Dinnerware pieces are some of the earliest examples of man-made objects. The plates, saucers and bowls common to today's dinnerware were first developed by the Chinese, according to Replacements Ltd. There are four general types of pottery or ceramics used for modern dinnerware: bone china, porcelain, stoneware and earthenware. Bone china is considered the highest quality and as a result is the most expensive. The cheapest form of dinnerware is earthenware. Bone china and stoneware have many commonalities, but also many differences which account for the difference in price between them.
Stoneware is an ancient Chinese form of dinnerware and has been in use in Northern Europe since at least the 14th century. Bone china is an English creation, and was introduced by Josiah Spode around the year 1800. Bone china became popular quickly, due in part to the expense of porcelain, which was made in China and subject to high shipping expenses and heavy import tariffs in Europe. European porcelain, considered of lesser quality than bone china, would not be developed until the early 18th century.
Bone china is made of 50 percent animal bone, 25 percent china clay and 25 percent china stone. The bone is processed and treated, then ground to a fine ash. The ingredients are formed together then fired in a kiln at 1200 to 1300 C. After the first firing, the china is fired a second time at 1050 to 1100 C., according to the website Potteries.org. Stoneware is made of 25 percent ball clay, 25 percent china clay, 35 percent flint and 15 percent china stone. These ingredients are typically only subjected to one firing at 1200 to 1300 C. An optional second firing is at about 1050 to 1100 C., according to Potteries.org.
Stoneware is extremely strong, non-porous and opaque. Any glaze on stoneware has no functional value and will not make the stoneware more durable; it is purely decorative. Bone china looks more delicate than stoneware but is extremely strong, owing in part to the use of animal ash. It is also non-porous, but unlike stoneware is translucent. While bone china is similar to porcelain in its light weight, bone china does not chip easily, according to Potteries.org.
All dinnerware is safe for serving and preparing food. Both stoneware and bone china are microwave- and dishwasher-safe, although Wedgwood china company warns not to use more detergent than the amount recommended by the dishwasher's manufacturer and recommends using a gentle detergent. Stoneware is well-suited for oven use. Wedgwood advises bone china should not be subjected to rapid change in temperature but should be placed in a cold oven and heated gradually.
Bone china has a delicate appearance and may be intricately decorated. A wider range of color and materials can be used to decorate bone china than other ceramics. It is brilliant white, with a smooth and glossy appearance when glazed. While similar to porcelain, bone china is lighter in weight and has a whiter color than any other form of dinnerware. Stoneware has a dense surface and variegated color. If unglazed and undecorated, stoneware ranges in color from brown to blue-gray.