For decades, the Irish house Waterford Crystal has been synonymous with celebratory times. Its vast collection includes a variety of vessels for any drinking occasion, while its New Year’s Eve crystal ball, which descends on New York’s Times Square every year, is the centrepiece of one of the world’s biggest street parties.

The company is more than two centuries old, but it has never stopped reinventing itself and finding new ways to approach crystal. ‘You have to be very cautious of how you treat a legend,’ says Emily Brophy, who is responsible for the company’s marketing strategy. Her father was an apprentice at Waterford in the 1960s and stayed on as a glass cutter until 2004. Some of the apprentices he himself trained are now master cutters at the company and teaching a new generation of craftsmen. ‘Our crafts of cutting, blowing, sculpting and engraving have been lovingly passed from one generation to the next,’ says Brophy. Passing on this craft is an incredibly important element of Waterford Crystal’s strategy: the 160 artisans working in the Irish factory (based in the southern Irish city from which the company takes its name) have all learned the craft at Waterford as apprentices, and many of them have joined the company through family ties. A new generation of apprentices is introduced every few years to ensure the skills stay alive.

Everything produced in Waterford (in a new factory opened in 2010) is crafted by hand, from the crystal itself, to the wooden tools and moulds the glass blowers use to shape it in its molten form, to the patterns carved by master cutters using diamond-tipped wheels.

The company’s designs have been subtly renewed throughout the years, maintaining a traditional appearance while exploring new languages through the material. The Lismore pattern, the company’s most celebrated design, was introduced by Miroslav Havel, who became chief designer in 1947 after moving to Ireland from Czechoslovakia. It was inspired by the Gothic windows of the castle of the same name, owned by the Duke of Devonshire and located near the Irish town. It’s a pattern that has been applied to virtually every conceivable crystal object, and the most recognisable feature of the company’s production. Designed in 1952, its features have twice been given a contemporary spin: in 2006 by then-creative director John Connolly (who was asked by a customer to create a modern version of her mother’s crystalware) and again in 2012, to celebrate its 60th anniversary, by global design manager Matt Kehoe.

‘Our history is very clear and celebrated throughout our production,’ says Brophy of the company that is gracefully walking the fine line between an illustrious past and a contemporary outlook. ‘We are very serious about protecting the brand’s heritage,’ she continues, ‘but at the same time keeping its culture moving towards a contemporary way of life.’ 

As originally featured in the January 2016 issue of Wallpaper (W*202)