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Tableware & Textiles For the Discerning Eye

On a dream shopping spree in London, an arts writer assembles an elegant table setting

By Christopher AndreaeStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 23, 1992



LONDON

SO what's wrong with imagining? You wake up one bright morning rich enough to buy a brand new set of dining-room tableware, top-of-the-range, the best. You fly to London.

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Your taste is immaculate. You shun the merely opulent-looking. Conspicuous display is beneath you. No excess of gold-leaf. No pricy kitsch. No passe nostalgia.

You want design so superbly simple, so elegantly balancing appearance and function, that the only word for it is "classic." So quintessential will your spoons, plates, and glasses be that in 50 years they will look and feel just as good as they do now.

Cut to the "real world." We tracked down items that might be just what you imagined:

First, your Wedgwood Fine Bone China. On display in Harrods is "Shape 225." It stands out from the surrounding welter of floriferous patterns, reproductions, and eclectic granny-ware in its cool translucent white, crisp contours, and fluent lines. This is "Solar."

Clearly modern, Solar has that indefinably English quality (though designed by the American studio, Gould Associates), which Wedgwood at its best has achieved for more than 225 years. It was in 1984 that Shape 225 was introduced to celebrate Wedgwood's anniversary. And there is another version of Solar called "Lunar," the same shape but made in black basalt. A limited number of items - a sauce boat, a salad bowl, and a coffeepot, for example - are made in the black. Fine so far.

Now to ask a salesperson. "We have Solar in stock," he says. You can buy all 29 items in the range, or a 25-piece dinner set (cost: about $564, or 366.50 British pounds).

"But Lunar, I'm sorry, we don't have in stock." This means a wait of "between four and six months." Further inquiries to Wedgwood confirm this. Lunar is not, in fact, stocked in any British store. It is "special order" only. "It is very popular in Italy," we are told. Ordering the china of your dreams requires patience - or a trip to Italy.

And there are other possible hurdles. How long will you be able to add to Solar and Lunar - or replace broken items? At Wedgwood there are rumors of discontinuance, maybe in January 1993.

But the fact is that demand alone keeps Wedgwood designs in production. There is no guarantee except in terms of the "matchings list," which means a line is being phased out and that special orders will be met for a two-year period only.

Then we chose German glasses by Villeroy and Boch.

V and B's fine lead crystal glassware appeals to the discerning eye. It rates simple elegance highly; it avoids the overwrought. It proves that crystal does not need every inch cut and faceted to be highly desirable.

The design we chose is "Milano." A classic shape, beautifully made in pristine crystal. We asked for the pitcher and tumbler featured on the brochure. Popular items, presumably.

But no, these are both only "available to special order." You have to "wait for a production run ... when they can slot it in." This way the customer is pressured to change their choice to an available design. Harrods predicts a wait of "up to four months."

Jenners in Edinburgh says up to a year. Mr. Marc Boutet, an export manager for V and B in Germany admits "Milano is not our top-selling pattern."