What’s the Difference Between China and Dinnerware?

updated Oct 7, 2020
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With more and more people forgoing traditional china sets in favor of basic everyday dinnerware (only 26 percent of today’s couples register for formal dinnerware — and

some grow to regret not registering for it

What Is China Exactly?

You might think that “china” is simply dinnerware that costs a pretty penny. And you wouldn’t be completely wrong: Fine china does cost more, but there’s more to it than that.

In the most basic terms, china is a combination of clay, kaolin, feldspar, and quartz. It’s fired up in a kiln and it almost always needs to be hand-washed due to some of its more delicate accents, like gold rimming or hand-painted patterns.

Some other important facts: China is not porcelain. These two words are often interchanged and the two are very similar, but there’s a difference. What makes china china and porcelain porcelain is the manufacturing process. Porcelain is fired at a hotter temperature, which makes it sturdier than china.

Finally, there’s fine china and then there’s bone china. Both originated in China; one, as the name implies, has bone (usually from a cow) in it.

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Chinese Porcelain Classic Coupe 20-Piece Dinnerware Set with Classic Coupe Soup Bowl, $180 at Restoration Hardware (Image credit: Restoration Hardware)

What Is Dinnerware?

Dinnerware is really a very broad term that includes anything — plates, serving bowls, platters — that you would put on the table. Dinnerware includes china as a subset, but it also includes options like stoneware (the most common, also from China, even sturdier than porcelain) and melamine. In other words, think of dinnerware as fine china’s more chill cousin.

There are hundreds of different styles to choose from when shopping for dinnerware, but they’re all hallmarked by a few key attributes. First, and most enticingly, they’re easy to care for (aka dishwasher-safe) and budget-friendly. Small salad plates can start as low as $6 or $8, making it possible to furnish out an entire dinner party-ready collection for a few hundred dollars.

Did you (or will you) register for china or go more casual? Share in the comments!