Waterford all fired up again
Fine art of glass-making returns with the promise of 110 jobs
THE age-old traditions of glass-making and crystal-craftsmanship began a "new chapter for the 21st century" in Waterford yesterday.
Waterford Crystal has risen from the ashes and the furnace is burning again at 1,400 celsius, this time in the heart of the city and close to where its story began more than two centuries ago near the River Suir and the old port.
The House of Waterford Crystal comprises a new visitor centre, retail outlet and manufacturing facility and yesterday's official opening marked almost 18 months since the former company plant at Kilbarry closed its doors for the last time after going into receivership.
Located at the Mall, just off Waterford's city centre quays and opposite the old bishop's palace and the revamped Theatre Royal, the centre will employ 79 full-time and 33 part-time staff along with up to 40 temporary employees during peak season.
Initially, it is hoped 200,000 visitors will pass through the attraction in a full year, with this rising to more than 300,000, which would equal figures for the old plant at Kilbarry.
While much of the crystal production has shifted to central and eastern Europe in recent years, the House of Waterford Crystal will produce about 40,000 high-end pieces using traditional glass-blowing and carving methods as well as acting as a "central laboratory" for designers.
Among those designers is John Rocha, who has been associated with the luxury brand since 1995 and told the Irish Independent it was a "very exciting day" for the name and for the city itself. He described the House of Waterford Crystal as an "incredible" arrival.
"I saw the finished building for the first time last night and, on my heart, I almost cried," he said. "I saw the drawings (for the centre) at the beginning of January. They told me they wanted me back on the journey and they delivered everything they said."
His crystal collections for the brand will endure for years to come, he said. "What I design for them will be beyond my lifetime. It's great for a designer -- hopefully my grandchildren will be able to say, that's grandad's."
The new venture is the result of a partnership between KPS Capital Partners -- who bought the Waterford Crystal brand out of receivership last year -- and Waterford City Council.
Waterford Wedgwood and Royal Doulton (WWRD) Holdings Ltd was set up to operate the crystal brand as well as the Wedgwood and Royal Doulton brands.
At its height, Waterford Crystal employed 3,500 staff across the south-east, with the majority of workers in highly skilled, well-paid jobs.
WWRD chief Pierre de Villemejane said the city suffered "a devastating blow" last year when Waterford Crystal went into receivership and the Kilbarry plant closed down.
"We were determined to build a fitting home for Waterford Crystal in the very heart of Waterford city," he said.
The new manufacturing facility includes a new tank furnace which will deliver two tonnes of molten crystal every day, for the skilled master-blowers to hand-shape and hand-blow the range of premium products.
Visitors to the centre will learn about the history of crystal production in Waterford and the manufacturing process, while the retail centre has the largest display of Waterford Crystal anywhere in the world.
Mayor of Waterford John Halligan said the House of Waterford Crystal represented a "21st century chapter in this extraordinary story" of the industry in the area.