Thursday, April 30, 2015

Knowing the Difference: Ceramics, Porcelain, China, and Vitreous China

By Gretchen Sawatzki

Did you know that porcelain is considered a ceramic, but not all ceramics are considered porcelain? Or, that china is an imitation or porcelain?  If you're like me, ceramics, porcelain, china, and vitreous china all seem to be the same thing, but they are actually quite different.

1). Ceramics

Teapot, Chinese, Qing Dynasty, 1662-1722
Image by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Ceramics are items made from earthen materials like clay, silica, and non-metallic solids that can be fired at temperatures exceeding 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Ceramics encompass a wide range of objects including pots, bricks, tiles and decorative objects. They are hardened, can be glazed, and are often porous to some degree.

2). Porcelain

True porcelain originated in China around 600 AD. It is comprised of raw materials like clay, silica, and feldspar that are crushed to a fine powder, worked into shape, and fired at temperatures exceeding 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit. It is virtually non-porous, extremely hard, and a translucent ceramic.

3). China

First manufactured in Germany around 1700 AD as a European alternative to expensive Chinese porcelain, china was comprised of clay, ground glass, calcified bone, and other earthen minerals. Because Europeans were unable to copy the traditional Chinese porcelain recipe, china was often softer than traditional porcelain and glazed to disguise the poor ceramic quality.

Vitreous China pedestal sink circa 1905. Image by
Hannah Manning via Materials Unlimited

4). Vitreous China

Vitreous china is type of china that uses ground glass to create a hardened, shiny "glasslike" surface. The surface is achieved by firing at high temperatures to "vitrify" the minerals. Many ceramics including china are vitrified with decorative glazes to achieve a certain aesthetic. Pedestal sinks are often made of vitrified china.


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