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Waterford Crystal

For as far back as I can remember, my mom has been a fan of Waterford crystal, so we were pretty excited that our tour of Ireland included a trip to the Waterford Crystal Factory.

Fun fact: Look at the Waterford Crystal logo (below) – you’ll notice that the seahorse’s tail1 is backwards to what a seahorse tail usually looks like. This was done so that the curl of the tail could form a shamrock!

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The tour of the factory was very interesting. Prior to this, all I really knew about crystal was that it contained lead and tends to be sparkly. I had no idea the level of skill that was required to make a piece of fine crystal!

To become a master at any of the skills required to make Waterford crystal requires 8 years of apprenticing. Eight! Another interesting fact: All of the crystal makers at Waterford Crystal are males. We asked the tour guide about this – as everyone we saw on the shop floor was male, and he confirmed that there are currently no females, though one woman who had worked there for decades had recently retired and that there were some females who had applied recently to apprentice, so it was likely there would be some female crystal makers there in the near future.

The first step to making crystal involves glass-blowing. Wooden moulds in the shape of the object you want to make are used to blow the glass into.

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I’m not sure if this was for a crystal that was made *for* Justin Timberlake or *of* Justin Timberlake2, but this is the mould for the base of it:

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And here is a master glassblower blowing what I believe is a vase:

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It’s that orange-y colour because it’s extremely hot – once it cools down, it turns clear:

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Throughout the factory, they have signs on the wall with little facts about making crystal. I nearly died laughing when I saw this one:

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 “Do you know what a glory hole is?”3

So I guess I can say that I learned on my holiday that there is a much more innocuous use of the phrase “glory hole” than I was previously aware of. Now that I have used the phrase “glory hole” on my blog three times, let me apologize to anyone who came here via Googling “glory hole”, because I’m pretty sure this posting is *not* what you expected.  I did, however, take a photo of this glory hole:

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Moving on.

Once the object is blown, cooled, inspected for imperfections4, the next stage is the cutting, which is done almost completely by hand5. First they draw a grid onto the object with a pen:

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And then they use a diamond cutter to cut the pattern into the crystal, by hand. Waterford has a manydifferent patterns that they use and the master cutter has to know them all and be able to cut them into the glass perfectly. You can really start to see why it takes so long to become a master at this stuff!

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In addition to patterns cut into crystal, they also make sculptures and have masters that do the sculpting.

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They make all sorts of figures and trophies – they even made the giant ball that you see in Times Square on New Year’s Eve!

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This sculpture was made as a tribute to the firefighters who died on 9/11:

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It took about 200 hours – of the craftsmens’ own personal time – to create and is estimated to be worth $75,000. The original is in a firehall in New York and there is also the replica, made afterwards, at the Waterford Crystal Factory.

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After seeing the amount of time, effort, and skill that goes into making a piece of Waterford crystal, I have to say that I appreciate its beauty that much more. And so I couldn’t help but by myself a little souvenir at the factory store6 – this lovely vase7:

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Now I just need someone to buy me a flower!

  1. A seahorse was chosen for the logo as the city of Waterford’s crest contains a seahorse. []
  2. I’m sure that there’s got to be a rich person out there who wants a Justin Timberlake head made of crystal, right? []
  3. In case you do not know, Google it. But not at work. I will not be held responsible if you do not heed my advice on this. []
  4. There are several stages where they inspect the crystal for quality control and anything that isn’t perfect is melted back down and re-made. []
  5. There was a machine that did a bit of automatic cutting for simple patterns, but the vast majority is done by hand. []
  6. Which I then had to lug with me all the way to Nice, then back to London, and then home to Vancouver. In my carry-on luggage because I didn’t want it to get broken. Did I mention that Waterford crystal has more lead it in than other crystals? Meaning it’s really freaking heavy for its size. Also, lead crystal shows up on X-ray as a solid block, which made for lots of fun every time I had to put my carry-on bag through the x-ray at each airport! []
  7. Though the picture really doesn’t do it justice! []

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