A look through the Waterford Crystal

waterford crystal

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.

Waterford Crystal

A glass-blower in action.

Waterford Crystal

Waterford Crystal

Waterford Crystal

The glass is ready for the cutting process. The first vase from the left still has the top to be cut off.

Waterford Crystal

The markings show the future pattern.

Waterford Crystal

In the master’s hands the glass becomes a piece of art.

Waterford Crystal

Waterford Crystal

Waterford Crystal

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.

Waterford Crystal

This sad St. Patrick is a very popular design.

Waterford Crystal

One of the trophy bowls.

Waterford Crystal

This one-horse carriage from 2005 is remarkably upgraded:

Waterford Crystal

its 2015  version –  in the image  below.

Waterford Crystal

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.

Waterford Crystal

The place is always busy with tourists.

Waterford Crystal

Elaborated chandeliers reflected in the ceiling mirror.

Waterford Crystal

Crystal and silverware on display.

Waterford Crystal

They are still making these funny things, but the prices are very serious – 15.000-30.000 a piece.

Waterford Crystal

There are lots of Christmasy designs, and no discounts, regardless of the season. I think this vase looks very neat.

Waterford Crystal

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).

Waterford Crystal

I also loved these two  – a vase and a bowl.

Waterford Crystal

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.

Waterford Crystal

After you make a purchase, your artwork of choice can get engraved.

Waterford Crystal

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.

kite studios

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.


IneseMjPhotographyHave a great week!

78 comments

    1. Thank you for stopping by Diana! I was away from blogging for almost two months due to the problems with my account.
      Did they let you actually blow some glass? I know that my daughter brought home a glass ball she made herself at some workshop. All this process is so fascinating!
      Thank you again for reading and commenting!
      Inese

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  1. Another great blog, Inese! Now I have to hunt down the couple Waterford pieces I got for wedding gifts way back when. I had no idea of the history of this company. I really thought everyone loved Waterford crystal and still do! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thank you for reading! So glad to hear that you own some pieces of Waterford Crystal Yes, the history is rich – the best of the world’s glassmaking tradition is melted in our crystal. Thank you again for your interest.

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  2. So interesting to know about the Waterford crystals…. Really beautiful..
    Great post and excellent photographs as per usual, dear Inese.
    Have a wonderful weekend… Hugs Aquileana 😀

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    1. Thank you for stopping by, dear Aquileana! 🙂 The famous crystal place is just around the corner from where I am living now, so I thought I have to write about it. Have a lovely week, my friend!
      Hugs, Inese

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  3. I really enjoyed this tour and history of Waterford, Inese. I love the sparkle and elegance of the cut crystal; and I also liked the ones cut from the inside that look like etching. 😀

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  4. Thanks for the guided tour and the history. Tom and I both love glass of all kinds and I had a huge collection of all types of glass when we met and he was already a celebrated glass blower with commissions from hotels and other large commercial establishments. My own crystal happens to be Waterford and during the times I lived in Germany and other times my career sent me to various locations in Europe, I always made it a point to not only add to my crystal settings but to add another nice piece (serving or art piece) for passing on to nieces and nephews. There’s something so timeless about such beautiful artwork and Waterford is some of the most beautiful.
    I see above you mention the price of an ordinary tumbler. In 1980 (the last time I added a piece to my own pattern) I paid $27 dollars for the white wine glass and $39 for the red wine glass. My favorite serving piece is what Waterford calls a milk pitcher and I love using it as a vase. Those were the prices at a military base in Germany and of course we didn’t have to pay import fees.

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    1. Sheri, thank you for your interest! I remember that image of a prize winning vase made by Tom. He was a great artist.
      The prices for the wine glass vary from $100 to $300 these days. All the vases are about $1500.

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  5. I am thankful for the history of Waterford crystal. I love the little girl and the other part of the vase being the road. I also tend to like the simpler pieces. The green vase looks pretty in one of the group shots… Thanks for visiting my posts, reading them and commenting so nicely on several ones. I have been very busy but am a good weekend blogger so I play ‘catch up’ here at the library on their computer. This means I don’t read at home nor write on the computer. My notes on paper come with me. I like my post about ‘regrets’ and the one on ‘bridges.’ Also, I have written love stories. lots of them, just not my own… smiles!

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    1. You are very good on writing these love stories 🙂 Thank you for stopping by! The girl and the road is my favorite, but I didn’t see that vase when I last visited. Hope they are still making them.
      Have a happy day!

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      1. I was going to tell you that I was blessed with a Spanish Club trip to Spain and bought two Lladro figurines. One is a farm girl long and slender, with a goose by her. The other is a little girl in a country dress. The first has the light blue, beige complexion and mostly white appearance while the second one had some color in her dress. I think this made it less expensive. I also received a few more over the years so this made me wish to share my ‘good luck’ trip which in 1974 only cost $350 for breakfasts, lunches, the plane fare and the rooms in dormitories, while students were on Spring Break.
        Thank you for saying you like my love stories. Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

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        1. That’s sweet. These figurines were popular in the 1950-70s. I am glad my daughter still has some after all these years. The price of your trip made me nostalgic :))) Have a wonderful weekend you too!

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  6. Wow! Really a wonderfully interesting post – almost like going on the tour! Thank you for sharing your photos and for all the historical information!

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    1. Thank you for stopping by! To be honest, I was very nervous being around these delicate artworks with my camera bag on my shoulder. Did my best to keep a good distance 🙂

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Indah! You are right, it is not easy. To create some of these works, a team of five-seven glass blowers would pass the blowpipe from one to another – one pair of lungs is not enough.

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    1. Thank you for your interest, Andrea! It is just a little bit of what I could tell not risking to be too boring 🙂 Official history softens edges sometimes, and makes things to look more attractive, but well – it is business 🙂 Nevertheless, I am fascinated with the skill, science and beauty.

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  7. How beautiful. so many places I didn’t get to see on my trip to Ireland.. Next time I go back I will certainly put that on my long long list of places to see. Love the harp. How stunning! Thank you 🙂

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Livonne! If you ever come to Waterford, the Kite Studios is a great choice to visit. Three former Waterford Crystal glassmakers work there, and you can stand and watch them make your tumbler from scratch as long as you wish, with no charge, I guess :). I am sure their prices are more reasonable too 🙂

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Francis! Yes, it was a long journey. Venetian and Bohemian, Dutch and English traditional glass making had found a new home in Waterford. And you are right, it is a hand made product. A team of glass blowers make a shape, and a cutter cuts the pattern. If something goes wrong, there is no waste – a faulty item is melted and the process starts all over again 🙂

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  8. I knew very little about this amazing product until I read your post. All I used to know was that it was beautiful and far out of my family’s price range. It was to be looked at but never touched. I had no idea its origin was Ireland. Thanks for sharing this account.

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    1. Thank you for reading, Tina! The place is right around the corner from where I live. I am not a fan of crystal – I mean, I don’t want to own any crystal stuff, but I appreciate the art and the science in the glassmaking. It was so fascinating to watch the birth of glass. It was like magic.

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        1. Isn’t it sad that so many coveted pieces of craftsmanship costs many lives? So many times the materials are toxic with which they work or obtaining the raw material is dangerous like blood diamonds. The worst part of it all is that the people who buy these rarities never think or consider the cost to the people who bring it to them. There are several other crafts such as pottery that can be quite toxic to the crafts person creating it. It is just tragic.

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        2. So true. And it is not only about some exquisite artworks or jewels – manufacturing of our clothing and everything else could be toxic and dangerous too. How to break the circle? If we stop buying these things, someone will lose their job… As you say, it is just tragic.

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  9. I have a Waterford Christmas ornament that a friend gave us. It’s lovely, but I am afraid to display it because of the cats.
    Great post. I didn’t realize all of the permutations the company had gone through!

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    1. Sue, most of the photographs are taken exactly in 2005 🙂 So fun that we were there in the same year! I wonder how much you paid for the glasses? Now an ordinary tumbler costs about a hundred Euro. Thank you for your comment!

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