Waterford starting to regain its shine

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Waterford Wedgwood, the Irish china-to-crystal maker, is nursing itself back to health after taking an axe to its cost base and stabilising its sales decline.

The company yesterday declared its recovery lay within reach after it slashed its interim operating losses by two-thirds. Stronger margins helped the group to report its first interim underlying profit for three years.

Peter Cameron, who was installed as the chief executive last year, said the results represented "significant progress", promising "the best is yet to come".

Waterford Wedgwood, which is chaired by Sir Anthony O'Reilly, who is also chief executive ofThe Independent's parent company, Independent News & Media, is in the throes of a major restructuring programme that involves 2,220 job cuts. So far, 1,800 people have left the company and the remaining 400 will have gone by next March. This has put it on track to achieve its targeted cost savings of €70m (£47.5m) this year and €90m the following year.

The company, which was formed by Waterford's acquisition of Wedgwood 20 years ago, is also bringing its product offering into the minimalist 21st century by signing up designers to launch more modern lines.

It has signed Sir Terence Conran and the chef Gordon Ramsay to produce ranges for Royal Doulton, one of its china brands, and Marc Jacobs, the fashion designer, to produce a new line for Waterford, its crystal brand. Vera Wang, the designer famed for her wedding dresses and for dressing celebrities for premieres, has also produced a china range for Wedgwood.

"Our unwavering focus on reducing our cost base, and on contemporising our brands, has put Waterford Wedgwood on the road to recovery," Mr Cameron said.

In the six months to 30 September, the company narrowed its pre-tax losses to €20.7m from €94.5m the previous year. Its sales were broadly flat at €352.5m. Most of the new designer ranges have yet to hit the shops, which Mr Cameron said boded well for the second half.

Its biggest brand, Waterford Crystal, looked to have turned the corner in the US, its largest market, managing a 22 per cent rise in sales in September. Interim sales at the crystal division fell 1.1 per cent and 4 per cent at its ceramics arm.