Waterford Wedgwood, the 250-year-old maker of luxury glassware and china, fell into administration on Monday, putting 2,700 jobs in the UK and Ireland at risk.
The loss-making company, whose brands include Waterford crystal, Wedgwood and Royal Doulton fine bone china, Rosenthal porcelain and Spring premium cookware, ran out of time in its attempt to raise fresh capital.
Politicians on both sides of the Irish Sea warned that the collapse of the firm had severe implications for communities where china and glass have been manufactured for generations.
The mayor of Waterford said it would be a “national disaster” for Ireland if production at the crystal factory ceased.
It is also a heavy blow to Sir Anthony O’Reilly, who chairs the company. The billionaire media tycoon and his brother-in-law, Peter Goulandris, have pumped about 400 million euros (US$541 million) into Waterford Wedgwood in recent years, and own 60 percent of the company’s shares.
Deloitte has taken control of Waterford Wedgwood’s British and Irish operations. The joint administrator Angus Martin said that several potential buyers had already contacted Deloitte.
“These are classic, high-quality, world-recognized brands,” Martin said. “There is potentially a good business here.”
Waterford Wedgwood has suffered from falling demand and has recorded a loss for the last five years. It was forced to call in the administrators after its lenders, led by Bank of America, refused to postpone its interest payments for a fourth time. They had repeatedly given the firm extra time to arrange new funding, and agreed to defer loan payments until last Friday.
A US private equity firm had been considering taking a controlling stake and providing US$280 million in new capital. Sources close to the company believe a deal could still be hammered out.
Waterford Wedgwood employs about 1,900 people in the UK, many of whom work at its Barlaston pottery in Stoke-on-Trent, and a further 800 in Ireland.