Well, we're getting out and about a bit... Today's excursion was to the Waterford Crystal Factory.
Note to self, and to all others travelling to Waterford: Even though the crystal factory is clearly signposted along with several other tourist attractions, it is actually not within walking-distance from the main bus station. Don't ask how we know this. It actually came as a bit of a surprise, since almost everything in Ireland is walking distance from everything else.
The Visitor Centre is open pretty much all year, but factory tours are not available during Winter, so it's worth checking first. We definitely wanted to do the factory tour, and it was well worth it.
Our guide took us through the factory from the beginning of the crystal-making process through to the end. The first step in the process is the creation of a wooden mould used for blowing the molten crystal. For one-off or short run orders, the blowers actually blow the crystal directly into the wooden mould, but for longer-running creations a cast-iron mould is created from the wooden one.
The blowing in itself is an art form. Blowers still just collect a blob of molten lead crystal on the end of a hollow pipe, blow through the pipe, stick it into the mould and then continue blowing and turning until the crystal fits the shape. There's video of it in the photo gallery, and it's much more difficult than it sounds.
After the crystal is blown, it's taken to be cut. It's worth noting that at each stage of the production process, artisans are only paid for what they successfully create. Blowers don't get paid if they blow a flawed blank, and cutters don't get paid if they damage the blank or make an error in the cutting.
After the crystal is cut, some is taken further to an engraver, while some is a finished product. The engraver's art takes the longest to master, and is incredibly intricate. This is recognised by the agreement that if the engraver breaks something, the rest of the production line still gets paid. Not so for the engraver - every pay-cheque rests fairly and squarely on the ongoing demonstration of their skill.
The factory keeps a reference library of all the designs ever produced, and one of the requirements of a master of any of their disciplines is that they be able to reproduce all the designs from memory. Waterford is unique of all the Irish lead-crystal houses in that it never stops producing any particular design. Designs can be "retired," which means that requests for replacements are left on back-order until there are enough requests to fill most of a production run, but Waterford guarantees its customers that they will be able to replace anything they break. Forever.
Moving from the end of the tour into the showroom itself, some of the demonstration pieces are simply breathtaking. Some I hated. Why on earth, for example, would anyone create an American Football helmet out of lead crystal? Ugh. Others, on the other hand, were incredible. There was a harp complete with strings, a violin, four horses and a certain pumpkin-like carriage from a certain fairy tale, angels, seahorses, doves and all manner of other creatures.
Then there were the trophies. I didn't realise just how many trophies Waterford Crystal had been commissioned for. They had on display, amongst other things, the Australian Cricketer of the Year Perpetual Trophy, the 1990 Cricket World Cup Trophy, the 1995 World Chess Championship Trophy - and the ones on display when we visited were merely a very small subset of the whole.
And then, of course, there are the chandeliers. Enough said. The bargain basement price for a single chandelier starts at around EUR30,000. There's no upper limit.