China refers to a nonporous (vitrified) type of clayware made from a white clay and fired at high temperatures. China is translucent, resists chipping, and has a clear ring when struck. Bone china contains animal bone ash for added whiteness and strength. In dinnerware, the terms china and porcelain are sometimes used interchangeably.
Earthenware is fired at lower temperatures than china and has a soft, porous body. Although it is protected with a hard glaze, earthenware will absorb stain if chipped. It is not as durable as china, but is also less expensive. French and Italian ''faience,'' known for its beautiful colors and imaginative designs, is a finely glazed form of earthenware. Crazing or crackling may occur if earthenware is warmed in the oven.
Stoneware shares the strength and nonporous qualities of china, but its heavy , opaque body is similar to earthenware.
The decoration of dinnerware falls into two categories: overglaze and underglaze. Overglaze patterns are applied after a piece has been glazed and fired. Underglaze designs are applied to the unglazed piece before firing. The colors in underglaze patterns tend to be less brilliant than overglaze colors and are highly resistant to wear. Overglaze decorations may be harmed by harsh detergents. To protect the design, it is best to use a mild detergent, particularly in dishwashers.
Two types of gold are used for dinnerware. Liquid or bright gold comes out shiny after firing and tends to have a brassy cast. The more desirable Roman gold requires burnishing to bring up the color after firing. The number of steps required to produce the design and the amount of handwork involved are major factors in the price of a place setting.