Making Things Crystal Clear
GAELIC GETAWAY, CHAPTER 7: IN WHICH WE RAISE A GLASS TO WATERFORD
Day 7: Waterford. Though Waterford is Ireland's oldest city with a rich history dating back to a Viking settlement established in 853, beyond the national borders the city's name is synonymous with its most famous product—Waterford Crystal. After moving to a hotel in town this morning and finding a delicious and healthy lunch at the Granary Cafe, we walked over to the House of Waterford facility for a factory tour. Having laid out our €10 senior admission and picked up tickets, we decided use the half hour before our tour began to explore nearby Christ Church Cathedral.
|Christ Church Cathedral|
|Christ Church altar|
Back at the crystal factory, we met up with guide Lupeta and a group of a dozen other visitors from nations around the world for the 2:20 tour. As a port city where raw materials could be received and products shipped out, Lupeta explained, Waterford proved the ideal location for George and William Penrose to establish their glass house in 1783. Because the brothers set a high standard of quality and introduced innovations such as polishing crystal items after they were engraved, their products were soon in great demand.
|Tour guide Lupeta|
With great respect for the Waterford Crystal tradition of excellence established by the Penrose brothers, the designers for the new factory made a pilgrimage to the National Museum in Dublin to study the old pattern books from the 19th century Waterford glass works. Blending this inspiration with their considerable talents, the new House of Waterford designers created glass with sparkling clarity and deeply cut patterns that produced colorful prisms of refracted light. And people noticed.
|Waterford crystal features deep, precision cuts.|
On the tour, visitors are afforded close-up looks of the artisans at work and even occasional opportunities to interact with them. Like a piece of crystal, we went through each stage of the manufacturing process. Craftsmen responsible for each step spend years as apprentices on their way to becoming experts in that single aspect of the Waterford operation.
The first craftsmen in the process carve precise wooden molds and hand tools for shaping the molten crystal. Because they are exceptionally smooth and heat-tolerant, pear and beech woods are used. But the molds are not resistant to the fiery liquid and must be replaced after 7 to 10 days of use.
From a platform overlooking the blowing room, visitors can feel the enormous heat of the nearby furnaces while watching red hot liquid crystal taking shape in the craftsman's skilled hands using the blowpipe and wooden shaping tools and molds. Waterford's special formula of sand, potash and lead is mixed in a raging furnace at 1,200° C for 36 hours before blowing,
Once a piece leaves the blowers, it is cooled in a very precise manner and sent to the next department for trimming, edge polishing, and its first inspection. Any piece that doesn't meet the company's exacting standards is tossed into a bin where it will be returned to the furnace to be melted and blended into another batch.
Each piece of crystal that passes the first inspection goes to the hand marking department where it is lined with a precise grid to guide the cutters in creating the pattern for that piece.
In the cutting department, diamond-tipped wheels are used for creating the pattern on the glass. Master cutters know just how much pressure is needed to create the proper depth on the cut.
Trophy pieces are the dominion of the sculpture department. Like the pattern cutters who work on production pieces, sculptors use diamond-tipped wheels in their work.
Many trophy creations and some limited edition production pieces pass through the hands of Waterford's engravers, for the addition of either text or images or both. These artisans use both hand tools and copper wheels.
Mark of Authenticity
Each piece of Waterford crystal bears an etching of the company's name as a mark of authenticity to let buyers know that skilled glassmakers have created and inspected the piece again and again to ensure it meets exacting Waterford standards.
And, of course, the tour ends where all tours conclude—in the retail shop where tour participants can purchase their own little piece of glassmaking history to take home or have shipped. With a selection like this, surely everyone can find some little bauble to remind them of their visit to the House of Waterford.
|No surprise that the retail shop boasts the world's largest selection of Waterford crystal.|
|What's in the bag?|
- Started in Waterford, ended in Waterford
- Miles walked - 3.5 (Trip total: 21.7)
- Weather - 52° to 54°, rain to cloudy
- Sunrise - 8:23, Sunset - 4:16
MONDAY, 7 DECEMBER, 2015