Thursday 22 February 2018

Two years on, local icon has picked up the pieces and is gleaming again

Ralph Riegel

SOARING exports and surging visitor numbers have marked the astonishing re-emergence of one of Ireland's most iconic craft brands.

A revamped Waterford Crystal is celebrating 130,000 visitors on the first anniversary of the opening of its 'House of Waterford' showrooms -- 30pc ahead of target.

Strong exports to the US, UK and Asia -- coupled with the marketing boost from Waterford's hosting of the 2011 Tall Ships race -- gives hope to the prospect of increased production and further job creation. The turnaround represents a phoenix-like rise from the ashes for the company.

To mark the anniversary, master sculptor Michael Murphy -- a 35-year Waterford Crystal veteran -- completed an intricate replica of the Skuldelev viking longboat.

Costing a cool €45,000, the unique piece took 300 hours to complete -- and, according to Michael, ranks alongside special-order pieces he has made for Gay Byrne, confectionery billionaire John Mars and the emperor of Japan. "It is a beautiful piece -- and we're all very proud of it," he said.

Just two years ago Waterford-Wedgwood was one of the most high-profile casualties of the economic crisis.

The firm went into receivership and its world-famous visitor centre on the Cork Road shut down. A total of 670 workers lost their jobs.

At its peak in the 1980s, Waterford Crystal employed 4,000 staff.

The company's visitor centre was, in the 1990s, Ireland's fourth-most popular tourist attraction, with 320,000 visitors annually.

The firm's closure in 2009/2010 was a body blow for the city.

But now, a revised and revamped operation is delivering on the faith shown by Waterford City Council and the new owner, WWRD, in keeping the crystal facility firmly at the heart of the city's identity.

It is now the centrepiece of Waterford's ambitious new 'Viking Quarter' development.

The House of Waterford Crystal employs 130 full and part-time staff.

Its visitor centre on The Mall -- close to Waterford's famous Theatre Royal -- has been one of Ireland's greatest tourism successes of the past 12 months.

Manager David McCoy said it had been a hugely encouraging first year -- and production and employment would be developed in line with sales growth.

"It has been a great year -- we set ourselves a target of 100,000 visitors for our first 12 months and we achieved 130,000. We now hope to achieve 200,000 by 2014," he said.

The firm now offers over 1,000 different products and makes some 40,000 high-end pieces.

This week, buyers from top US and UK firms including Macy's, Bloomingdales, John Lewis, Debenhams and BT, toured the Waterford factory in conjunction with the Tall Ships festival.

Irish Independent

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