Global Economics

A Sad Comedown for Waterford Wedgwood


The crystal and china maker is closing factories in Ireland and Britain, although it still produces ceramics in Indonesia

Workers due to be celebrating the 250th anniversary of the "Father of English Potters" were instead mourning his legacy's demise today.

Wedgwood—best known for its bone china made popular by royalty—last week embarked on two and a half centuries of setting world standards for tableware design and manufacturing.

Yet commemorations have long been dashed as its parent company, also famous for its Royal Doulton and Waterford Crystal brands, ran out of time in its attempt to raise up to £200m in fresh capital.

Much has changed for Wedgwood since its founder—Josiah Wedgwood—toured his Stoke-on-Trent workshop in the late 1700s, often smashing vessels which failed to meet his high standards.

"This will not do for Josiah Wedgwood," he used to shout

Since the company was purchased by Waterford Glass Group in 1986, the china firm endured tough times as formal dining trends gave way to more relaxed habits and cheaper competitors.

Six years of losses drove Wedgwood to move all major ceramics production from Barlaston to the industrial outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia.

Only a small number of high-end products—hand-painted figurines and the iconic blue and white china—would continue to be made in England, it was announced last month.

Waterford Crystal—an Irish glassware brand whose chandeliers hang in Windsor Castle and Westminster Abbey—also suffered dramatically.

For 200 years, the city of Waterford, Ireland, produced some of the world's finest glassware. Brothers George and William Penrose were known for an "uncompromising" approach which helped establish a world-renowned brand for exclusive tableware.

But since May 2005, it has faced a swathe of job cuts. Waterford Wedgwood announced the closure of its factory in Dungarvan in order to consolidate all operations into the main factory in Kilbarry, Waterford City, where 1,000 people were employed by the company.

Last year, further job cuts were announced bringing the staffing levels in the factory in Kilbarry to under 100.

The outlook has been equally bleak for Royal Doulton, a once proud British brand, in recent years.

In 1815, John Doulton used his life's savings to launch a partnership with Martha Jones and John Watts at a stoneware factory in Lambeth, London.

Over the next hundred years it would become a world-class brand in quintessential British tableware, collectable figurines, crystal, glass and giftware.

But perhaps it was a growing reflection of changing times that, in more recent years, it became remembered for a gag in the British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances.

Hyacinth Bucket made frequent references to her Royal Doulton china "with the hand-painted Periwinkles".

In September 2005, its factory in Staffordshire was closed after being sold to developers.

Some items were made by at Wedgwood's factory but almost all other Doulton pieces were made in Indonesia.

In Stoke-on-Trent, where Mr Wedgwood turned the family business into a global pottery enterprise, the founder's statue still welcomes visitors arriving by train.

Mr Wedgwood (1730-1795) invented and produced what remain today three of Wedgwood's most famous ceramic bodies—Queen's Ware (1762), Black Basalt (1768) and finally Jasper (1774).

Wedgwood bone china tableware graced the tables of many illustrious homes throughout the world, including the dinner service which President Theodore Roosevelt ordered for the White House.

During the 1930s, Wedgwood's success continued and in order to increase efficiency, the fifth Josiah Wedgwood decided to build a new factory near the village of Barlaston.

Provided by The Independent—from London, for Independent minds

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