The heat was intense and could be felt before I even entered the blowing department.
Our tour guide, Emma, told Karlin and me that the furnaces were kept at 2,372 degrees Fahrenheit. Things looked as if they were just getting started for the day as there was just one blower. We watched as he heated the mixture of sand, potash, and red lead using a long, metal rod. With each turn of the rod, the blower’s cheeks got rosier from the heat. We weren’t sure when the crystal was done, but he sure did. After all, he’d been training for years.
Emma explained that craftsmen serve as apprentices for seven years before they can earn the title of Master. Young men are chosen based on their potential, then they are taught and molded just like their beautiful creations. Masters rarely change professions. Once the title is achieved, they continue to work with crystal until retirement. After seven years of studying, I don’t think I’d switch jobs either; becoming a Master takes as long as becoming a doctor. That put it in perspective for me.
The blower pulled the orange globs of molten crystal from the fire and began to blow as he spun the hollow rod. As the crystal grew, the Master used the wooden moulds to help shape the piece. Additional heat was added when needed. We were spellbound watching nothing go to something so quickly. The pride taken in the craftsmanship was evident given the level of meticulous attention that the blower and his apprentice showed each piece.
When pieces are sufficiently cooled, Emma said that they are sent to Quality Inspection. After they are blown, but before being marked and cut, they are inspected. She explained that Waterford has an extremely strict standard that must be met before moving on to the next stage.
There are a total of six inspections. During those inspections, if pieces aren’t deemed first quality by the inspectors they are shattered and remelted. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized that I’d never seen “seconds” from Waterford. I suppose letting out less-than-perfect pieces dilutes the brand. Secretly I wanted to get a closer look at one that didn’t make the cut. Could I have found the flaw?
As Emma and Karlin continued to talk, I looked down at the container of broken crystal vases, pitchers, and glasses. All the work by the blowers was simply smashed and ready to be remelted. They would do the work all over again, but the next time the results surely would be flawless.
On the way out of Quality Inspection there was a table filled with six crystal bowls and the mould used to shape them. Emma explained that the bowls showed the progression from inception to completion. I’d seen the first two stages, and it was time to move on to the Hand Marking and Cutting Departments.