Inside the House of Waterford Crystal (Part 3)
Leah Walker June 14, 2012

Having seen the Mould Room and Blowing Department, it was time to move on to the step that I was most excited about.

Despite my throbbing finger, I was prepared to create my masterpiece. I would soldier though the pain. Ginger, of Time Travel Tours, told me a month previously that she’d reserved a Waterford VIP tour and arranged for Karlin and me to cut our own crystal. Since then I couldn’t think of much else; it was what excited me most about the trip. My excitement was temporarily delayed by our tour guide, Emma, as she showed us the Hand Marking department first. This was not a step I’d known about.


I’m not sure if I thought the cutters just eyeballed the designs or what. After seeing the machines with black markers attached, the process made much more sense. With the crystal held steadily in place, the machine turned the piece and a temporary geometric grid was made.


The Master Cutter then uses the grid as a guide, even though he has the pattern memorized through his years of training and experience. Karlin and I would later find out how important those vertical and horizontal lines were. As Emma led us to the Cutting Department, we passed by a table filled with beautiful marked and unmarked pieces. She pointed to a giant vase with “London 2012” emblazoned on it. Emma told us that these were for the Summer Olympics. I couldn’t resist scooping it off the table.The vase was deceptively heavy, so much so that I was afraid I’d drop it. I gingerly laid it back down and we moved on.


Finally, the moment I’d been anticipating for a month; I’d made it to the Cutting Department. Machines were scattered about the open, long room. Each Master Cutter had their own workstation equipped with a diamond-tipped wheel and spotlight. We were greeted by a grey-headed, smiling man. In his lovely Irish accent, he introduced himself as TJ. As an experienced Master Cutter, TJ would attempt to teach Karlin and me the art of crystal cutting. This would be no easy task.


Emma appeared with two crystal glasses already marked with black grids. My eyes lit up. I could hardly pay attention as TJ explained the two Waterford cuts. He demonstrated the proper stance, placed his elbows on the padded arm rests, and started the machine. Water dripped as the wheel turned. With precise pressure, TJ placed the glass against the diamond-tipped wheel. He showed us how to use the grid to create one of the signature Waterford patterns. It didn’t look too hard, and I was eager to try my hand.


I assumed the position. With a wide stance and my elbows locked at a 45-degree angle, I pressed the glass to the wheel. At first it didn’t even leave a scratch; I hadn’t pressed hard enough.



I rocked the crystal back and forth trying to get the right cut. I pressed harder. Eventually I could see a mark. Frustrated with my results, TJ showed me once again. It looked so easy when he did it.


I was determined to get at least one good cut, but after five stabs at it, I gave up. My glass looked like it’d been attacked with a cleaver. My future as a Master Cutter was ruined. So much for my dreams of being a crystal-cutting prodigy.


Being a great teacher, TJ wasn’t going to let me end on a sour note. The apply-named wedge cut I’d just attempted was the more difficult of the two. TJ showed me the easier flat cut that’s used to make the signature star on the bottom of Waterford pieces. Since the crystal is thicker at the bottom of the glass, I was told to apply more pressure than the wedge cut. I climbed back up in the Master Cutter’s spot and pressed my glass to the wheel. It was much easier and yielded even better results.


TJ pronounced me the best guest crystal cutter he’d seen that day. I chuckled, considering I was the only guest crystal cutter he’d seen that day. It didn’t matter. I’d gotten a chance to learn from a true artist. And as an added bonus, Karlin and I were given the glasses we’d annihilated with our names engraved on them. As I admired my not-so-beautiful-glass, I noticed the letters “REJ” written on the side in black marker. I asked Emma, “Does this mean REJECT?” She simply smiled.


Check out part 1 and part 2 of my Waterford tour. Stay tuned for the fourth and final installment.

Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don't extend to speaking French. Yet.


    1. That’s really sweet, Emily. I didn’t see any ornaments in the shop, but I did see the triangles for the ball they drop on New Year’s in NYC. Interesting fact about that is that they produce a different pattern each year to replace the broken ones. If you look closely, you’ll see the differences. And if you know the pattern, you’ll be able to tell what year it was produced.

    1. You’re welcome, Pola, and thank you. The souvenir may not mean much to anyone else, but to me it’s the best thing I brought home from Ireland, besides the memories. 😉

    1. Everyone was so nice to us at Waterford. Emma was the best tour guide and TJ was so patient. I think I may take off the grid, but I’ll keep the REJ just for fun.

    1. Yes, anyone can do a tour. Yes, anyone can do a tour. We had a private tour with the crystal cutting. You won’t do that on the regular tour. If you’re headed to Ireland, check out Ginger at Time Travel Tours.

  1. What an opportunity! Looks like you had a blast, even if your piece ended up with “REJ” :-) I shouldn’t talk, though; I probably would have annihilated that piece of crystal!

  2. I am horrible at stuff like this, so I am sure I would have ruined the crystal. I would rather just buy the finished product, but it is kind of neat to see the process on how they are made.

    1. Apparently I’m pretty horrible at this kind of stuff too, Ted. We both bought the finished product, and plenty of it. Yet now we appreciate and understand the price. It’s certainly justified. :-)

  3. Great pictures! This looks like so much fun. Ireland is my second home, since most of my family lives there, but I never thought to do this. I’m going to have to head there next time I visit, and maybe I’ll drag my cousins along with me too! :)

  4. Wow – this looks fantastic Leah, I actually live in Ireland and have never visited Waterford Crystal! Your post really makes it look like fun:)

  5. so cool. we’re always more interested in interactive tours like this that keep you engaged, rather than just spout out the facts. blame it on our short attention spans and need to find the nearest pub/bar/demi carafe de vin :)

    1. Yeah, I should have put a disclaimer in there about not serving alcohol on the tour for you both. For some reason crystal cutting doesn’t lend itself to drinking…Irish or not. Ha!

  6. Leah, I visited Waterford myself years ago and I remember how difficult it was to become or be a master cutter, but very cool you had the VIP tour and had a chance to try. Also, your photos really help tell (or show) the story. Very cool.

    stay adventurous, Craig

    1. There are so many knockoffs of Waterford Crystal. There is the signature star that I did, but there will always be a small “Waterford” etched on the crystal too. Always check for that.

  7. That is very cool Leah…love Waterford Crystal – have a few pieces from the new millenium series! I so want to try my hand at cutting the crystal – what a treasured memory each time you drink from your creation.

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