Waterford Crystal Buying Guide

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Waterford Crystal Buying Guide

Consumers who enjoy and can afford the finer things in life may collect and display Waterford crystal in their home. Some people may even use their Waterford pieces when entertaining or for special occasion family dining. Regardless of whether it is used or simply admired, Waterford crystal is a status symbol and a product of heirloom quality. While many people may think of drinking goblets in relation to Waterford, the company produces many other types of crystal items, including candleholders, clocks, chandeliers, picture frames, vases, lamps, and even desk accessories.

Buying Waterford crystal requires a bit of knowledge about the company, its history, and its products; this knowledge helps consumers to identify authentic pieces and fair prices. Understanding how crystal is made and how to care for it properly prepares buyers to inspect pieces for quality and condition and maintain both once an item enters their home.

History of Waterford Crystal

Lead crystal was invented in the late 1600s by Englishman George Ravenscroft. Waterford crystal is named for the Irish port in which the company was established. In 1783, brothers William and George Penrose founded the large manufacturing firm and quickly gained a reputation as one of the leading makers of crystal in the world. The company closed for a time, but Waterford rebuilt in 1947 during the reconstruction period following World War II. In 2009, the original plant in Ireland closed; however, production continues in other European factories, and Waterford remains a leader in the fine glassware business today.

Information About Crystal

Crystal is simply another name for high-quality glass. Not all glass is crystal, but all crystal is glass. One example of a formula for basic glass is as follows:

Chemical Ingredient

Common Names

Silicon dioxide

Quartz, sand, or silica

Sodium carbonate

Soda ash, washing soda, or soda

Calcium carbonate

Lime or limestone

Different types of glass have additional ingredients that impart special properties. For instance, some Pyrex is borosilicate glass, which contains boron in the form of boric oxide. Colored glass may have different elements or compounds added: cobalt for blue glass, gold or copper for red glass, and iron for green glass.

Glass Vs. Crystal

Crystal is, quite simply, a variety of glass. If lead oxide (PbO) is added to a standard glass formula, the result is lead crystal. Lead works (somewhat counterintuitively) to add clarity to the glass and increase its reflective quality. Also, perhaps more expectedly, lead also adds weight and density but also softness to the glass material. This softness makes decorative cutting and etching easier.

By holding a clean piece of crystal up to a strong light source, one should be able to tell if it is made of lead crystal or not. Lead crystal sparkles more than glass and creates a prismatic effect, producing rainbow-colored light reflections. A faint grayish or silvery tinge may also be apparent, indicating the lead content. The weight of the lead should also be discernible, particularly when compared to a standard glass of about the same size. Furthermore, gently tapping a fingernail or plastic utensil on a curved surface of the crystal item should effect a clear ringing tone as well as a slight vibration.

Lead Crystal Vs. Lead-Free Crystal

Consumers should be aware that not all glassware marketed as crystal is true lead crystal. Manufacturers often use the term "crystal" to signify a high quality of standard glass. In lead-free crystal, lead oxide is substituted with barium oxide (BaO), zinc oxide (ZnO), or potassium oxide (K20).

Flaws in Crystal

Because many people purchase previously owned Waterford crystal, they should be aware of the different conditions in which they may find pieces. The condition of the crystal affects the value and, therefore, the asking price. Knowledgeable consumers can use their understanding of crystal to bargain where necessary. Some of the most common issues arising in used crystal are cloudiness and bubbles.

Foggy or Cloudy Crystal

Cloudiness is usually a result of improper care, either from hard water deposits, harsh cleaning methods, or overall tiny scratches. Use a fingernail or a pin to very gently scrape the film and see if it is removable. If the cloudiness is an actual film, it can sometimes be eliminated through special soaking processes, either in a white vinegar solution or in a calcium, lime, and rust remover. If the crystal is scratched, it is considered "etched." (Note that this is different from intentional decorative etching.) Etching cannot be reversed.

Bubbles and Other Flaws in Crystal

It is natural for handcrafted glass to feature some variations and "flaws," but these do not indicate a poor-quality piece. Many pieces of Waterford crystal feature cords, lines, seeds, or bubbles. A crystal item should not be overlooked because of these minor anomalies.

Caring for Waterford Crystal

It is very easy to damage lead crystal and crystal glass. Crystal is fragile and easily scratched. It should not be placed in a dishwasher; although some dishwashers have crystal and china settings, there is still a risk of reducing the beauty of the crystal. Minerals in hard water (or softeners) and dishwashing detergents leave a film on glass, reducing its clarity. Dishwashing machines can also cause tiny scratches to form on the crystal, which give the crystal an overall cloudy appearance. In some cases, the cloudy appearance can be corrected, but it is best not to allow it to occur in the first place.

Handling Waterford Crystal

When carrying crystal glasses, hold just one in each hand, suspending the bowl while allowing the stem to pass through the fingers. Set pieces down gently. Avoid pouring hot liquid into a cold glass, or vice versa, as the extreme temperature change can cause breakage. Liquids should not be allowed to sit for too long in lead crystal, as lead can leach out of the glass, particularly into acids like wine. Lead crystal carafes and decanters should not be used long-term. Glasses pose no problem, since the liquid is not in a glass long enough to cause a problem.

Cleaning Waterford Crystal

Hand washing is the cleaning method of choice for fine crystal. Remove bracelets, wrist watches, and rings. Do not use hot or cold water, since delicate glass is sensitive to temperature changes and cracks easily. If there is not time to wash crystal dishes and glasses immediately after eating, soak them in warm water to keep food and beverages from hardening (and thus requiring more vigorous treatment). Choose a plain, mild detergent; avoid dishwashing liquids that contain strong fragrances, moisturizers for the hands, antibacterials, and other additives. Use a rubber dishpan or a mat in the bottom of a hard sink for protective cushioning in case a glass should hit the surface too hard. Clean crystal with a soft cotton cloth or soft sponge; do not use scrubbers. Immediately wipe crystal with a clean, soft, dry cloth to eliminate water spotting.

For pieces that cannot be submersed, such as clocks, use a feather duster regularly to keep dust particles off the crystal, and use a water-dampened soft cloth to remove fingerprints.

Storing Waterford Crystal

Even the conditions under which crystal is stored can affect the items. Owners should store glasses upright on their bases, not upside-down; resting a crystal glass on the fine rim can easily cause damage to this fragile area. Be sure to leave space between each item. Keep crystal covered or enclosed in a cabinet, as even dust particles can lead to scratches.

Other Brands of Crystal

Consumers should be aware of other top producers of crystal around the world. Sometimes antique pieces are misidentified as Waterford creations.

  •     Ajka
  •     Baccarat
  •     Dartington
  •     Liuligongfang
  •     Mikasa
  •     NovaScotian
  •     Orrefors
  •     Preciosa
  •     Royal Brierley
  •     Royal Leerdam
  •     Steuben
  •     Swarovski

To identify Waterford, shoppers can check for the green-and-gold seahorse seal. They can also check for the Waterford name, which should be etched into the crystal somewhere, usually near the base of the item. Without these identifiers, it is unlikely that the piece is a true Waterford.

Where to Buy Waterford Crystal

For authentic, brand-new Waterford pieces, you may wish to visit the company’s website, which is also affiliated with the Wedgwood and Royal Doulton brands. Waterford crystal is also distributed through authorized retailers, such as high-end boutiques, department stores, homewares shops, gift shops, souvenir shops, and even some jewelers. Used and vintage or antique Waterford crystal is often sold at estate sales and auctions, as well as through consignment shops and classified adverts. Occasionally, someone sells Waterford at a yard sale or donate an item to a thrift shop without knowing its true value, although this happens infrequently. You can find Waterford pieces online from retailers or check out Internet auctions like eBay for a wide variety of new and used crystal.

How to Buy Waterford Crystal on eBay

You can shop for Waterford crystal from the convenience of home by visiting eBay. Internet auctions often turn up antique, rare, and discontinued pieces as well as a diverse selection of new and gently used items. Starting at the homepage, use the directory search to find a general category of products, and then continue to click on smaller subcategories until you arrive at Waterford brand listings. You can then use category filters to sort by all new or all used items. You may also want to take advantage of listings with free shipping, since packing and sending fragile glassware is time-consuming and costly but necessary.

Another way to shop for Waterford crystal on eBay is to return to the homepage and use the keyword search function. Type in a single word ("Waterford") or a specific phrase ("Waterford crystal Christmas bell") and click Search. This method of shopping is good if you know exactly what you are looking for and do not care to browse along the way.


Waterford crystal has been rated among the most stunning glassware on the planet for over two centuries. A finely crafted Waterford piece adds beauty and elegance to a home. Being aware that there are other producers of fine crystal helps buyers to distinguish between authentic Waterford and a similar-looking piece from another manufacturer. Knowing how to look for the marks of Waterford ensures that the buyer gets what he or she intended to. Buyers should realize that some minor flaws, such as cords and bubbles, are found in genuine Waterford and are not signs of an imitation or an inferior product.

Lead crystal is created by adding lead oxide to a glass formula. The lead serves to clarify the glass and add resonance and reflectiveness. It also facilitates adding cut facets or etching to the glass. This stunning glassware does require special handling and care, but owning a piece of Waterford crystal is such a joy that most people do not mind pampering their prized crystal items.

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