Bone China and Crystal—for the modern man
by Richard Brendon
When the typical 21st-century gentleman thinks of equipping his household—be it bachelor pad, starter-house, urban penthouse, or country mansion—he does not think of bone china and fine crystal. Simply stated, most men—not even wealthy and worldly ones—do not live like that anymore. As such, luxurious, iconic brands like Wedgwood and Lalique have given way to the likes of Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn.
But for the discriminating modern man who insists—like his father before him—in dining in
elegance and with style, there is a new generation of tableware designers who, using the age-old exquisite materials of bone china and lead crystal, create collections that are at once classic but modern, elegant and therefore understated, simple though luxurious. And one such firm is the design house of Richard Brendon ( www.RichardBrendon.com ).
Stronger than “porcelain china” and “fine china,” “bone china” is a soft-paste porcelain composed of a minimum of 30% bone ash, feldspathic (rock-forming) material, and a fine, white clay called kaolin.
Bone ash is a white substance made by the calcification of animal bones. To make bone ash, the flesh is removed from the bone, then the bone is washed clean. It is then heated to about 1832 °F (1000 °C) in order to remove all organic material, the bone thereby becoming sterilized. The sterilized bone is then ground with water into fine particles that are used as the raw material for bone china. Today, many manufacturers of bone china use synthetic bone ash alternatives such as dicalcium phosphate and tricalcium phosphate. Richard Brendon, however, does not. His bone ash is made from the bones of English cattle.
Relatively resistant to chipping, bone china is also known for its whiteness and translucency. And because it is harder than other porcelains, it can be crafted into thin, delicate objects that are exceedingly durable.
English potter Josiah Spode, in the early 1790s, is credited as the first person to commercially market items made of bone china. And from its introduction until the latter part of the 20th century, bone china was primarily a British product, made almost exclusively in Stoke-on-Trent.
Comprised primarily of silica sand, calcium, magnesium, soda, and lime, the earliest examples of crystal glass date back to 500 B.C.E., Mesopotamia. But it was in 1674 C.E. that English glassmaker George Ravenscroft decided to substitute lead oxide for calcium, thereby inventing the now-famous lead crystal that is used to craft some of the most prized glassware known to man.
By adding lead oxide (typically from 18% to 40% by weight), the silica sand, of which glass is primarily comprised, becomes easier to melt. Lead oxide also increases the “working period” of the molten glass, affording artisans more time to manipulate the glass in its formative stages. Besides adding weight and stability, lead oxide also imparts a heightened refractory characteristic, resulting in a finished product with a brilliance that far exceeds that of regular glass. And while there are health issues associated with eating and drinking from vessels with lead content, such issues primarily arise when food is cooked or stored in lead-content vessels. (Drinking wine from glasses made of lead crystal poses no discernible health risk, whereas it is ill-advised to drink liquor that has been stored in a lead-crystal decanter, for example, for three or more months).
Lead-free crystal, sometimes called crystallin, is also a material of high quality with light-refractory properties similar to lead crystal. Crystallin, however, is generally less expensive and is not typically etched and carved. Much of its appeal is its light weight, enabling the manufacture of drinking-glasses that are ultra-thin, thereby enhancing the experience derived from their contents.
It is upon centuries-old traditions of English bone-china and lead-crystal manufacturing, then, that young Englishman Richard Brendon, a native of Notting Hill, established his company in London in 2013.
Brendon’s penchant for pottery began in his childhood years when his mother enrolled him in ceramics classes. But it was while studying product design and working at a pub on Portobello Road—famous for its every-Saturday-morning antiques market—that Brendon’s interest in antique ceramics was piqued. And it was while attending those weekly Portobello Market events that Brendon got the brilliant idea to revive “orphaned” antique tea saucers that had long been separated from their presumably broken, but certifiably missing, teacups. So, for his design school graduation exhibition, he produced platinum- and gold-mirrored teacups and paired them with antique saucers, their patterns reflecting on the teacups, seamlessly uniting the two.
Brendon’s ingenious, thrifty, sustainable concept, titled Reflect, was received with critical acclaim, the concept serving as a cornerstone of his design house, which was inaugurated shortly after his graduation. Prestigious clients, commissions, and collaborations soon followed: Harrods, Bergdorf Goodman, Fortnum & Mason, Four Seasons Hotel, etc.
And the natural complement to exquisite British bone china is exquisite British crystal. Thus, since 2013, Richard Brendon has offered several lines of lead-crystal stemware, Fluted and Diamond being the most notable. And in 2018, Brendon collaborated with esteemed English wine critic Jancis Robinson in the creation of an all-wines wineglass made of lead-free crystal.
But what makes Richard Brendon especially appealing to the modern gentleman with discerning taste is the company’s option of creating bespoke—custom-designed, custom-made—collections for clients: Just as a gentleman of means can go to London’s famed Savile Row to be outfitted with a bespoke suit, such a gentleman can go to Richard Brendon to commission a bespoke suite of British bone china and crystal. And for the modern man who otherwise would use tableware by Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn, setting his table with a Richard Brendon bespoke collection speaks volumes without uttering a single word.