When I was younger I worked at Dansk for a few years. This spoiled me in ways you cannot imagine. I was spoiled in the knowledge I gained into anything that had to do with cooking, making, or serving food. Also, being exposed to all that quality dinnerware turned me into a little bit of dinnerware snob that I have no business being. And lastly, because I enjoyed seeing so many different styles, I am currently unable to commit to a new dinnerware pattern because I suspect it might be the last one I ever purchase. That is a lot of pressure to put on a plate pattern.
Despite my current indecisiveness, there is at least one starting point that can narrow down dinnerware choices to a more manageable amount. It is a simple question. What type of dinnerware material is right for your lifestyle?
This may seem like a somewhat boring starting point, but really your lifestyle and the type of dinnerware material you choose go hand in hand. You need to know whether your investment will stand up to the rigors of daily use. Or are you really looking for show pieces that will only come out a few times a year? Maybe you love bone china and plan to eat cereal out of it every morning. (Good for you by the way.) Whatever your lifestyle there is the perfect dinnerware material for you.
Fired at the lowest temperate of 1060º C – 1180º C. It is easier to shape but has a lower mechanical strength than most dinnerware. This means it is more susceptible to stresses (chipping and cracks) than other dinnerware. Because of its lower strength this type of dinnerware is usually thicker and less delicate. New earthenware is generally a less expensive dinnerware option, but you may be replacing it more frequently. Vintage earthenware is a completely different animal and is highly collectible.
Fired between 1200º C – 1300º C. The clay contains china stone which is rich in feldspar. Ironstone and stoneware are broad terms that encompass a large portion of dinnerware currently on the market. This means that all stoneware isn’t necessarily fired at the same temperature nor will contain the same amount of minerals.
Traditional stoneware is similar to earthenware but has a higher level of mechanical strength. If you like bright colors and bold patterns you will typically find them on traditional stoneware.
Fine stoneware is closer to porcelain in the materials and techniques used to create it. This will be reflected in the price and durability. It is usually oven-safe, microwave safe and dishwasher safe. The only caveat to this is metallic decorations or decorations that are not under the glaze. Fine stoneware is a great option if porcelain and bone china are out of your price range.
Fired between 1280º C – 1350º C. Porcelain is made with Kaolin clay that remains white when fired. Porcelain has a blue-gray tone to the white when fired compared to China which retains more of a warm white tone. You can typically find porcelain sets like this at World Market or Crate and Barrel. They are extremely durable and reasonably priced.
China | Bone China
Fired between 1200º C – 1300º C. China is made of translucent white ceramic clay and in the case of Bone China 25% bone ash. English Bone China must contain at least 50% bone ash. China and Bone China are still created by hand from master craftsmen and the process to obtain bone ash is multi-stepped.
The most expensive of all the dinnerware options, it should be considered a lifelong investment in art pieces that you happen to serve meals on.
Ceramic Dictionary is an awesome reference for defining terms relating to pottery and your dinnerware.
This guide is meant as a beginning primer to dinnerware selection. There are so many intricacies in the creation of pottery and ceramics that it would be impossible to touch on all the variations in this space.
I hope this little guide helped you in some way and have fun picking out your new dinnerware! Let me know what you choose in the comments below and I will update here if I ever do make a new dinnerware decision.