I see them every day – soaking wet, miserable groups of tourists trudging up the Henrietta Street in the direction of the best known tourist attraction in Ireland: the House of Waterford Crystal. This post is dedicated to them. In this post I share the images I took yesterday, and the ones that are ten years old. But first the story.
In 1674 George Ravenscroft discovered the technique of adding lead oxide to the silica mixture used to make glass. This resulted in a new type of glass with great clarity which melted easier and could be blown, shaped and cut. There is no uniform definition of “crystal”, but in European Union, the glass products containing at least 24% of lead oxide may be referred to as “lead crystal”, and the products containing less lead (or other metal) oxide are called “crystal glass”.
A number of glass factories were established in Ireland in the 1700’s, mostly on the east coast close to ports since the glass making process required a constant and ready supply of coal.
The glass made at this time was quite similar in style to the cut crystal we know today and in fact, some of the patterns used then are still used in modern ranges.
In 1783 the Penrose brothers established a glass manufactory in Waterford city. It is not related to the modern Waterford Crystal company, but somehow is usually claimed to be a part of its history. Anyway, the Penroses invited a great glass manufacturer of Stourbridge – Mr. John Hill, who had taken with him the best set of workmen he could get, and who knew the secrets of mixing the glass materials. The business flourished. After a few years John Hill left Waterford, and after that the factory had been having its ups and downs, but kept struggling decade after decade until it ceased production in 1851. A whole century there was no glass production in Waterford.
The history of modern Waterford Crystal starts in 1947 when a Czech glass manufacturer Karel (Charles) Bacik emigrated to Ireland and settled in Waterford. In partnership with a Dublin gift-shop owner Bernard Fitzpatrick, he started Waterford Glass. They persuaded a great glass craftsman Miroslav Havel to join them. Havel recruited skilled craftspeople from traditional glassmaking areas of Europe, set up training and apprenticeship programs for Irish personnel, and designed new product ranges. He visited the National Museum and made drawings from the collections of original Penrose Waterford Glass. The factory progressed and made its first profits in 1955.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s demand for Waterford Crystal went up dramatically. The factory was doing great through the 1980’s but started experiencing financial problems in 1990’s. The last and the greatest success was the 6-foot diametric crystal ball made in the factory – the Times Square New Years Eve Millennium Ball that was lowered down the pole during the New Year 2000 countdown. Ironically, it started the Waterford Crystal’s countdown: Waterford Crystal Manufacturing ceased to exist in Waterford city in January 2009. The brand is now co-owned by a US venture capital company KPS, Wedgewood and Royal Doulton (WWRD). In 2010 a new tourism-oriented manufacturing facility and retail outlet reopened in Waterford. The facility offers guided factory tours.
These images are taken in 2005 at the old Waterford Crystal factory workshops.
A glass-blower in action.
The glass is ready for the cutting process. The first vase from the left still has the top to be cut off.
The markings show the future pattern.
In the master’s hands the glass becomes a piece of art.
I was very impressed with this artwork: the girl and the road are cut on the opposite sides of the vase creating a 3D effect.
This sad St. Patrick is a very popular design.
One of the trophy bowls.
This one-horse carriage from 2005 is remarkably upgraded:
its 2015 version – in the image below.
The prices are also “upgraded” : this carriage will cost you 30.000 Euro.
The entrance and reception desk at the House Of Waterford Crystal today.
The place is always busy with tourists.
Elaborated chandeliers reflected in the ceiling mirror.
Crystal and silverware on display.
They are still making these funny things, but the prices are very serious – 15.000-30.000 a piece.
There are lots of Christmasy designs, and no discounts, regardless of the season. I think this vase looks very neat.
This was my favorite: the window frame and the room interior are cut on the opposite sides of the vase ( the same as the girl and the road, ten years ago).
I also loved these two – a vase and a bowl.
The seahorse is a trademark of Waterford Crystal designed by Mr. Havel himself. The harp is another trademark that is slowly replacing the seahorse in the recent years. This one can be bought for 40.000 Euros.
After you make a purchase, your artwork of choice can get engraved.
There is another small company set up by the former Waterford Crystal glassmakers – The Irish Handmade Glass Co. It is situated at the Kite Design Studio, Henrietta Street, Waterford. Visitors are welcome to watch the crystal masters at work with no charge.
The tourists returning from the House of Waterford Crystal seldom stop here. Some of them stubbornly walk through the rain to the Reginald Tower, but majority hurry down the street to the dry haven of their hotel rooms. Tourism in Ireland can be challenging…
Instead of a song, I am posting a video reportage that takes you back in time. For Waterford Crystal, it was a triumph of fame.