This may be the first time in your life you are shopping for fine china, and you'll want to choose your pattern and style with care. But that doesn't mean the decision has to be complicated. Here are key things to consider.
Formal or Casual?
There are two kinds of dinnerware -- everyday china and fine or formal china. These days, the practical distinction between the two is a bit blurred. There are as many people who use casual china for special events as there are people use fine china for casual entertaining. On the fine china end, patterns continue to be introduced in bolder, more relaxed looks. At the other end of the spectrum, designers like Kate Spade are presenting everyday lines marked at designer prices. We recommend registering for a set of both. Trends aside, there are some basic, material differences between the two.
Fine china typically goes for higher prices (about $89 to $300 and up per setting; an open-stock dinner plate ranges from $25 to $45) because it's fired at up to 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit -- a much higher temperature than everyday dinnerware. The extreme heat melds its particles densely together, making fine china heavier, sturdier, and longer lasting than its more porous everyday counterpart -- so don't assume that fine china is delicate because it's so light. On the contrary, the strength of the china allows for a thinner design.
Register for at least 12 settings of formal china -- though 14 to 16 settings would guarantee that you aren't ever left short.
Bone china and porcelain are the two formal varieties:
- Bone china: Often heralded as the best of the best because it contains bone ash, which gives it a higher translucency and creates a warm, ivory color.
- Porcelain: A substance called kaolin makes the china a stunning bright white. It's often fired at temperatures higher than some types of bone china, making them equally durable.
In the end, you can't go wrong with either material. Your final choice should come down to what suits your taste and lifestyle.
Everyday dinnerware is much easier to care for, making it suitable for every meal of the day. Plus it's relatively inexpensive (four- and five-piece settings go for about $30 to $80, and a good quality open-stock dinner plate ranges from $10 to $30). The most popular of casual china, by far, is stoneware -- dubbed so because of its toughness. And because it does not absorb moisture, stoneware behaves well in the microwave and doesn't crack with quick changes of temperature, so you won't worry when moving a plate of food from the fridge to the oven. This heavy-duty material makes up about 80 percent of all the casual dinnerware on the market.
Casual alternatives include ironstone, which is a hard, heavy, durable version of earthenware with a white, porcelain-like appearance. It's also referred to as Masonware. Another alternative, earthenware, is a type of china that is fired at lower temps than stoneware and ironstone, making it more porous and easy to chip. It is, however, also capable of retaining bright colors unlike the other materials, because it is often glazed. So if you're determined to eat off of blazing hues of orange and blue, this lightweight ceramic could be just what you want. You'll also find earthenware to be kinder on the pocketbook than stoneware and ironstone in some cases, but not quite as durable.
How Many Place Settings?
Now that you know whether you want formal, casual, or both, you need to determine how many place settings to register for. Consider your lifestyle. You'll want proper china for hosting , say, a dinner party for six. But will you also want enough on hand to serve both sides of the family when everyone shows up for Thanksgiving? We recommend registering for at least 12 settings of formal china -- though 14 to 16 settings would guarantee that you aren't ever left short. For your everyday china, we recommend a minimum of six to eight settings, though 12 would be ideal. And don't forget the extras. Soup bowls are also handy for serving desserts. Chargers add a mega hit of style, and you'll love a glamorous gravy boat and a matching serving bowl or platter on the table too. Other fun add-ons? Salt and pepper shakers, cake platter, sugar bowl and creamer, espresso cups and saucers, teapot, soup tureen, or a fancy bread tray.
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