The craft of making Waterford Crystal has benefited from advances in technology over the years, yet the 21st century process would not be unfamiliar to 18th century founders George and William Penrose should they visit the Waterford factory today. Hand-craftsmanship, precision skill and artistic excellence remain the core components that transform the finest of raw materials into the world’s premium luxury crystal.
The House of Waterford Crystal Design Studio is the incubator for the dreams, ideas and inspirations that become Waterford Crystal. The designers spent years learning the craft, with hands on experience in every aspect of the crystal making process. With imagination and artistic vision, designers capture the spirit of exciting new themes and ideas in the medium of crystal, and update and reimagine classic Waterford patterns for the contemporary tastes of a global audience.
Waterford Crystal is one of the few companies today that still practices the ancient craft of mould making. Very little has changed over the centuries: wood moulds and hand tools of beech and pear woods are used by our Master Blowers to shape the molten crystal. Due to the searing heat of the crystal, these moulds have a life span of just 7-10 days.
Using a furnace that reaches temperatures of 2,400 degrees F, Waterford craftsmen meticulously manipulate and transform molten balls of glowing, red hot crystal to reveal the elegant shapes of Waterford Crystal. The skill required of the Master Blower is the product of years of training and apprenticeship in artisan techniques practiced and perfected over hundreds of years.
Waterford Crystal is carefully inspected after each stage of production. Only pieces within Waterford Crystal's strict quality standards are allowed through to the next step of the process. There are six stringent inspections, and if at any stage the crystal is not considered to be first quality, it is rejected, smashed and sent back to the furnace for re-melting.
Prior to cutting, each piece is marked with a temporary geometric grid to assist the Master Cutter transferring the pattern onto the crystal. Geometric grids of horizontal and vertical guidelines are drawn on each piece using a marker that will eventually be removed during the cleaning process. Each individual pattern – there are hundreds – has been committed to memory by the cutter over years of training.
Waterford Crystal practices two types of cutting: Wedge Cutting and Flat Cutting. Advances in technology enable the Master Cutter to employ industrial diamond-tipped wheels to cut the crystal, which affords the highest quality and cut to the crystal. But technology is no replacement for proficiency. Waterford craftspeople train for a minimum of 8 years to master their craft. The Master cutter must rely on his skill to judge the amount of pressure that is required to hold the crystal to the wheel – too much pressure will affect a ruinous cut through to the other side.
The cut crystal piece is then thoroughly polished to smooth any rough edges and bring forth the trademark brilliance of Waterford Crystal. Unless there is additional work required, like wheel engraving, it’s off to final inspection and a waiting world.
The method of a forming a Waterford Crystal sculpture is essentially the same as stone sculpture, except that cutting wheels are used instead of mallets and stone chisels. With the mastery of a true artisan, the Master Sculptor works three-dimensionally to sculpt his creation from a solid block of crystal. Due to its’ painstaking nature, completion of a sculpted crystal piece can take days, weeks, even months depending on size and complexity.
The type of copper wheel engraving used at Waterford Crystal is called 'Intaglio,' which means “reverse.” The deeper the engraver etches into the crystal, the more prominent the object appears. On Waterford’s International sporting trophies and large, limited edition inspiration pieces, it can take anywhere from a few hours to many days to complete the engraving.