House of Waterford Crystal Tour

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    House of Waterford Visitor Center Entrance

    The House of Waterford retail store and factory tour are open seven days a week. © Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    The House of Waterford Welcomes Visitors on a Tour of Its Crystal Factory

    Waterford Crystal: It's a brand that's made its way onto bridal registries for generations as couples plan a home together and want it to sparkle. From elegant Champagne flutes they can use to toast their love to glittering vases, tableware, and chandeliers that make a room more scintillating, Waterford Crystal is used for both everyday and special occasions.

    Until recently, the best place to see Waterford Crystal was in fine stores. Now, it's a major attraction in the city that bears its name.

    Ireland's House of Waterford offers a factory tour that reveals how crystal wares are fabricated. At the end of the tour, visitors enter the world's largest Waterford crystal retail store where they can buy traditional as well as designer items.

    Learn more about the process that turns common elements into things of beauty that collectors the world over covet.

    Enter here to begin your tour of the Waterford...MORE Crystal factory.

    An iconic brand throughout the world, Waterford Crystal opened its factory tour in June 2010. Visitors learn about the unique production techniques used at Waterford on a guided tour that features audiovisual displays and up-close observation of the craftsmen (yes, they are all men).

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    Waterford Crystal Place Setting

    This display at the House of Waterford retail store shows how crystal enhances even a simple place setting. © Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Waterford Crystal adds elegance to any table setting.

    Each beverage -- water, white wine, red wine -- has a specific crystal goblet or vessel dedicated to its use.

    The small, round crystal orb (center left) can be used for multiple purposes:

    • set a tea light inside it to softly illuminate the table
    • use it to hold dip
    • use it as a finger bowl
    • use it for nuts
    • use it to hold a goldfish!
    How would you put it to work to enhance a place setting?
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    Waterford Castle Crystal Vase

    Freshly picked flowers from the grounds of Waterford Castle fill this vase, which catches both the light and the eye. © Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    This elegant vase is part of the collection used at Waterford Castle.

    Dinner served in the Castle's formal Munster Dining Room feature white linen table cloths, fine silver, and Waterford Crystal glasses, name place holders, bowls, and vases.

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    Waterford Crystal Harp

    The harp is a traditional symbol of Ireland. © Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    In addition to tableware and chandeliers, Waterford Crystal makes collectible works of art and awards for major events.

    Many of the most prestigious pieces of Waterford Crystal, made for celebrities and politicians, are also on display.

    If you're not familiar with Waterford Crystal but think you've heard the name, it could be from the giant crystal ball that descends in New York's Times Square every New Year's Eve. The crystal ball is made from thousands of individual pieces of shimmering Waterford Crystal and lit from within.

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    Waterford Crystal Mould Room

    High-tech and handcrafted methods both contribute to the manufacture of Waterford Crystal. © Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    It takes many steps to make a piece of Waterford Crystal. Prior to most of them, a worker must create a wooden mold to hold and shape the item.

    The facility produces 40,000 hand-crafted crystal pieces using traditional artisan methods and also serves as a brand design lab.

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    Waterford Crystal Mold

    This mold was designed to shape a Waterford Crystal vase. © Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Molds, made of wood, don't have a long life. The heat from the crystal chars the wood, and new molds must be constantly created.

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    What is Crystal Made From?

    This is one of the early tasks on display at the House of Waterford factory tour. © Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    The base ingredients in making crystal are raw potash, silica sand, and litharge. Litharge is a combination of lead and broken crystal.

    Anyone who's ever lifted a piece of crystal has been struck by its weight. Given that lead is a primary ingredient, it should come as no surprise that crystal is heavy.

    A bucket of crystal weighs three times as much as a bucket of water.

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    Waterford Crystal Kiln

    The temperature of this kiln at the Waterford Crystal factory is 1200ºC (2192ºF). Fortunately, the tour is air-conditioned and the quite comfortable. © Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Early in the fabrication process, crystal is heated to super-hot temperatures to enable molding.

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    How Crystal is Shaped

    Notice the asbestos sleeve he wears on this left arm. © Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Craftsman uses wooden mold to shape a white-hot vase.

    There is constant movement in shaping the crystal; the aim is for symmetry although anything made by hand will only approximate that.

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    Blowing Crystal

    The breath of the craftsman, blown through a long metal tube, expands the size of the molten vase. © Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Skilled master blowers hand-shape and hand-blow Waterford Crystal.

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    More Fire

    If the crystal is allowed to cool too quickly, it fractures. Overnight in the kiln, the temperature is gradually brought down. © Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    After the vase is released from the metal rod, it is delivered back to the kiln.

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    Waterford Crystal Refining

    As the wheel rotates, extraneous pieces of crystal are removed from the lip and the bottom of the item. © Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    After the crystal cools, it is transferred to the next department where workers smooth out the rough edges.

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    Crystal Marking Department

    Before the cutting can begin, a craftsman in the marking department measures and marks the crystal with a pen like a Magic Marker. © Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Ever wonder how crystal is carved? At Waterford Crystal, the vast majority of items are cut by hand.

    The marks simply act as a guide. The rest is up to the cutter.

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    Waterford Crystal Cutter

    Waterford Crystal is available in dozens of patterns, and the cutters must have all of them memorized. © Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    To become a crystal cutter, a craftsman must apprentice for eight years before he has a station and wheel to call his own.

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    Rookie at the Wheel

    Ever so carefully, the crystal bowl is brought to the diamond-tipped wheel. The process is repeated over and over. Ultimately a recognizable Waterford Crystal pattern emerges. © Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Millie Martini Bratten, editor in chief of Brides magazine, gets a lesson in crystal cutting.

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    Polishing Crystal

    When compared to glass, crystal is not only heavier but has sparkle that glass does not. © Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Once the crystal is cut and inspected, it is polished to bring out its luster.

    Wonder how to polish your own crystal once you get it home?

    Soak it in warm water that contains a small amount of dishwashing liquid, rinse thoroughly, and then wet it with a mixture of equal parts white vinegar and water. Let it soak if the dirt is stubborn. Then rinse again and let it air dry or wipe with a lint-free cloth. Do not put crystal in a dishwasher.

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    Waterford Crystal Quality Control

    Jim O'Leary, one of Waterford Crystal's longtime designers, discusses what the factory's quality control inspectors look for. © Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Every piece of Waterford Crystal is inspected before it leaves the factory.

    This Lismore goblet has three parts -- cup, stem, and foot -- that must be balanced, in perfect proportion, and cut to the pattern.

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    Waterford Crystal Retail Store

    The largest collection of Waterford Crystal under one roof, the House of Waterford retail store is located on the mall in the city. © Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    After visitors complete the Waterford Crystal factory tour, they are deposited directly into the retail store.

    Every kind of Waterford Crystal made -- clear, black, colored, designer, tableware, chandeliers, you name it -- is on display and available for sale here.

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    Waterford Crystal Collections

    Colored vases from the studio collection on display in the House of Waterford retail store. © Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Although many people think of Waterford Crystal as highly traditional, it is available in several contemporary collections.

    Waterford Crystal Core Collections consist of:

    • Heritage - the traditional clear, cut crystal
    • Museum - one-of-a-kind works of art
    • Studio (in-house design)
    • Designer (collaborators include Michael Aram, Jasper Conran, and others)
    • Bespoke (custom designs)
    • Trophies - unique designs given as achievement awards
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    Crystal Celebration

    Crystal Champagne and martini glasses in blue, green, and red. © Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    When you possess fine crystal, bring it out to make any evening a celebration.

    While the tulip (narrow) glasses are primarily used for Champagne and drinks such as mimosas and Bellinis that use bubbly as an ingredient, martini glasses have even more utility. Use them to serve fruit and yummy desserts.

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    Waterford Crystal as Art

    Tribute to Father Mychal Judge A tribute to the heroes of 9/11 created by Master Waterford Engraver and Glasscutter Sean Egan, the original is housed at Engine 1 and Ladder 24 in New York City. This larger version is one of the last items on view in the House of Waterford factory tour. © Susan Breslow Sardone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    While most crystal is intended for quotidian use, the craftsmen who dedicate their lives to creating it are also capable of magnificent artistry.

    The plaque below the piece reads:

    • IN REMEMBRANCE
      Of Fr. Mychal Judge
      Who was one of the 343 FDNY, 37 PAPD & 23 NYPD Officers
      who lost their lives on September 11th 2001
      while trying to save others

      This piece is dedicated to all the Rescue Workers

    This somber work of crystal art depicts rescue workers in the center panel and angels on the sides. Rubble and remnants of the destroyed World Trade Center, rendered in crystal, are behind them.