Ever wondered what accounts for the variance in prices between different types of plates and mugs? Have you asked yourself what the actual difference is between “porcelain” and “fine china,” or more importantly, what type of dinnerware you should actually register for? You’re not alone. We sat down with Zola’s shopping experts to answer these questions and break down the different materials your dinnerware is made of, so you can decide which kind is right for you.
What materials am I dealing with?
All dinnerware is made out of ceramic. The word “ceramic” comes from the Greek word keramikos, meaning “of pottery,” and the earliest ceramics were made entirely out of clay. Today, however, ceramics take many different forms. Clay-made items are still called “ceramics,” or sometimes “earthenware,” but there are also different materials, properties, and methods of production in the mix like stoneware, porcelain, and bone china.
So, what’s the difference between them?
Earthenware vs. Stoneware
Earthenware is simply any product made out of clay. Stoneware, on the other hand, is made from a special type of clay that is fired at high temperatures, making it naturally waterproof, denser, and more durable.
Porcelain v. Bone China
Unlike earthenware and stoneware, porcelain, often called “china” due to its country of origin, results from a much more involved process. To make porcelain, manufacturers need to mix a special, fine white clay named kaolin with a glassy material called pentutse. When the mix is fired, the pentutse surrounds the kaolin particles, resulting in a glossy, nonporous, and hard surface. This material is easier to clean, harder to break, easier to mold and color, and less susceptible to bacteria than earthenware. For this reason, porcelain is a very popular choice for much more than dinnerware!
Bone China was discovered almost 2,000 years later when English porcelain-maker Josiah Spode added cow bone ash to the porcelain mix, resulting in an even stronger and whiter material. Bone China is considered the highest quality dinnerware material because it combines chip-resistance with delicate design, while simultaneously achieving the most desired shade of white.
Which material is right for me?
1. If you want casual, affordable dinnerware but are willing to forego durability to some extent, then go for an earthenware/ceramic option, such as Canvas Home’s Dauville 5-Piece Place Setting. The hand-painted metallic edges on this set’s neutral bisque finish adds a touch of glam for the perfect high-low blend of everyday functionality and high style.
Canvas Home Dauville 5-Piece Place Setting
2. If you want durability and an organic look, without the delicate texture of porcelain, then stoneware is right for you, as its natural waterproof consistency does not require glazing. Costa Nova’s Friso Collection and Vietri’s Lastra Collection are two very popular options amongst our Zola couples.
3. If you love the delicate look and subtle colors of classic porcelain, you have many options. Kate Spade New York’s Richmont Road Line lends itself to a classic, polished look, whereas Atelier Tete’s Dune collection will bring modern, organic shapes infused with color into your home. Canvas Home’s Shell Bisque 4-Piece Place Setting is another popular pick—as a study in contrasting texture accented by soft, hand-glazed hues, it’s not hard to see why.
4. If you want le crème de la crème of materials and durability, then you are a bone china couple. We think Fortessa’s Aria 4-Piece Place Setting is stunningly simple (and only available at Zola!), but if you want to add some color, consider a fun and whimsical pattern such as Twig New York’s Scandinavian Floral collection, a collaboration with designer Brittany Jepsen.