Glass cutting takes plenty of patience and time, and it requires years of experience. Robert Thompson chirpily tells us he’s been doing it for 30 years. He started as one of a number of apprentices in the factory that creates Higgs & Crick’s mouth-blown crystal and now there are only two of them left. In fact there is now only a handful of experienced glass cutters in the country. We are visiting the workshop, based in Cumbria, to instigate the designs of our new collection, and also to get to know a bit more about the people behind the glass.
Rob takes us on a brief tour of his cutting rooms, one of the many areas each glass passes though in its multi-stage journey from sand and crushed crystal to finished, cut glass. The room is adorned with an array of cutting wheels, each used to create a minuscule difference in depth, definition and shape of every cut. When he first started, there were 2 suites of glasses with 4 designs, and now there are hundreds of potential suites possible and over 150 cutting design combinations.
We are shown a number of prototypes and the blueprints of every design, stored safely, so that each one can be replicated any time in the future. After a brief introduction to the different machines used, Rob reminds us exactly what is involved in creating the distinctive cut patterns in each crystal glass.
Every single element of the cutting is done by hand. The designs are marked up on each glass with ink, but this is just a guideline, most of the cutting is done by eye, which is why years of practice and experience are vital in order to be able to produce the intricate patterns without mistake, and to repeat exactly the same design on every glass; bearing in mind a mistake, however small, is permanent and renders many days of work in creating each glass, wasted.
Each cut has to be the same length, the same depth and the same angle. A minute amount of pressure, or unsteady hand movement, and the lines won’t meet up. The glass will have to be discarded.
Rob reiterates how cutting is more art than mass production. Each glass requires various wheels and different processes to create the designs, not to mention the time taken to avoid mistakes. A skilled cutter could cut only 30 glasses a day, and fewer if the patterns are very intricate. Some would take an hour per glass – maintaining the level of uniformity in the work requires huge amounts of concentration and strain on the hands, and these are limiting factors in the numbers able to be cut a day.
Sitting down at one of the machines Rob takes one of our whisky tumblers and starts the cutting process. The spinning wheel grinds a groove, and he slowly turns the glass with the steadiest of hands. As the glass makes its full turn, the line meets up exactly. It is mesmerising to watch, and the final cut is utterly uniform in depth and angle – the join is nowhere to be seen. He then starts the crossing, diamond pattern. Each line initially made at a 45 degree angle, and then reversed, crossing all previous lines. Again, each one as uniform as the next. The blue ink lines offer only the most basic of guidelines, most of the work is judged completely by eye. The final result is stunning. Despite having seen him cut the glass, it seems impossible to believe that it’s been done by hand. And when he carefully rinses the glass down, cleans it off with a cloth and holds it up to the light, you sense how much pride he has in each glass he has helped to create.