December 2007

It’s Not Your Grandmother’s Crystal

By: Rachel Burkons

Waterford, the centuries-old brand known for its beautiful heavy-cut crystal bowls, goblets and vases,  is now offering the modern-day wine connoisseur new ways to make  the holiday table sparkle. Over the past decade, the classic brand has developed three lines of stemware that retain the luxurious Waterford elegance and quality, but reflect contemporary wine and spirits trends. Each line is targeted toward a specific audience that is, in many cases, experiencing Waterford for the first time.

“We’ve had to evolve,” explains Jim O’Leary, Waterford’s Director of Design. “We are the best in the world at making crystal, but there’s a stigma attached to the Waterford name. People think that we only make the same heavy-cut crystal we’ve been making for the last four centuries. But it’s not your grandmother’s crystal anymore.”

Any notions of grandma’s cumbersome crystal disappear with just one look at Waterford’s Vintage Entertaining line, which features playful wedding party flutes etched with phrases like “maid of honor” and “good luck.”  The collection’s fun feel and value-driven pricing is perfect for the casual entertainer looking for stylish stemware.

Waterford woos the enthusiast with its gorgeous Robert Mondavi collection, which features nine varietal-specific wine glasses as well as a Martini glass. Designers tested 900 different shapes before selecting the collection’s final lineup, including a balloon-shaped Chardonnay glass with a bowl that is ideal for releasing a bold bouquet. There’s even attention paid to the packaging: Boxes carrying red varietal glasses arrive with a red ribbon, while that Chardonnay glass will arrive in white.

“A good wine deserves it, a bad wine needs it.”

Waterford designers pushes the crystal evolution even further with the Connoisseur Gold collection. Each delicate Connoisseur Gold glass is mouth-blown to achieve perfect balance and proportion and maximize the wine’s potential. “A good wine deserves it, a bad wine needs it,” quips O’Leary. Indeed, any wine would benefit from Waterford’s new look, which, according to O’Leary, “has reached the end of the cycle.”

Jim O’Leary, the “Picasso of Crystal”

As Jim O’Leary, Waterford Crystal’s Director of Design, enters THE TASTING PANEL offices, one would never know that he’s spent six months traveling around the world in 2007. As the brand’s roving ambassador, O’Leary is away from home—Waterford, Ireland, naturally—for an average of five months each year, yet no signs of road-weariness cross his face as he sits down and begins discussing that which he knows best: crystal.

O’Leary, who has been with Waterford for 48 years, began his career as a fine crystal cutter and quickly achieved Master Craftsman status. Within five years he was appointed to his current position as director of the Design Studio, where he oversees every aspect of the crystal’s design and production. Explains John Marcinkowski, Waterford’s West Region Sales Manger, “Jim has a hand in everything Waterford makes.”

On this most recent stateside visit, O’Leary is adding his signature as the final touch on various Waterford items brought in by collectors and consumers. Using a dentist-like diamond-tipped drill, O’Leary gently etches his autograph into the crystal, noting that his signature further authenticates the Waterford brand. “Jim’s too modest,” says Marcinkowski. “His signature on a Waterford crystal can be likened to Picasso signing his work.”

“His signature on a Waterford crystal can be likened to Picasso signing his work.”

O’Leary’s work, which he describes as “painting with light,” is well known and can carry a hefty price tag. One of his most iconic pieces is the ball in New York City’s Times Square that has been ringing in the New Year since 2000 and will be replaced with a new ball for this upcoming New Year’s Eve. Limited edition items can run up to $7,000, and a one-of-a-kind chandelier created by the designer once fetched $25,000. But for collectors, it’s money well spent to own a Waterford product created by the “Picasso of crystal.”


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