Bone china dinnerware and fine china dinnerware are of greater quality that other types of dishes. Relatively, they are a bit more more expensive than casual sets so they are actually an investment.
It is a good idea to choose china dinnerware sets from a popular dinnerware manufacturer to increase your chances of adding to the set over the years, and finding replacement pieces when you need them.
Here are my recommendations for choosing fine china dinnerware sets.
In most households, fine china isn't used as everyday dinnerware because it is of greater quality and value that other types of dishes like stoneware or earthenware for instance.
I say "in most households" because my mother-in-law used to break out her fancy English china to serve us every time we went to visit. She was from England and her hospitality was quite unusual to me considering that I grew up in countrified family who usually uses paper plates in a "serve yourself" manner.
It's two different worlds, really. When you visit my family, you are told that drinks are in the fridge on the back porch and there is snacks on the counter and that you're welcome to make yourself at home and help yourself. When we visited my mother-in-law, while the tea was steeping, the table was set with plates of sweet biscuits (cookies), scones (muffins), and occasionally finger sandwiches or biscuits and cheese (crackers and cheese). I believe that the difference in these atmospheres is what spurred my interest in dinnerware and fine china.
When researching types of china you will run across the terms "porcelain", "fine china" and "bone china". To me, they are all the same - elegant dishes - but the category that they fall into depends on the quality with attention to clay content, the temperature at which the dish was fired, and the translucency of the materials used in producing the china.
Basically, porcelain is made of a type of clay call kaolin. It is fired at high temperatures which makes the material translucent and somewhat shell-like. Porcelain dishes are usually called china because porcelain making was first introduced by China.
Fine china is considered to be higher grade than porcelain because the materials used are more translucent. Bone china is made partially of bone ash which is a very translucent material.
So, bone china is the highest grade, followed by fine china and porcelain. To determine the quality of china, it's all based on the translucency. If you can hold it up to a light and it is translucent, it is of high-quality. Earthenware or stoneware, which is commonly used for everyday dishes, is not translucent like china dishes are.
If you want porcelain, fine china dinnerware or bone china dinnerware you can't really rely on a brand name. While some companies concentrate on producing fine china, many companies produce several types of dishes. For instance, Lenox Corporation produces both fine Lenox china and casual dinnerware sets. When shopping for china for special occasions or formal dining you will want to look at the quality and translucency of the products rather than the brand name.