memory.  Replicas of some pretty cool pieces were passed around, including a small replica of the BCS Championship football trophy.  The boys were quite excited to hold that!

The next stop in the production line was the cutting station.  This was a pretty neat part of process, watching Master Cutters hand cut wedge marks into vases and bowls.  Master Cutters typically hand cut all of the smaller, more manageable Waterford pieces.  For the pieces too large and heavy to hold for lengths of time, automatic cutters are used.  Since these pieces are not considered to be “hand-cut”, the price and values of the pieces are lower than their hand-cut counterparts.  The automated machines are also used for many experimental pieces.

The final stage in the process was sculpting and engraving.  We got to see replicas of some pretty amazing crystal pieces.  Master Sculptors have such an intricate job to shape and sculpt the crystal into various shapes and designs.  The final products are then polished and prepped for their final destination.

Post tour, we were excited to end back in the retail showroom.  The showroom in Waterford displays the entire range of Waterford collections.  It is the only showroom in the world to have every piece on display in one showroom.  You can imagine the sparkling creations we were able to see!  It was a far better experience to see (and touch) these pieces in The House of Waterford Crystal rather than a local department store back home.  To buy or not to buy was the burning question at the end of the day!

What an amazing time we had!