For over a hundred years, the Times Square New Year’s Eve ball has been synonymous with New York City. But for artisans in Waterford, Ireland, who supply new crystal panels for the ball each year, the glittery 11,875-lb. orb is very much an emissary of national pride.
Waterford’s master artisan Tom Brennan spoke yesterday (Dec. 27) about how much the festivities mean to Ireland’s oldest city. ”It’s never lost on me that Waterford City was founded by the Vikings in the year 914. Waterford Crystal, in my hometown, was founded in 1783 in the middle of the Georgian period,” Brennan said at a press event. “And here we are in 2018, celebrating with revelers from all over the world.”
“The whole town will be watching,” Brennan told Quartz. “On New Year’s Eve, Waterford will be the most watched brand on the planet…It’s one of Ireland’s greatest exports. I’m representing my hometown and the people in the factory who make it.”
Per tradition, the centerpiece of New York’s mega spectacle is a glittery, colorful ball that descends down a pole to countdown the last seconds of the year. This year, a million revelers are expected to crowd Manhattan’s theater district and an estimated 1.2 billion viewers worldwide will be tuning in.
Waterford artisans have had a hand in designing the ball since 1999. To mark the new millennium, Waterford and Dutch electronics giant Philips took on the challenge of designing a new ball that “combined the latest in lighting technology with the most traditional of materials.”
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Times Square ball drop in 2007, Waterford once again completely redesigned the ball. They made it lighter and more energy efficient, encrusting the geodesic sphere with 2,688 triangular crystals, etched with a thematic design to beam good blessings and positive vibes. This year’s design, “Gift of Harmony,” features musical chords and carries a message of “accord and compatibility amid the discourse of the world,” as Michael Craig, president of Waterford Americas puts it.
The Irish connection may not be well-known even to Irish people. ”To be completely honest, I wasn’t aware that it was made from Waterford Crystal, ” says Anna Kealey, a Dublin-born design writer. “But now that I do, it makes me extremely proud that an Irish company plays such an important role in New Year’s Eve celebrations.” An iconic national brand, Waterford-made treasures can be spotted in most Irish households. “Almost every mother has one piece of Waterford Crystal locked away in a special cabinet,” Kealey explains.
With intricately crafted details, the ball’s five-inch crystal panels require close inspection to be fully appreciated—a privilege for the lucky few invited to see the ball atop the onetime New York Times building known now as One Times Square.
Does it disappoint Waterford artisans that the details they labored on are lost on camera?
“We know this isn’t a public forum,” Brennan says, pointing to replica panels fashioned as Christmas ornaments for sale on Waterford’s website. “We’re offering you a chance to be a part of it and perhaps bring a little bit of the Irish into your home.”
And those who purchase a Waterford crystal trinket are also getting a bit of Nordic design: The iconic Finnish scissors brand Fiskars acquired Waterford in 2015.