Crystal trainees learn how to cut it in Ireland
Meet the trainees who will one day make People's Choice Award trophies
08 January 2015
Hollywood's royalty recently took to the red carpet for the People’s Choice Awards.
You may know that Jennifer Lawrence won 'favourite actress', and that The Big Bang Theory was dubbed 'favourite TV show.'
But do you know much about the trophies they proudly clutched?
Those coveted crystal awards are handmade in Ireland by world-famous Waterford Crystal. Its iconic works include the ball that drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, and the chandeliers that hang in Westminster Abbey.
A new generation
Waterford Crystal enjoys a rich 230-year history, but it wasn’t too long ago that the future looked bleak. All of the master craftsman are nearing retirement age, plus the company hadn’t taken on a new trainee since 1986.
That’s why they decided to take on ten apprentices. They were chosen from hundreds of applicants to learn the art of cutting, moulding, blowing and engraving glass.
The training is offered in partnership with Waterford Wexford Training Services, and at the end of their City & Guilds courses, the apprentices will have to prove their skills.
Until then they’ll learn from the masters, who were taught by the masters before them.
It’s not easy to become a master; Waterford Crystal demands perfection. If any product has the tiniest flaw, they destroy it. That way, the company can maintain its reputation of excellence.
But it takes a long time for a trainee to reach that level of perfection. The training programme lasts nine months, but it can take another four to seven years as an apprentice before they reach the rank of master.
Tony Grant knows exactly what it takes. A master himself, he has worked at Waterford Crystal for 42 years and enjoys training the new recruits.
‘The apprentices can expect to gain vast experience from the craftsmen that have spent their working lives perfecting their skills as Master Craftsmen,’ Tony said.
‘They will spend their time learning from a group of master craftsmen with over 900 years’ experience between them.’
Part of the history
Deciding to be a crystal-cutting apprentice was an easy choice for Adam Doyle. The 19-year old was familiar with the craft, as his father was a master cutter for 30 years.
‘It’s a big part of Waterford history and my family history, so it is great to be a part of it,’ Adam said.
‘My parents were over the moon for me when I got the apprenticeship because they know the happiness that working here brought my dad. They are hoping the same for me.’
His favourite part is getting to work beside the master cutters and learn their skills. He hopes the training will give him a stepping stone to full-time employment at Waterford.
Learning from mistakes
Kate Swift, 19, decided to apply for the engraving apprenticeship after admiring the company for years.
‘I’ve always visited Waterford Crystal since the old factory was up and running, and seeing what the craftsmen could do was amazing,’ she said.
She enjoys learning how to engrave, and encourages people to give it a try if they’re interested. However, she warns that it isn’t an easy path to take.
‘Engraving takes concentration, and most importantly, patience,’ she said.
‘Nothing will be perfect the first time, and the trainers always tell me that you learn from mistakes – no matter how small.’
The apprentices will spend years learning how to correct those mistakes until each piece is perfect. Only then will they be able to work on projects like the People’s Choice Awards.
The flawless quality, innovative cut and design are what makes this crystal, Waterford Crystal. The crystal pieces are exported all over the world, and attract more than 180,000 visitors to the south-east Irish city each year.
It’s a huge boost to the local economy, which has endured some rocky times. Waterford Crystal went bankrupt and closed its doors in 2009.
The company was bought shortly after by US equity firm KPS, who wanted to retain the qualities which are synonymous with Waterford Crystal. They decided to build a brand new facility in the heart of the city and return the company to its former glory.
Pride of Waterford
The opening in 2010 of Waterford Crystal’s manufacturing facility in Waterford city brought life back to the community.
'The people of Waterford are very proud of our crystal craft,' said Marketing Manager Emily Brophy, whose father was a master cutter at Waterford, starting his apprenticeship back in 1960.
‘There isn’t a home in the city without a piece of it,’ she said. ‘In the heart of the city we have the largest crystal showroom in the world.’
And thanks to the trainees who are learning the historic craft, Waterford Crystal will continue to produce some of the world’s finest crystal for many years to come.