Posh British Brands Face Bankruptcy

Waterford Wedgwood, icons of British tableware, are on the block. Are they victims of a nasty economy or changing tastes?

Last Christmas, while cleaning up after dinner, I accidentally knicked one of my sister in law’s cherished Waterford crystal goblets. It cost me $75 to replace the thing, but it’s a good thing I did.  Those glasses are worth substantially more than the family’s GM stock.

And they’re likely to become even more precious with the news that the venerable Irish glassware maker is facing bankruptcy, along with its corporate stable-mate Wedgwood china.

It’s hard to know if the two are victims of changing tastes —  do today’s young Bridezillas still cherish heavy, formal, expensive patterned lead crystal and china with gilded rims? —- or the recession that’s swinging a grim reaper’s scythe through even the most prestigious luxury brands?

The companies have made valiant attempts to update their wares.  Wedgwood moved beyond its traditional blue and white jasper ware and fusty patterns to incorporate hipper designs from contemporary tastemakers. British designers Jasper Conran and Kelly Hoppen both designed collections for the Staffordshire company, and the company has even brokered deals with America’s own stylistas, with Martha Stewart and Vera Wang both contributing collections.

Over at Waterford, Marc Jacobs has designed his first home decor collection for the company, and Robert Mondavi has lent its name to an array of elegant, Riedel-like crystal wine glasses.

Someone may yet come to the firm’s rescue, and save this icon  of domesticity. Is there a British version of TARP that might be tapped – the Tableware Artifacts Rescue Project?  Or will these brands end up as antiques of a gilded age, as quaint as a hedge fund mogul’s birthday toga party?

All I know is that this year I didn’t want to risk another Waterford Waterloo. I drank my Christmas Yellow Tail out of a jelly jar.

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