Rarely is a table set or a wedding gift registry completed without at least one piece of Wedgwood china. A company known for its tradition of quality craftsmanship and timeless beauty, Wedgwood offers an extensive line of products ranging from its classic china and dinnerware to crystal stemware, serving pieces, and, of course, tea accessories. After merging with Waterford in 1986, the family-owned company boasts representation in over 80 countries around the world, extending the reach of its dynamic combination of artistry and practicality.
Like all classics that have endured the test of time, Wedgwood china has a rich history steeped in its surrounding culture. Josiah Wedgwood I, known as the father of English potters, founded the Wedgwood enterprise in 1759 after having apprenticed in the family-owned pottery business with his brother since he was 9 years old. A bout of smallpox in his youth left Josiah unable to operate a potter’s wheel, so he poured his energy into the development of ceramic styles and technology. His dedication resulted in glazes that added to the beauty and durability of his pottery and greatly distinguished his line of products from that of his competition.
One of his first and most successful accomplishments was a cream-colored earthenware that met not only Josiah’s incredibly high standards, but also those of Queen Charlotte, who allowed it to be called Queens Ware. This inexpensive line was attractive enough to be finished with a transparent glaze, and although available to the masses, it was popular with notables in society as well.
Almost a decade after Wedgwood launched this line, Catherine the Great of Russia ordered a service for 50 for entertaining at her St. Petersburg palace, La Grenouillre, or Palace of Frogs. Comprised of 952 pieces, this was one of the largest and most famous commissions of Josiah’s time. Each piece of the one-of-a-kind service is adorned with a frog and a hand-painted English landscape theme, be it a castle, stately home, or famous ruin. The elaborate process took two years to complete, and it was quite a nobleman’s honor to have his estate featured on one of the empress’s pieces.
Josiah’s work was truly a labor of love, and his most prized line of pottery is one that took an estimated 10,000 separate trials to perfect. Jasperware, named after the natural stone jasper because of its similar hardness, is a matte-glazed vitreous stoneware produced in various colors—blue, yellow, green, lilac, and black. The most famous example of this line is blue with white classical reliefs adorning the pieces. In fact, Jasperware is still produced using many of Josiah’s original techniques and even some of Wedgwood’s 18th-century molds.
In keeping with the classical theme of the line, Josiah created a Jasperware replica of the Barberini vase, a first-century Roman glass piece with beautiful cameo glass cutting. The Duke of Portland lent him the original Roman treasure, and the ceramic replica is named the Portland Vase. Used as the icon for the Wedgwood brand since 1878, the Portland Vase is the most notable piece of Jasperware if not of all of Wedgwood’s products.
The next major Wedgwood milestone came nearly 40 years after the creation of Jasperware when the company adopted the production of bone china. A mix of 51 percent animal-bone fine ash and china clay, bone china is the most durable of ceramics. It is so strong, in fact, that four coffee cups can support the full weight of an automobile. In addition to having incredible strength, bone china pieces are also some of the most beautiful of Wedgwood products and are available in a wide range of colors and patterns. The china is glazed and fired and then subjected to further firings to ensure the brilliant colors of the vivid designs. After a hiatus from 1829 to 1878, production of bone china resumed and remains one of the company’s most popular products.
There are 69 formal and casual bone china patterns available to customers in the United States, with many of the patterns dating back to the 19th century. The high-quality Wedgwood reputation has attracted talented designers including Vera Wang and Barbara Barry. And in the unlikely event that a pattern is discontinued, Wedgwood promises to send written notification and allows up to six months to complete a collection or exchange the pattern for another of equal value.
From the promise to the products, Wedgwood is synonymous with high quality. What started with a young man’s dedication and determination almost 250 years ago has resulted in countless well-set tables and well-stocked cupboards around the world.
Beauty, quality, and tradition came together in 1986 when Wedgwood and Waterford merged, and a finer marriage there could not be. Together they continue to produce breathtaking pieces recognized the world over.