, Julia Crystal Factory (Huta Szkła Julia) in Piechowice, Poland produces lovely leaded crystal tableware, figurines, trophies, and other decorative items. Located in the picturesque Karkonosze mountains, it has a history dating back to the mid-1800s. I recently visited this factory and it made quite an impression on me, due to the methods of production (every piece is hand-crafted from start to finish using traditional glass working techniques) and the skill of the workers I saw there. The crystal they make is just stunning and it’s easy to see that the staff take pride in their work.
The process is quite involved but I will summarize it using the photos I took — the rest should be seen and heard in person!
The glass blowers form the shapes of the objects by blowing molten leaded crystal glass into molds. The glass is then removed to an oven for tempering and hardening so it will remain structurally sound during the rest of the cutting and polishing process. In the photos, the glass-blowers were forming tiny animal figurines in colorful glass and showing how they form glass using shaping tools.
The crystal patterns are drawn on the glass with a marker (this was once done in paint!) and the pieces are given over to the cutters for initial engraving of those deep, faceted designs we associate with fine crystal.
The cutters are working over tubs of water and polishing compound beneath their wheels (the shrill, high noise of the diamond cutting wheels hitting crystal was deafening and I felt uncomfortable that the workers weren’t wearing any protection on their ears!).
There are rows of cutters sitting medatively over their work and the precise, deliberate movements they make show they’ve been at it for years. No lasers or robots here.
The polishing stage, in the case of this vase, involves grinding the lip and base of each piece so that they are absolutely even in height. Again, the polishing wheel is kept wet with water and polishing paste.
This camel-hair wheel is used to give the crystal that incredible final shine. No rough edges make it past this stage!
After this multi-phase production line, any flawed crystal is thrown aside to be ground down and re-blown from the start. There are no factory seconds. You can imagine that everyone does their best at each stage to make sure others’ time and effort don’t go to waste.
In this photo you can see the dish-washing and pre-packing polishing station, after which the pieces are carefully boxed by ladies in white gloves.
The crystal is ready to be sent out to the world — 80% of this factory’s production is exported, and the variety of destinations on the palletes of packed orders was quite impressive. It appears that they also do a lot of custom orders and special engraving jobs (images, text, sculpted crystal).
The factory stores (one with colored crystal and one with traditional white crystal items) on site are just stunning, very nicely organized, and I was very impressed by the range of styles and shapes available.
Here is a slightly blurry picture (the only one I have of the store, unfortunately) of a more modern style that I liked in cobalt blue, because I imagine it would look nice with Polish pottery — Boleslawiec ceramic — with its famous cobalt blue dots!!! You can see more examples of Julia’s products on their web page: http://turystyka.crystaljulia.com/index.php?lang=en