15 Facts About Waterford Crystal, the Brand That Builds the New Year's Ball

As You Countdown to 2013, Impress Friends With This Cheat Sheet About the 230-Year-Old Brand

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The 11,875-pound Waterford crystal ball used for 2011 New Year's Eve in Times Square.
The 11,875-pound Waterford crystal ball used for 2011 New Year's Eve in Times Square. Credit: Peter Foley/Bloomberg

For years, Waterford Crystal has been a sponsor of New Year's Eve. It's been a way for the storied brand, founded in 1783 by a pair of brothers, George and William Penrose, to smartly extend its reach from your grandmother's stemware cabinet to a highly publicized media event that continues to underscore the craftsmanship that goes into crystal-making.

While most of us are busy popping the Cristal, for Waterford it's all about shimmering crystal that it painstakingly makes to decorate the ball that , at precisely 11:59 on December 31, begins a 141-foot descent to its base in New York's Times Square to mark the beginning of each year. For 2013, the theme for the ball couldn't be more timely: peace. Waterford is promoting the theme on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #PeaceNYE to be included with sentiments of peace on social media.

Here's more on that and other facts about Waterford Crystal to help you bone up before the festivities begin.

1. You can't even begin to wrap your arms around the New Year's Eve ball. The sphere is 12 feet in diameter and weighs 11,875 pounds.

2. It's not crystal all the way through; the ball is made of an aluminum frame filled with wires that work to light it up, but new crystals can be attached to the ball for a custom look each year. It's covered with a total of 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles that vary in size and range in length from 4,75 inches to 5.75 inches per side.

3. For 2013, Waterford's peace theme has been weaved into the design of each crystal triangle that makes up the ball. The images engraved into the crystal include doves with their wings spread, people holding hands around the world, sunbursts, hearts and angels with arms uplifted.

4. Besides Waterford, the other brand that contributes to the development of the ball is Philips, which is responsible for the illumination. It uses thousands of LED lights to create a palette of more than 16 million colors and billions of patterns to produce a spectacular kaleidoscope effect.

5. For the first time in nearly 40 years, Dick Clark, a staple of the New Year's Eve broadcast on ABC, won't be leading us in a countdown, as he passed away earlier this year. In his absence, his wife, Kari, was invited to help with the assembly of the ball this year, which includes a tribute Waterford Crystal panel with his name etched onto it.

6. It makes people amorous. Last year, Lady Gaga kissed the Waterford Crystal ball before it dropped on New Year's Eve in Times Square.

The Times Square 2013
The Times Square 2013 "Let There Be Peace" Waterford Masterpiece Ball Ornament

7. Ever dreamed of having your very own Waterford Crystal ball at home? You can. The company sells a specially-created ornament that is a miniature version of the year's Times Square ball. Post-Christmas, it's on sale for $49.99.

8. Waterford is owned by WWRD Holdings, a company that makes and distributes many well-known brands such as Royal Doulton, Wedgewood and Royal Albert. It also has licensing deals with top designers and other notable names in the home and lifestyle market, such as including Vera Wang, Monique Lhuillier, Jasper Conran and Gordon Ramsay.

9. They make items for other big U.S. events too, such as the award handed out at the People's Choice Awards in Los Angeles and the coaches trophy for the national college football championship. The latter is valued at $30,000 and takes three months to produce.

10. Quality cannot be overstated in the Waterford factory. As a rule, each piece gets six strict inspections, and if at any stage it's rejected by a manager, the piece gets smashed and sent back to the furnace for remelting.

11. The White House is a proud owner of Waterford crystal -- including one very special item it added to its collection this year. A bespoke Waterford bowl was presented to President Barack Obama on behalf of the people of Ireland on St. Patrick's Day. Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny presented the gift, following a tradition that 's been in place since President Bill Clinton's tenure.

12. The company is named for its hometown, Waterford, which is the oldest city in Ireland. Waterford is located in the southeast part of the country and was founded by Viking traders. Today the brand invites interaction with consumers, so visitors can go to the factory for a tour and shop at its store. Waterford Crystal has 3,700 employees worldwide.

13. The factory melts more than 750 tons of crystal a year, which is used to produce over 45,000 high-end pieces using painstaking traditional methods. Some of those are special limited-edition pieces that can take artisans weeks or even months to create. Among those this year were a crystal sword with an ornately cut handle and a chess set.

14. Waterford Crystal welcomed its 250,000th visitor this past March, a New Jersey resident named Rosemarie Leone. To celebrate this milestone, a specially-crafted piece was presented to her, in the shape of a crystal bowl with a shamrock design that represents the four provinces of Ireland intertwined with the Celtic knot symbol of eternity.

15. Maintaining the brilliance of crystal requires careful upkeep. To prevent spotting, Waterford recommends using a quarter cup of ammonia with a mild lemon detergent, rising thoroughly and air-drying on a rack. For a vase or a decanter, the company recommends filling it halfway with warm water, a couple tablespoons of vinegar and half a cup of uncooked rice. Swirling the rice around for a few minutes removes residue.

Incidentally, Waterford is not the only crystal company that 's battling for some media attention in New York during the holidays. Swarovski lays claim to the 550-pound star atop the tree in Rockefeller Center. And, of course, not everyone drops a ball on New Year's. As we've written, the Mount Olive Pickle Co. in Mount Olive, N.C., drops a huge lighted pickle, while in Bethlehem Pa., they drop a giant Peep.

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