1783 was a significant year in history, with Beethoven publishing his first works, and the world’s first hot air balloon being released in Paris. Another event also took place that year which is lesser known, but important nevertheless. That year, George and William Penrose of Waterford City petitioned the parliament requesting aid to establish a factory to manufacture flint glass in the Waterford Glass House. The parliament accepted their request, and they set up a large glass manufactory in Waterford City on October 3rd, 1793.
Within a year of its establishment, the factory was going strong with all kinds of useful and ornamental flint glass being produced. The large number of highly skilled craftsmen, blowers, cutters and engravers ensured that each article would be made and supplied in a tasteful and elegant style. The quality of the glass was on par with the finest in Europe. It took £10,000 to build and equip the factory in Waterford City. At first, about 50 to 70 workers were employed in the factory.
In 1785, the Penroses were fortunate to acquire the services of one Mr. John Hill, a glass manufacturer of Stoubridge who had moved to Waterford and had brought with him the best set of workmen in the County of Worcester. The Penroses were businessmen and not skilled craftsmen, and so knew nothing about the art of making glass. John Hill, the only man who knew the secret of mixing glass materials, was given the job of compounder. He made the important decision to polish the glass after cutting so that it would lose its frosted appearance. This went on to become one of the distinctive signatures of Waterford glass in the later years.
John Hill’s exit from Waterford was as sudden as his entry. Three years after coming to Ireland, he was falsely accused of some gross act by a member of the Penrose family. John Hill taking the matter to heart, decided to quit his job and leave Waterford. But before leaving, he passed on the formula for glass compounding to Jonathan Gatchell, a clerk, who had offered Hill sympathy and understanding during the difficult time. Gatchell then left his job as a clerk and became a compounder. He would go on to rise to better positions in the later years.
Despite the internal troubles, the fame of Waterford cut glass spread far and wide. It entered the export market on an impressive scale. The Dublin Chronicle of August 21, 1788 had this to say about Waterford glass – ‘a very curious service of glass has been sent over from Waterford to Milford for their Majesties’ use, and by their orders forwarded to Cheltenham, where it has been much admired and does much credit to the manufacture of this country’.
William Penrose passed away in 1796. The Penrose family carried on the business till 1797, when it was advertized for sale. After negotiations that were not particularly hurried, the new company took over in 1799. The new partners James Ramsey, Ambrose Barcroft and Jonathan Gatchell, whose compounding skills earned him a partnership. The partnership was dissolved when James Ramsey died in around 1810. This dissolution gave Jonathan Gatchell, the boy who had joined the factory as a clerk in 1783, the opportunity of his lifetime. It was his moment of destiny when he took over the reins of the company and became the sole proprietor of the glasshouse. He stayed at the helm until his death in 1823 – an association of forty years with the company. It can be said that Gatchell had the greatest influence on the Waterford glasshouse.
When Jonathan Gatchell took over, the glass-making industry was going through new difficulties. In 1811, a new law came into force, decreeing that duty would be imposed on flint glass made in and exported out of Ireland. This was not a good sign for the future, because Jonathan Gatchell had mortgaged the glass-house to raise money to take over the business. 70 to 100 men were employed in the factory and the monthly wages often came up to £240.
Jonathan had married late in life, and on his death in 1823, left a widow and three young children, George, Frances and Isabella. According to Gatchell’s will, George was to take over the business upon attaining majority in 1835. Till that time, the business was carried on by the family through various partnerships. One of the major additions to the factory during this time was the introduction in 1826, of a steam engine to drive the cutting wheels.
When young George Gatchell took over, he felt the need of guidance from an experienced hand. He offered a partnership to George Sanders, a long time employee of the firm. The partnership lasted till 1848, after which Gatchell carried on alone for another three years. The condition of the business when George took over the reins was precarious. The additional duty imposed in 1825 on glass manufactured in Great Britain and Ireland was a huge blow, and the entire glass making industry suffered. The Waterford factory kept up its struggle for almost another 25 years, but nothing could save it from the fate that seemed almost predestined.
George Gatchell worked assiduously, maintained Waterford standards and won silver medals at the Royal Dublin Society’s Exhibitions of 1835 and 1836 for cut flint glass. The pieces Waterford displayed included a richly cut glass flower vase and dish. An ornamental centre stand for a banqueting table was displayed by Waterford at the London Exhibition of 1851. The stand consisted of forty pieces of cut glass fitted to each other in such a way that they did not need connecting sockets of any material.
The company ceased operations in October 1851, and many of its workers went to Belfast, where the glass industry continued its struggle till 1870. With the closing down of The Pugh’s in Dublin in 1896, the manufacturing of flint glass in Ireland came to an end. After the factory closed, George Gatchell left Ireland and settled down in England for the rest of his life. He passed away sometime between 1880 and 1890. Thus ended the first phase of the Waterford Crystal story.
The threat of a communist take-over pervaded Europe after the Second World War, and it was this threat that made Charles Bacik of Czechoslovakia travel through Germany, Belgium and England and finally settle down in Ireland to set up a crystal factory. In 1947, Europe was in ruins and was still grappling with the effects of the Second World War, when a small factory was opened in Ballytruckle, a suburb of Waterford. This factory was just one and a half miles from the site of the original Penrose glasshouse.
After opening this factory, Bacik and Noel Griffin travelled through Europe and brought 30 blowers and cutters from various places in Europe to Waterford to train young apprentices in Ireland. Among the 30 men was Miroslav Havel, a blower from Czechoslovakia. Bacik promised Havel that Ireland was a fine country with an abundance of oranges and bananas, and managed to persuade him to come work in his Waterford factory. On 29th July, 1947, Havel left Prague on the international train through Germany and Belgium. A ferry then took him across the English Channel to Dover in England, from where he took another train to London’s Paddington Station and from there to Fishguard. A ferry from Fishguard took him to Ireland.
Havel’s first action when he got to Ireland was to visit the National Museum in Dublin. There, he made a careful inspection and study of the old pattern books of the inoperative Waterford Flint Glass Works of the previous century. Havel was greatly influenced by this study, and the first patterns, or suites he produced in the new Johnstown factory reflected this influence. Havel served through the years as the chief designer in the factory, and was an adept at blowing, cutting, sculpting, painting and engraving. The Lismore pattern he designed became the most popular pattern ever to be made by Waterford. The new factory had started out well, and things looked promising. In 1950, its chances of further success increased when Bacik, Fitzpatrick, McGrath, Griffin and some other leading businessmen put in more money as capital. Joseph McGrath became the Chairman of the company, and Joseph Griffin served as the Managing Director.
Steady and robust growth necessitated a move to a larger site in Johnstown. The new factory was built in 1951 close to the city centre, with newer and better furnaces. This marked the beginning of the second phase of Waterford Crystal’s incredible run, which placed the company firmly on top of the world’s crystal industry. The first profits of Waterford Crystal came in 1955. The fame of Waterford spread through word of mouth by visitors to Ireland, and it was the best form of advertising for the company. It decided, in 1958, to stop doing business through its New York agent and started selling directly from the factory to the stores. The demand for Waterford Crystal grew so exponentially in the 1960s and the 1970s that it was difficult for the supply to keep up with it. As a result, the size of the glass works increased and grew in stature to firmly establish the brand as the best-known name in hand crafted crystal.
With demand exceeding supply, it was decided to open a new factory in Kilbarry in 1970. The site in Kilbarry however, was not very large, and so the factory was to be built in many stages. Before the completion of the final stage of the building, a piece of land was purchased by Waterford at Dungarvan and a factory built there with the same process as Kilbarry. The construction of the Kilbarry factory was completed in July 1973. At 425,000 feet and with close to 10 acres of land, it was the largest manufacturing unit of its kind in the world. In the early 1970s, there was a great demand for lighting ware. The demand was so great, in fact, that it started interfering with Waterford’s normal production. Therefore, after the oil crisis of the winter of 1973, and 1974, Waterford decided to build a factory for lighting ware. The demand kept increasing, and Waterford Glass Ltd. went public in 1966.
With the coming of computer technology in the 1980s, the accuracy of the raw material mix, known as ‘batch’ in the crystal industry, was greatly improved. Technology ensures a much more consistent and accurate blending than was possible a century ago. In November 1986, a furnace design that used natural gas instead of oil was introduced in Waterford, which saved the company £2 million on their yearly oil import bill. The research and development wing of the company identified major cost and quality improvements that could be effected by the use of diamond wheel cutting. The introduction of diamond wheels happened in 1987, and since that time, they have helped the craftsmen at Waterford create patterns that are more and more intricate and exciting.
In 1986, Waterford Glass Ltd. entered the field of Pottery with the acquisition of Wedgwood, the prestigious pottery concern of North Staffordshire, England. Wedgwood, arguably the greatest name in ceramics, had specialized since 1759 in exquisite bone china and earthenware. This acquisition helped Waterford in the area where it hoped to develop.
A severe financial crisis hit Waterford in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The spectacular fall in the value of the dollar, inflationary labor agreements, and the decline in demand added to unsuccessful and costly restructuring attempts of the company to make its condition worrisome. Then, in 1990 new investors turned things around for the company by injecting the much required cash. In 1991, Waterford launched a wide range of crystal products that included stemware and hollowware under the brand name Marquis. This was the first time in the company’s two hundred year history that a brand was considered elegant and fine enough to carry the name Waterford Crystal. Waterford’s standards were very high, and new products were introduced only from the finest facilities in Europe which conformed to those exacting standards.
In February 1993, Waterford received a grant from the ‘Industry Research and Development Initiative’ for new glass melting technology. This investment in technology over a period of five years revolutionized the work practices of the company and contributed greatly to its quick turnaround to success. Many celebrities were brought on board by the Waterford Wedgwood Group to promote its brands. British designer Jasper Conran’s designs and those of John Rocha earned great fame almost overnight. Waterford Wedgwood also acquired the ceramic companies Rosenthal and All Clad. An estimated 1.2 billion people watched in wonder as a 6-foot diametric crystal ball was lowered down the pole in New York’s Times Square in the countdown to the year 2000. This New Year’s Eve event was perhaps the greatest promotion of Waterford Crystal.
2008 brought with it another financial crisis, and the Waterford Wedgwood Group and associated companies found themselves unable to obtain the additional finance necessary to keep their operations running all over the world. An announcement was made on 30th January, 2009 that Waterford Crystal was in receivership. In February 2009, however, it was announced that a US based equity firm, KPS Capital would purchase some of Waterford’s overseas assets and businesses, thus helping it tide over some of its financial difficulties.
The WWRD Group Holdings Limited, a major luxury goods group that owns and manages the Waterford Crystal, Wedgwood and Royal Doulton brands, announced in January 2010 that it had signed an agreement with the Waterford City Council that gave it the permission of opening a new manufacturing facility and retail store in the heart of Waterford. This new facility melts more than 750 tonnes of crystal in a year and manufactures over 45,000 pieces using conventional methods. Guided tours of the facility are also offered to domestic and international visitors to observe the manufacturing process. Since its introduction in June 2010, more than 800,000 have visited the retail store and taken the guided tours.
The WWRD group of companies, along with its portfolio of widely admired luxury home and lifestyle brands including Waterford, Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Royal Albert and Rogaška, was acquired by the Fiskars Corporation in July 2015. Fiskars is a major global supplier of consumer products for the home, garden and outdoors and focuses specially on tabletop, giftware and interior décor. It continues to work at its growth strategy, and the acquisition of WWRD furthers this strategy by creating a strong presence in the United States, and further strengthening its position in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
Waterford Crystal, named after the city of Waterford, Ireland, is a manufacturer of crystal. It was acquired by the WWRD Group Holdings Ltd., a luxury goods group which also owns the Wedgwood and Royal Doulton brands. In July 2015, WWRD was acquired by the Fiskars Corporation.
Waterford had to close down its facility in January 2009 due to the bankruptcy of the Wedgwood Group, to reappear later that year after several financial difficulties and takeovers. It went back almost to its roots when it was relocated on The Mall in Waterford City in June 2010. The new facility now melts more than 750 tonnes of crystal in a year. The facility has a retail store which showcases the world’s largest collection of Waterford Crystal, and also offers guided tours to visitors.
Crystal production began in the city of Waterford in the year 1783, when George and William Penrose started their glassmaking business. They produced flint glass of the finest quality that became famous all over the world. This company, however, closed down in 185. Waterford’s reputation as the city where fine flint glass was first manufactured in the country more than a century ago, encouraged Czech immigrant Charles Bacik, the grandfather of Irish senator Ivana Bacik, to establish a glass works there in 1947. With a lack of skilled crystal workers in Ireland, Bacik employed craftsmen from the continent. Aided by compatriot Miroslav Havel, the company’s operations were started in Ireland which was then reeling in depression. The Irish Glass Bottle Company took over Waterford as a subsidiary sometime in the early 1950s. This company was owned by Joseph McGrath, Richard Duggan and Spencer Freeman of the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstakes, who were big investors in Irish business at the time. Waterford acquired John Aynsley and Sons in 1970, and changed its name to Aynsley China Ltd.
Designer Jasper Conran began creating his distinctive range of crystal for Waterford in 1999. His designs have developed into four unique lines for Waterford, and a complementary fine bone china tableware collection for Wedgwood in 2001. The factory at Dungarvan was closed in May 2005 to bring all operations under the main factory in Kilbarry, Waterford City, where the workforce was numbered 1,000 people. The closing down of the Dungarvan facility led to the loss of jobs for 500 workers.
Until March 2009, Waterford Crystal Limited was a subsidiary of the Waterford Wedgwood plc. Waterford Wedgwood had been formed in 1986 when the then Waterford Glass Group had acquired the famous pottery manufacturer Josiah Wedgwood. Tony O’Reilly was the last chairman, and the CEO was John Foley. O’Reilly and his family were the major shareholders of the holding company. His brother-in-law, the Greek shipping billionaire Peter Goulandris also joined the list of shareholders in the last decade. The news that Waterford Wedgwood was in receivership was announced in Ireland on January 5, 2009.
It was announced on 30th January 2009 that the Kilbarry plant would be closed immediately, without any discussion with the unions in advance. The plant in Kilbarry offered guided tours of the factory, and had a gift shop, café, and gallery. The workers, upset at the news of shutting down, performed an unofficial sit-in, which made it to BBC news. They hoped by this sit-in to persuade the receiver Deloitte to retain their jobs. A city-wide protest was held on 4th February against the treatment being given to the workers. On 27th February, David Carson of Deloitte confirmed that the US equity firm KPS Capital was to purchase some of the company’s overseas assets and businesses. The sit-in ended in March 2009 with the workers agreeing to split a payment of €10m. The struggle of the employees to stop the shutting down of the factory was recorded in a PBS online documentary.
Most of Waterford Wedgwood’s assets including Waterford Crystal, Wedgwood, Royal Doulton and other brands were transferred to KPS Capital Partners in March 2009, under Deloitte’s receivership. The visitor centre and factory in Kilbarry was not included in the deal. The visitor centre was shut down on 22nd January 2010, and a new visitor and manufacturing facility was opened in June 2010. On 11th May 2015, Fiskars Corporation, a Finnish maker of home products signed an agreement to purchase 100% of the holdings of WWRD. The acquisition, approved by the US antitrust authorities, was completed on 2nd July 2015. Fiskars now owned the brands Waterford, Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Royal Albert and Rogaška. Waterford products are now mostly produced outside Ireland, in the European countries like Slovenia, Czech Republic and Germany. Many patterns of lead crystal stemware are manufactured by Waterford in lines like Adare, Alana, Colleen, Kincora, Lismore, Maeve, Tramore, and many others.
Waterford’s chandeliers were installed in Westminster Abbey in 1966 for the 900th anniversary of the abbey. The Windsor Castle and the Kennedy Centre in Washington are other notable places where Waterford chandeliers hang. The famous New Year’s Eve Ball that is dropped every year in New York’s Times Square, was made by Waterford for the countdown to the year 2000. An 11,875 pound geodesic orb with a diameter of 12 feet, it was lit by 32,256 Philips Luxeon Rebel LEDS. Waterford also crafts sports trophies like the Masters Series crystal shield trophies awarded in the nine men’s professional tennis Masters Series tournaments, the AFCA National Championship Trophy awarded to the US college football team which finishes the season at the top of the coaches poll. It also crafts a representation of the Ashes urn that is awarded to the winner of the Test cricket series between England and Australia. The Masters Snooker championship also has a Waterford Trophy.
The winners’ trophies for the French and German Grand Prix in Formula One are crafted by Waterford. It made the bat and ball trophy that was presented to Derek Jeter in the final game at the Yankee Stadium. It also made a glass tennis racket for Boris Becker. The trophies for the People’s Choice Awards are also crafted by Waterford.