The Watts Blog

Commonly Misused and Confusing Dinnerware Terms

As a “china shop” we get lots of questions about dinnerware.  Here I will try to clarify some commonly misused terms.

Bone China: China that contains animal bone ash for added translucency and whiteness.  Developed originally in England, but now commonly made in Japan and the United States as well.

Examples: William Yeoward Dinnerware,  Wedgwood Dinnerware, Royal Crown Derby

Casual China:  True china dinnerware that differs from so-called fine china only in that its body is thicker, and therefore heavier.  Because of it’s thickness it is not translucent and is more durable than fine china.  The shapes tend to be more causal and decorations are often limited to make them dishwasher/microwave safe.  It is the kind of dinnerware you use everyday, for every meal; is typically chip-resistant.

Examples:  Kate Spade Dinnerware, Vera Wang Casual Collections

China:  A non-porous type of clayware made of special white clay and fired at exceptionally high temperatures.  The finer grades are generally thin, translucent, resistant to chipping, and ring clearly when struck.  The word is often incorrectly used as a generic term for dinnerware.

Earthenware: A type of clayware fired at comparatively low temperatures producing a heavy porous body that is opaque, not as strong as china, and lacking in the product’s resonance. 

Fine China:  Thin, translucent china which, despite it’s delicacy, is quite strong.  It is made of top-quality clays and fired at high temperatures, that cause them to fuse into a hard, non-porous body.

Hollow Ware:  (Often referred to as “holloware”)  any clayware, glass, or metal pieces such as cups, pitchers, bowls, etc.

Ironstone: A much abused term that should only be used in reference to earthenware of good-quality or better-than-average strength.  True ironstone was originally developed in England and was a form of stoneware said to contain powered iron slag, making it stronger, with a slightly porous body.

Limoge:  A china dinnerware produced exclusively in or near the city of Limoge, France.  It is not a type of dinnerware, per se, but rather a region.  Similar to Champagne being exclusive to the Champagne Region and all others simply being “sparkling wine”.  The term should not be used for any dinnerware not made in this region.  It is probably one of the best-known dinnerware terms and is often mis-represented.

Examples: Bernardaud, Raynaud, JL Coquet, Jaune de Chrome, Poc a Poc

Open Stock:  A dinnerware sales concept in which wares are sold by individual piece, rather than in complete, predetermined compositions (such as the traditional five piece placesetting).  It does not mean that the pattern will forever be available.

Place Settings:  Usually five matched pieces  of dinnerware in a single place at the table.  The five piece is typically a formal setting that consists of the dinnerplate, the salad plate, the bread and butter plate, the teacup and the tea saucer.  A four piece set is now fairly common for “everyday” dinnerware sets and consists of a dinner plate, a salad plate, a cereal bowl, and a mug.

Porcelain:  A hard, translucent clayware body that differs very slightly from china in ingredients and manufacturing process.  In most respects the two are so much alike that the term may be used interchangeably.

Examples:  Herend Dinnerware, Anna Weatherley Dinnerware

Pottery: Can be used as a generic term similar to ceramics.  When referring to a specific ware, pottery refers to a very durable form of clayware made of crude clays and fired at comparatively low temperatures.  It lends itself best to colorful, informal decorations and simple shapes, creating a rustic ambiance.

Examples:  Vietri Dinnerware, Simon Pearce Dinnerware

Stoneware: A hard clayware made of light-colored clay and dired at high temperatures.  It is non-porous and quite durable but does not have the translucence of fine china.

Examples: Vietri Dinnerware, Juliska Dinnerware

Translucence:  The quality of fine china or melamine dinnerware that makes it semi-transparent.  It may be demonstrated by placing the hand across the back of a plate and holding it against the light.  A silhouette of the hand will be visible through the body of the plate.

Vitrified:  Literally, like glass, meaning the ceramic body is non-porous.  Fine china is vitrified because it’s ingredients include silca, which literally turns to glass when fired at high temperatures.  This gives its translucence.


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