The Waterford Crystal Factory: History, The Tour + What To Expect In 2021

Waterford Crystal Factory tour
Photos via House of Waterford Crystal on FB

A visit to the Waterford Crystal Factory is one of the more popular things to do in Waterford.

Waterford City is synonymous with the crystal making industry that bears its name. From the 18th century, glass-making brought huge prosperity and employment to this historic port city.

The factory still produces over 750 tonnes of quality crystal and the Visitor Centre Experience and Museum provide insight into every part of the skilled process. 

In the guide below, you’ll find info on everything from the Waterford Crystal Factory tour to what to look out for when you’re there.

Some quick need-to-knows before visiting the Waterford Crystal Factory

waterford crystal tour
Photos via House of Waterford Crystal on FB

Although a visit to the Waterford Crystal Factory is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location  

The House of Waterford Crystal Visitor Centre is right across from the Viking Triangle, a historic area of the city with many museums, churches and attractions. The original Waterford Factory was on the edge of the city near the Cork Road; it closed in 2009. 

2. A whole lot of history   

Waterford Crystal was started in 1783 by brothers George and William Penrose and renowned glassmaker John Hill. They developed the technique of polishing glass to create stunning crystal products which quickly became known all over the world. You’ll learn more about its history below.

3. The tour     

Guided tours of Waterford Crystal Factory last about 50 minutes and must be pre-booked. The tour take you behind the scenes to see the mould-making, glass-blowing, sculpting, cutting and engraving processes.

4. Opening hours and admission   

The best way to to tackle the Waterford Crystal tour is by booking a timed ticket. If you prefer, you can purchase an Open Ticket online (you’ll be allocated a tour time on arrival). Adult admission is €14.40 and Family tickets cost €35. Tours are offered 7 days a week in summer and at weekdays only between November and February (times may change).

A speedy history of Waterford Crystal  

Glass-making has been a traditional Irish craft for centuries but it was in 1783 that Waterford Crystal was born. Brothers George and William Penrose founded the company, promising to create the finest and most elegant crystal in Europe…

Working with renowned glassmaker John Hill, they used their knowledge of minerals to produce the highest quality glass and then polished it to create stunning crystal products.

King George ordered a set of Waterford Crystal glasses and it became acclaimed by Dublin Society and further afield. Following the death of William Penrose in 1796, the business had a series of new owners. Alas, crippling new taxes on glass forced the factory to close in 1851, just after they exhibited at the London Exhibition (hosted in Crystal Palace) to universal acclaim. 

Post WW2 Developments

Waterford Crystal lay idle until 1947 when Neil Griffin and Charles Bacik opened a small factory in the Ballytruckle area of Waterford. They brought in experienced European glass-makers, took over the earlier designs and created their first crystal line, Lismore. It remains the best-selling crystal design in the world. 

Soon Waterford Crystal had reclaimed its prestigious place in the world of glass. It used famous designers such as Jasper Conran to create signature collections and eventually became a subsidiary of the famous Wedgwood Pottery.

During the recession in 2009, it was forced into bankruptcy and closed. In 2015, Fiskars Corp. acquired the business, re-opened it and it continues to thrive. 

Modern-day Waterford Crystal

Much of the crystal production is now done in the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary and Germany. However, the company still produces an impressive 750 tonnes of quality crystal onsite as part of the Visitor Centre Experience. 

Waterford Crystal became a customary gift for royalty and heads of state. Today you can see stunning examples of Waterford Crystal in chandeliers in Westminster Abbey, Windsor Castle and the Washington Center, DC.

The massive 3.7m diameter crystal ball that drops to mark the New Year in Times Square is another famous piece of Waterford Crystal. It is also used in trophies for the most prestigious sporting events. 

Things you’ll see on the House of Waterford Crystal tour

Waterford Crystal Factory tour
Photos via House of Waterford Crystal on FB

One of the reasons that the House of Waterford Crystal tour is so popular is that it’s packed with things to see.

Over the course of a 50-minute tour, you’ll visit everywhere from the Mould Room and the Blowing Department to the Cutting Department and more.

1. The Mould Room

The first stop on the guided tour is in the Mould Room where you learn the ancient art of mould-making. These moulds are used to shape the crystal in a technique that has remained unchanged for centuries. 

2. The Blowing Department   

The Blowing Platform provides a bird’s eye view of the skilled craftsmen who blow the crystal into shape. See them picking up huge balls of red hot liquid crystal from the 1400°C furnace on the end of a long blowing pole. Watch these amazing craftsmen blowing the molten crystal into a hollow form that is shaped externally using the wooden moulds. 

3. The Inspection  

At each stage of the crystal-making process, the crystal items are scrutinized. They must be perfect to pass the exacting standards on which the reputation of Waterford Crystal rests. Altogether there are six different inspections at each stage of the crystal-making process. You’ll see them all on the guided tour! 

4. The Hand Marking  

Next comes the marking process. The crystal vases, glasses and other objects are marked with a geometric grid. This helps the Master cutter as they hand-cut the pattern into the crystal. These guidelines are a simple way to ensure precision, size and accuracy. 

5. The Cutting Department  

When the crystal products reach the cutting room, they are covered in the marking grid but each Master Cutter hand cuts the design from memory. The patterns are not marked onto the glass. Not surprisingly, master cutters must serve an 8-year apprenticeship. They use their skill and dexterity to apply the exact pressure to hand-cut the pattern into the glass without breaking it. 

6. Sculpting

Not all Waterford Crystal products are blown. Trophies and other solid crystal objects, for example, must be hand-cut. They are sculpted from a solid block of crystal. It’s amazing to watch them work in such fine detail, creating the finest shapes and figures using their super-sharp sculpting wheels.

7. Engraving

Finally, the tour reaches the engraving room where you can get up-close to the artisans as they complete this bespoke process. At the House of Waterford Crystal, a process called Intaglio is used. Using copper wheels, these artisans trace fine designs onto commissioned trophies or create limited edition pieces. Many designs take several days to complete, depending on the detail and complexity of the design.

Things to do near the Waterford Crystal Factory

One of the beauties of the House of Waterford Crystal is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best places to visit in Waterford.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from the Waterford Crystal Factory (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).

1. Enjoy a post-tour feed  

waterford food
Photos via the Parlour Vintage Tea Rooms on Facebook

Wow, watching all those artisans hard at work can work up an appetite. You can pre-book Afternoon Tea (from 50€ per head) at the Visitor Centre or, for something more substantial, try one of of the places in our Waterford restaurants guide (there’s some great, old-school pubs in Waterford, too!).

2. Explore Ireland’s oldest city  

waterford clock tower
Photo by chrisdorney (Shutterstock)

Waterford City has several noteworthy claims to fame. Home of the historic Waterford Crystal Factory and Visitor Centre, this port city dates back to the Vikings. In fact, it’s Ireland’s oldest city. Must-see highlights include Reginald’s Tower with its Medieval Museum, the fascinating Bishops Palace (you won’t believe some of the contents!) the Viking Triangle, and one or two restaurants and watering holes along the way.

3. Cycle the Waterford Greenway   

Kilmacthomas Viaduct
Photo by Elizabeth O’Sullivan (Shutterstock)

If you fancy a bit of fresh air and exercise after all that shopping, eating, drinking and history, the Waterford Greenway is nearby. Rent a bike and explore the scenic banks of the River Suir. This 46km multi-use trail heads around the foot of the Comeragh Mountains to the coastal town of Dungarvan. The Copper Coast is another one worth checking out!

FAQs about visiting the Waterford Crystal Factory

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from whether the House of Waterford Crystal is worth visiting to what there is to see inside.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

Is the Waterford Crystal Factory worth visiting?

Yes! Waterford Crystal is home to a whole lot of history and those working inside its walls offer an insight into the immense skill needed to craft their beautiful creations. Perfect for a rainy day.

What is there to see on the House of Waterford Crystal tour?

Over the course of the Waterford Crystal Factory tour, you’ll visit the mould room, the blowing department and the sculpting area. You’ll see engraving taking place and you’ll watch as master glass makers do final inspections on finished pieces.

How long does the Waterford Crystal tour take?

You’ll want to allow around 50 minutes for the tour.

Gillian Birch is a travel writer and published author. She has travelled the world and uses her personal journals and memories to write about her many travel experiences, particularly those that involved adventures in Ireland.

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