The Craft of Crystal ~ Waterford, Ireland

Crystal sweet bowl and wine glass against a black background.

Crystalware

Our travels can be a little haphazard sometimes.

We had work and family business in England, so we decided to go walking in the south-west of Ireland. (More about that soon.) Once I had booked our walking trip, I contacted an old friend and colleague from Thailand who had moved back to Ireland some years ago, to see if we would have the opportunity to cross paths. He and his family are in Waterford, which is not far from the Irish Ferries’ dock at Rosslare. So, that was a good enough excuse for a stopover, en route to County Kerry.

Now, as it turns out, Waterford is Ireland’s oldest city, having been established by the Vikings in 914. They called it Veðrafjǫrðr; “Ram Fjord” or “windy fjord”, and sections of the city walls they built still stand.

Pink flowering weeds on an old (Viking) brick wall.

New growth on an ancient Viking wall ~ Waterford is an interesting mix.

Viking wall-tower against modern buildings

Bits of the remaining Viking wall and towers, with later Norman “improvements”, are scattered around the charming and modern city centre of Waterford.

After successive attempts, the King of Leinster, with the aid of Norman mercenaries under Richard de Clare, Second Earl of Pembroke (Strongbow), took Waterford in 1170, marking the entry of the Anglo-Normans into Ireland. The rest, as they say, is history.

I didn’t know any of this when I made our plans to stay there. Nor did I realise it was, and is again, home to the Waterford Crystal factory. I’m not a particular fan of cut crystal, but as we were going to be there for a a day, a visit to the factory seemed like a good plan.

As it turned out, watching crystal glassware being made by true craftsmen was an interesting and worthwhile experience.

Modern shop front logo: Waterford Crystal

The modern crystal manufacturing plant and showroom in downtown Waterford was opened in June 2010.

Portrait: Red-headed female in a black jacket.

Tours of the facility run regularly. Alison, our guide, gives us a brief rundown of the company history.

A woman outside a crystal hold room.

Wooden molds are used for limited edition items; steel is used for production items.

Pear-wood moulds for crystal blowing.

The pear-wood moulds for crystal blowing are quickly charred by the molten glass.

Crystal glass furnaces

Making crystal is skilled and labour-intensive. The “blowers” have served apprenticeships of up to six years and need to handle more than one task.

Two men in front of furnaces, with molten glass.

The furnaces for melting the glass mixture are over 1,200 degrees centigrade.

Man turning and shaping red-hot glass.

Turning and shaping the “gob” of molten glass.

Glass blower turning a molten gob of glass.

“The craftsmen have to be, not only capable of working in a team, they also have to be quite athletic.” (http://www.waterfordcrystalworld.com)

Close-up: cutting a glass vase away from the blower.

The newly-blown vase is cut away from the blower.

Crystal vases on a conveyer belt.

Glassware is annealed on a slow-moving belt through special ovens.

Man in ear protection grinding glass.

Water acts as a coolant as the excess glass is trimmed off …

Man in ear protection grinding glass.

… and as the edges are ground smooth.

Texter markers on a turntable.

Marking up patterns can be as “easy” as markers strapped to a turntable.

Cut and partially cut crystal trophies and vases.

A selection of cut and partially cut crystal trophies and vases – including a London Olympic Games trophy, sit on the marking table.

Man cutting a crystal vase

Cutting the crystal takes strength and concentration.

Close-up: cutting crystal

Water is again used as a coolant.

A crystal cutter showing stemware work.

A cutter is happy to show off his work; it makes a break from the concentration!

Portrait: male Irish crystal cutter smiling.

“Well, I’ve been doin’ it for on forty-four years.”

Display of special Waterford pieces.

A display of some of the special Waterford pieces.

Work station with engraving tools

A work station with engraving tools.

Crystal Work Station

Art, craft and work…

Black crystal display cabinet against a white wall.

Waterford shop display room.

Two Irish women checking a document.

Sales staff check inventory.

Black table set with crystal, crystal chandeliers overhead.

Chandeliers over a table set with Waterford crystal and table-ware from the partner-companies Royal Doultan and Wedgwood.

Close-up: carved crystal class bottoms.

Carved crystal stemware.

Sign-Off-Happy-ShoppingI’m still not cut-crystal’s biggest fan, but I’ve gained a new appreciation for the work and skill that goes into it.

And we did buy one or two pieces…

 Pictures: 16June2012

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