One of my best day trips during my vacation last month was to Waterford, Ireland where I was lucky enough to tour the stunning House of Waterford Crystal, also known as the Waterford Factory. There are many ways to make the 105 mile journey from Dublin to Waterford but I chose the train, as driving on the wrong side of the road did not sound appealing to me nor did many hours on the bus. I started the day by visiting Kilkenny, a small medieval town located in southeast Ireland, which will have it’s own post soon and then we headed further South to Waterford. Once we arrived at the train station around lunch time we took a quick cab ride over to the full functioning factory for the hour long tour.
When the guide started with, “photography is welcome throughout the tour” my face split into an ear to ear grin as we made our way through the lobby of the factory reading through highlights of the company’s 233 year history, beginning with Waterford being a large port in the late 1700’s. My parents had Waterford Crystal in my house growing up so I loved learning about the evolution of Lismore glass, the most successful Waterford crystal range, and while they make colored crystal they are known for their clear crystal. A few other American’s on the tour said they only knew the brand because they make the Millennium Ball for the ball drop in Times Square but everyone was definitely well informed after the movie we watched the audio visual room which feels a bit like a 90’s club with mirrors everywhere and TVs on the ceilings. From there we went into the mold room where we learned how the craftsman make beach and pear wood molds for custom pieces and cast iron for normal production.
After the lobby, the audio / visual display, and the mold room we entered the blowing department and it was by far and away my favorite. While this factory in Ireland only produces 45,000 to 55,000 pieces per year (the rest is made in Slovenia) they trust only the master craftsman with the custom pieces and we got to see half a dozen of them hard at work in the blowing department. I had seen glass blowing before a few times with the most memorable being the Simon Pearce factory at the Mill in Quechee, Vermont and the glass blowing factories on the island of Murano, on the outskirts of Venice, Italy but it has been a few years and this visit made me remember just how much it love it. Seriously, the glass blowing was stunning and I could have stayed there for hours watching the master craftsman at work. I was sad when the tour had to move on but all good things must come to an end and we moved to the quality inspection which was not quite as pretty but a necessary step in the process that was great to see.
From the quality inspection station where beautiful pieces of hand blown glass lay in the rejection area we moved on to the marking and cutting departments. I found it unusual but a pleasant surprise that the craftsman were so good that you were able to speak to them and ask questions and they never once looked up or stopped what they were doing but were able to carry on full conversations. In the marking department the man I photographed below has been working at the factory since 1970 and he was in the process of marking up an “American Football”. When I asked what kind of pen he was using he told me that it was a Sharpie modified with printer ink so it dries instantly and will not smudge – fascinating!
Then it was on to the cutting department where I was surprised to hear and see so much water but learned the water was spraying on the sharp wheel blade used to cut the glass for a few reasons: so it the glass does not get too hot, to eliminate dust created in the cutting process, and to create lubrication for the crystal. Just to make it to this department craftsman have to go through five to eight years of training but most had been doing it for decades.
Then it was on to the sculpting department where craftsman train for 10 years and instead of working with blown crystal they start with just a block of crystal and cut it down to the desired shape. In the sculpting department I was able to pick up an example of a custom piece – a People’s Choice Award – probably the closest I will ever come to one of those in my lifetime – so pretty!
And then the tour was over, 60 minutes that felt like only five, you end then into the show room with all of the gorgeous pieces made on the premise that are for sale! Here are some of my favorite items but you can see much more of the retail store online! I actually loved the first clock so much, it is the same one I am holding in the last photo, that I purchased it and shipped it home – it should arrive any day now!
It was an incredible tour and a wonderful day, making my first visit to the South of Ireland truly memorable. Thank you House of Waterford Crystal for having me!