Our tour guide, Emma, led Karlin and me to the cleaning and polishing area. There, the black markings were being removed and the crystal polished. Water and various kinds of brushes and polishing wheels were used to bring the nearly-completed objects of desire to what we eventually see on the shelves.
Along the tables lining the room, there were countless pieces of finished crystal. I was in a prestige factory, so some of them I recognized. I marveled at the detail in each one. I couldn’t fathom how they could possibly be made despite Emma’s detailed explanations over the last hour. How could someone craft something so spectacular? It boggled my mind, especially after my pitiful try at cutting a simple drinking glass.
They were obviously different from all the vases and glasses we’d seen. Simply put, spread out over the tables were sculptures, works of art. There’s no other way to describe them. A true artist sculpted these from a solid block of crystal. Tiny tools with wheels on the end were used to carve out shapes and patterns in the crystal. Weeks and sometimes months were needed to create these elaborate 3-D creations.
As I passed along the tables, I saw various sports trophies, a People’s Choice award, and other commemorative objects. Emma told us that there are always two made of each special-order piece. That way if one breaks, there’s a back-up ready to go. A short month later, I realized how important this was when the Waterford-made NCAA National Championship football trophy was shattered. No doubt that the replacement was on its way from Ireland to Alabama in no time flat.
Of all the beautiful things I saw, nothing stopped me in my tracks like the piece depicting a famous photograph of Friar Mychael Judge being carried out of the Word Trade Center rubble by NYC firemen. Emma told us that the sculpture was created by one of the Waterford artisans from the broken scraps in the recycle bin. A piece resembling a church window was used in crafting this final creation.
The artist spent over 200 hours of his own time to make the tribute to the victims of 9/11 and is valued at over $75,000. The duplicate piece now resides in a New York City fire station. Hearing the story, along with seeing the symbolism, brought me to tears. I somehow gained my composure and moved on to watch some of the engravers.
Hard at work on a bowl depicting galloping horses, one artisan carefully and meticulously brought each horse to life. I watched him change tools just as an artist would change brushes. He knew exactly what was required to produce the effect he desired. I thought how rewarding it must be to know that with such simple tools and a lot of talent and training, a plain piece of crystal can be transformed to a highly-prized work of art.
Even with so many shiny things in the room, my eyes were stolen away from the engraver and landed on what looked like a pile of giant diamonds. Waiting to be affixed to a mirror were 20 or so diamond-shaped crystals. I picked one up and placed it on my finger as if it were a ring. The crystal easily covered two of my fingers. I looked at the mirror and saw hundreds of the same crystals adorning it.
With simple tweezers, the artist put a spot of adhesive down and carefully placed each crystal. Then to secure the bond, he blasted it with heat. Perhaps this mirror was three-feet high, certainly large enough to be a statement piece in any home, but it couldn’t compare to the identical one in the Waterford store. At probably eight feet high, that mirror is a show-stopper.
The tour drew to an end. In this short hour and a half, Karlin and I’d seen the Mould Room, the Blowing Department, Quality Inspection, Hand Marking, the Cutting Department, and the Sculpting and Engraving Department. It was time to give our credit cards a workout in the factory’s store.
It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that I wanted everything. I particularly fell in love with a giant, crystal globe. I collect them, so it would have been the crown jewel in my collection. I flipped over the price tag, and although I understood why the piece was priced the way it was, I just couldn’t justify spending more than double the cost of my flight to Ireland on it.
I looked at Waterford’s beautiful collection a bit differently. Instead of a stunning piece of stemware or a spectacular vase, I saw the multiple processes and countless hours used to create each of those pieces. I saw the years of training and dedication involved. I replayed the long history of Waterford and knew that any purchase I made was an investment. That tiny etched “Waterford” found on every single creation took on a whole different meaning. In my mind this revelation made Waterford even more special.
I browsed the store looking for souvenirs while Karlin seemed to snatch up one of everything. I limited myself to a red wine glass for my boss, a large shamrock, symbolic of my time in Ireland, and a small globe paperweight. For now that tiny Waterford globe sits on my fireplace mantel, but it’s simply a placeholder until I get the full-size version.