Ceramics - Earthenware
Materials & Ingredients: Dolomite is a variation of earthenware. It is a naturally-occurring mineral made up of calcium, magnesium and carbonate. Dolomite also contains small amounts of chlorine, phosphorus, and potassium, in addition to more than 20 other trace elements. To create the ceramic for the Bianca plate the following clay composition is used: Kaolin 50%, Clay 30%, quartz, feldspar and others around 20%. The water absorption of the clay is 19%. Dolomite, like all earthenware, has a low shrink factor and is porous, leaky, and stains easily. Dolomite is a less expensive alternative to other earthenwares and is slightly less porous.
Manufacturing Process: Dolomite starts off as a solid rock, so in order to be made into a clay, it must be ground into a powder substance. There are special factories outside of the ceramic factory who grinds the dolomite with heavy duty machines. In the manufacturing process, before anything can be shaped or molded, the clay has to be washed to remove soil and dirt. The material is then filtered through a scrim, a strong gauze-like fabric, which releases the clay as clean powder. The powder ingredient is then mixed with water to develop a slip which gives the substance a thick liquid consistency. The slip goes through a second round of filtering; it is poured through another scrim to remove any clumps of powder that may have not liquified in the previous step. Then, the slip gets transferred through a magnetic belt to remove any iron particles which may be in the mixture. Once all metals are extruded, the substance is filtered for through a tighter woven scrim to drain out the excess water. The clay is then stored in a Silo for several weeks to dry until it reaches the perfect consistency. Then it is put through a pugmill which blends the material to remove any air pockets.
Shaping: To shape the clay, blocks are put into a mold press made of plaster. The factory receives a specification sheet from the product developer which has a detailed drawing of the plate. The sheet displays two circles with the proper measurements; the 10.5” diameter and 4” width of the coupe. Within the circles, the vine and single-dot motif pattern is drawn. The factory then applies the design to emboss into the mold. Once the plate is shaped and molded, it is time for the first round of firing, also known as bisque body firing. The piece is put into a kiln and fired at 1,000 centigrade. The higher the temperature, the more durable the piece, however, earthenware cannot withstand extreme temperatures. Once fired, the color changes from a white to an off white. Since it has only been fired once, the piece is considered Biscuit ware. At this stage the clay has no chemically bonded water but its body has not yet reached maturity.
Glazing: Before the plate can be glazed, it must be sanded or smoothed. Once the plate is prepared, it is dipped in a very fine gloss. This gives the plate the desired look of reflective glass as well as provides a protective shell for the piece. In order for the gloss to harden and stick to the clay, the plate must be fired again. The plate is put into a kiln and fired at 1,010 degrees centigrade. The glaze used for the Bianca plate is mixed with a cream color pigment to add the coloring.
Decoration: The decoration is done during the molding stage. The extruded vine motif and single-dot border design was created by pressing the clay in the plastic mold, imprinting the pattern. The clean cream color of the plate came from the glaze mixture, coloring the plate during the glazing stage. The glaze which was used was a gloss glaze to make the plate have a glossy shine. The light blue decorative color on the motif was done through a process known as antiquing or rusting. Rusting can be applied both under and over the glaze. With the Bianca, after the cream colored glaze dries, the craftsmen apply the light blue paint over the embossed area. They then wipe it off the paint so as not to be overly heavy in coloration, which would take away from the plate’s aesthetic appeal but just enough to give it a vintage feel. Once the antiquing is done, the plate is ready to be put in the kiln for glaze firing.
Applied Designs: Once the base level of decorations is applied, the detailed designs are implemented. Although most plates by American Atelier have a decal decoration, allowing for mass production of identical plates, the Bianca is painted differently. The plate is hand painted with a light blue water based color which works the paint into the recesses. Then the excess paint is wiped off, giving it a very light and subtle antique look. Since the plate is hand painted, each plate looks slightly different, but not unique enough to be considered a different style or design since each worker applies the same technique. The workers are highly skilled artisans who have the knowledge of how to mimic vintage products.
Grading: Once the plate is finished it is graded based on it's appearance. It can be considered “run of the kiln” if there are no defects found. If there are noticeable defects, the plate is considered “second grade”, at which the factory will have to check the equipment and machinery to inspect for cause of flaws. If there are warps, chips, cracks or design errors, the plate would be considered “culls and lumps” and would most likely not make it into production. Sometimes the plate can be sent back and fixed by applying a different half opaque or more translucent glaze before dipping the body. This grade however, does not happen with The Jay Companies’ products as the product developer has enough knowledge to avoid producing such low quality items.
Basic Shapes: There are four basic standard shapes to a plate; a round coupe plate, a round rimmed plate, a square coupe plate and a square rimmed plate. The difference between the coupe and rimmed shape plates is the verge line. A coupe plate does not have a pronounced rim and it's body is a concave shape similar to a contact lens. A rimmed plate is associated with the more classical dishware style where the verge line is raised but flat, adding stability for the food on it. The American Atelier at Home’s Bianca plate is a round coupe shape with an embossed motif around the perimeter of the circle.
Sets: There are three ways a company can sell it's dinnerware; in sets, as an open stock, or as place settings. The Bianca plate is sold in as all three categories. If a consumer buys from The Jays Companies, they have the option to buy in sets, open stock or single place settings. However, most, if not all, plates sold online to customers are sixteen piece dinnerware sets. The set comes with four place settings and each setting includes a dinner plate, a salad plate, a bowl and a mug. The set is able to accommodate four people. The Jay Companies price the plates at $74.99 retail but it's list price is $139.99. The Bianca place is microwave and dishwasher safe, however it is advised to use caution when removing from the microwave, as the dish will get hot.