Porcelain vs Bone China: Which Fractures Less?


  1. History and Origins
  2. Composition and Manufacturing Process
  3. Physical Properties and Microscale Differences
  4. Durability, Strength, and Ductility
  5. Aesthetic Appeal and Design Flexibility
  6. Care and Maintenance
  7. Environmental Impact and Sustainability
  8. Conclusion

Bone china and porcelain have been popular in the US and Europe for many centuries. They are beautiful and very useful materials used in households around the world every day. Each has its merits, but when it comes to toughness and ability to withstand breaking, which is the better choice? In this article, you will learn a lot about both porcelain and bone china to make an informed decision about which one is best for your needs.

History and Origins

Porcelain was first manufactured in Ancient China over one thousand years ago. It quickly gained a reputation for being extremely beautiful but also a very practical commodity in everyday life.

It wasn't long before porcelain's popularity began to spread further afield, with Europeans particularly fascinated with it. It began to prove itself across the globe as a remarkable material.

Keen to replicate the Chinese success with porcelain, Europeans tried to make their own version closer to home. While at first, they found the task difficult, they eventually found success and began manufacturing it themselves. The reduced transportation costs brought the price of porcelain down, proving another boost in popularity.

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In England, in the 18th century, craftsmen tried to develop a ceramic that could rival Chinese porcelain. Their work paid off, giving birth to a new material called bone china. This new china contained a fine-grained powder that was derived from animal bones; this was known as bone ash. It was the inclusion of bone ash in the blend that gave bone china its name, but also its translucency and white character. This appearance distinguished it from other ceramics.

Bone china revolutionized the ceramics industry. The English ruling elite was won over by its remarkable strength and elegant looks. In the following years, bone china became the hallmark of luxury and sophistication. Several royal families and aristocrats chose bone china for their homes and palaces.

Composition and Manufacturing Process

When manufacturing porcelain, makers blend kaolin clay, feldspar, and quartz, then fire porcelain at high temperatures. This vitrification process yields a hard, white, and slightly translucent material.

Bone china comprises around 30% bone ash, kaolin, and feldspar; it boasts a unique translucent quality that often surpasses porcelain.

Physical Properties and Microscale Differences

Beyond its dense body and subtle hues, porcelain's microstructure reveals larger, less dispersed particles. This characteristic contributes to its robustness and strength.

The bone ash in china imparts a whiter shade while making it more translucent. Under a microscope, bone china displays porosity, influencing its distinct properties.

Durability, Strength, and Ductility

When evaluating ceramics, especially for daily use or collectible items, understanding their mechanical properties is crucial. It is often the case that durability, strength, and ductility are primary factors in determining the lifespan and resilience of these materials. Let's take a closer look at both porcelain and bone china.


Porcelain has a well-earned reputation for strength and durability. Porcelain objects are very dense; this is a result of the very high temperatures at which they're manufactured. The strength of porcelain ensures that it can withstand significant forces and weights before breaking. This makes sense when you consider that porcelain is used in flooring as well as foodwares.

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Although a strong material, porcelain's resistance to bumps and impacts can vary. Despite its strength, it can also be brittle. This means that chips and cracks can develop, especially if subjected to sudden impacts.

One of the porcelain's great strengths is its ability to withstand very high temperatures. This makes it an ideal choice in the kitchen and comes from the vitrification process. Consumers can use porcelain in dishwashers, ovens, and other environments where it may be heated.

Bone China

  • Ductility: Bone china's standout feature is its ductility. Unlike porcelain, which is more rigid, bone china has a certain elasticity to its structure. This means that when force is applied, instead of immediately breaking or chipping, it might slightly deform or bend. This property makes bone china more forgiving to accidental knocks or drops.
  • Elasticity and Extensibility: The terms might sound technical, but in essence, they refer to bone china's ability to stretch (to an extent) without breaking. This property is particularly beneficial in preventing fractures. If you've ever noticed a bone china plate falling and not immediately shattering, this elasticity and extensibility are at play.
  • Porosity and Impact Absorption: Earlier, we touched upon bone china's microscopic porosity. This feature isn't just for show. The tiny pores in bone china can absorb some of the energy from impacts, distributing it and reducing the chances of a fracture. It resembles how a sponge might absorb a shock, whereas a solid block might not.
  • While porcelain impresses with its sheer strength and thermal durability, bone china counters with its ductility and impact absorption. From a durability standpoint, the choice between the two often depends on the specific use-case scenario. For items that might face frequent knocks or drops, the forgiving nature of bone china might be preferable. In contrast, for applications where absolute strength and thermal resistance are paramount, porcelain might be the better choice.

Aesthetic Appeal and Design Flexibility

The natural strength of porcelain lends itself to a wide range of design possibilities. It can be found with beautiful, intricate patterns through bold, modern designs.

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Pieces of bone china are often ornately decorated with fine, elegant brush strokes. This makes them a favorite in luxury and high-end dinner sets.

Care and Maintenance

To take good care of your porcelain, you should always wash it with a gentle detergent and avoid using abrasive scrubbers. Gentle sponges are always the best choice, and while they can withstand hot water in the dishwasher, it's good to err on the safe side and wash by hand.

Bone china certainly requires more careful handling. The safe option is to avoid microwaves and always wash by hand. This way, your bone china will last for generations to come.

Environmental Impact and Sustainability

Porcelain can be an excellent choice for the environmentally conscious. Whilst the manufacturing process takes a lot of energy, with high temperatures required, the resulting product is strong and durable. This tends to lead to long lifespans, decreasing wastage over time.

The use of bone ash in bone china also has its advantages, as it makes good use of a by-product of the meat industry. This may be a point to consider for vegetarians, but it is certainly an interesting recycling feature that adds to the sustainable nature of bone china.


In the porcelain vs. bone china showdown, both materials present compelling arguments. Porcelain impresses with its sheer strength, while bone china's ductility offers a different kind of resilience. The choice between the two often boils down to individual preferences, aesthetics, and intended use. With proper care, both promise to be lasting treasures in any collection.

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