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Waterford Crystal: Its History, Its Excellence
The Waterford Flint Glass Manufactory, as it was originally known, was established in Waterford, Ireland, in 1783 by two local brothers, George and William Penrose. Being of an enterprising nature, the Penrose brothers had seen a huge demand for both plain and ornamental flint glass internationally. However, with neither brother having any glass working experience, one of their first priorities was the procurement of a skilled glass worker. Fellow Quaker, John Hill, originally from Stourbridge in the English West Midlands was to take up this opportunity and head the factory’s workforce, which, by now numbered over fifty. Business was good. John Hill drew on his many years of experience and very soon the factory was turning out glass products of a quality never previously witnessed in England or Ireland.
Ships packed to the gunnels with flint glass were leaving Waterford Quay bound for Spain, the West Indies and North America. By the turn of the nineteenth century, triggered by William Penrose’ decision to sell, the factory changed hands and ownership was transferred to local town’s people: Ramsey, Gatchell and Barcroft. It was decided by the new management that a retail outlet should be added to the factory and one was opened on city’s quay supplying reasonably priced glassware to the local public. Fifty years later, the company was in severe financial difficulty, due, at least in part, to the heavy taxation imposed by the British government on all glass products and, thus, was forced to cease trading. The company’s swansong was a superb entry in the Great Exhibition of 1851 at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London.
Just after the end of the Second World War, a small glass factory was opened once more, just outside Waterford and manned by a small workforce of mainly immigrant workers from war-torn Europe. The enterprise was a huge success. So much so that very shortly the company, now called Waterford Crystal, re-located to its current home on a forty-acre site. The excellence of Waterford Crystal is achieved by their in-house trained, highly skilled workforce. Uniformity is achieved by applying a precise amount of air into each piece of molten crystal at very specific points thus ensuring that each piece is as near perfect as physically possible. Once the molding stage is complete, each item is then allowed to cool very slowly in a specially designed annealing oven to reduce the risk of damage. Having completed the cooling process, each piece then has its facets and flutes hand-cut. A cutter’s apprenticeship takes five years to complete during which time every cut on every piece from the Waterford range will have been practiced over and over. A cutter completes his or her apprenticeship by the cutting of the sort-after apprentice bowl. These bowls showcase every type of cut used throughout the Waterford range and, needless to say, are highly prized by any enthusiast.
Each piece from Waterford Crystal is named after something of beauty, either a reference to the Ireland itself: Powerscourt, Kenmare or Lismore, or a girl’s name: Colleen, Alana or Sheila. Waterford Crystal has, for many generations, been the lead crystal choice of the upper crust of European society. Their chandeliers can be found in Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle. In the USA, the centerpiece of each New Years Eve celebration is the Waterford Crystal Ball.
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