Porcelain was first discovered in China during the Tang dynasty which reigned from 618-907 A.D. It took the longest time to develop of all the ceramic materials due to the high temperature at which it needs to be fired. It is made of clay containing two substances: kaolin and petuntse, the latter being found only in China. Since China was the first country to develop the technique of making fine porcelains, we call many porcelain items “china” today.
The first thing that anyone thinks of when they think of porcelain is fine vases, dishes, figurines, and other decorative items. During China’s Song dynasty (960 – 1279 A.D.), royal factories were built in order to produce porcelain pieces for use in the royal palaces. Eventually the techniques began to spread to other countries, but fine Chinese porcelain is still of the quality standard that all other porcelains are measured against. In fact, collectors of fine porcelains still consider the works produced during the Ming and Qing dynasties to be the highest-quality ever fashioned.
Although many companies world wide, such as Lenox, Rosenthal, and Noritake, continue to make decorative porcelain items today, many other uses have been found for the material in a number of applications. One of the most well-known uses of porcelain at the present time is for dental bridges and veneers. Used in a wafer-thin state, porcelain resists stains better than other materials and more closely resembles the light-reflective properties of real teeth.
In architectural use, porcelain enamel is being used as sheathing in top quality building applications, both for interiors and exteriors. All kinds of buildings, including homes, child care centers, office complexes, museums, and skyscrapers, are using this enamel in their designs. It is also used as a combination wall/writing board material in school classrooms, in signs and restroom dividers, and as linings for tunnels and subway stations. It is a perfect material for use in tunnels and subways, because the finish is tough enough that it isn’t damaged by exhaust fumes and graffiti.
Of course, we all know about porcelain tiles which are used in many different applications. They can be used on floors and walls, both indoors and out. They are excellent in bathrooms and kitchens where moisture is a problem, because they are naturally water-resistant. These tiles are also very beautiful and come in an array of colors, styles, and sizes. Porcelain makes extremely durable flooring as can be attested to by ancient mosaic floors that still look lovely centuries after they were installed.
In our homes we owe the beauty and functionality of many basic items to porcelain enamel. Bathtubs, sinks, toilets, stoves, washing machines and dryers, water heaters, grills, and ovens are all coated with porcelain enamel. Not only does it make them look nice, but it has properties that make it an excellent choice for these applications. Since it won’t stain, scratch, absorb moisture, be damaged by chemical cleaning products, or rust, it provides a surface that makes our appliances and bathroom fixtures stay looking nice longer.
Porcelain also plays a big part in manufacturing, food production, agricultural uses, petrochemical products, and even municipal waste water facilities. As modern scientists continue to find more uses for porcelain materials, the use is going to continue to escalate over the decades.