Porcelain is a ceramic and one of four major types of dinnerware. The other three are unrefined earthenware, refined earthenware and stoneware. Porcelain is distinguished from the others by its thinness, quality of manufacture and higher price.
Porcelain (also called bone china) is the highest quality of ceramic dinnerware. It is fired at such high temperatures (1,200-1,400 degrees C.) that the clay becomes vitrified or glasslike.
Dinnerware made of unrefined earthenware rapidly declined in the 1800s, when refined earthenware became cheap to produce. Unrefined earthenware is fired at low temperatures and requires a glaze to be impermeable.
The production of refined earthenware began in the late 1700s, as a less expensive alternative to porcelain. In modern times, everyday dinnerware is largely refined earthenware because it is inexpensive yet durable.
Stoneware dinnerware is less common and most often used for heavy-duty vessels such as crocks. Like porcelain, stoneware clay is also vitrified during firing, but stoneware clay is not as refined as porcelain clay.
What Makes Porcelain Special?
Because of its strength, porcelain can be made thin and dainty in appearance, which heightens its appeal as dinnerware. Though it has origins in China, fine porcelain is also made in Europe and Japan.