The Contemporary Couple's Guide to Wedding China

We're dishing on the where, how and why of registering for fine china.
Collage of wedding china registry gift idea
Photos: The Knot Registry Store,Design: Tiana Crispino
cathryn haight the knot
by
Cathryn Haight
  • Cathryn is an editor at The Knot, where she focuses on all things planning—from inspiration and design, to traditions, to invitations.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, Cathryn spent years as a food editor
  • Cathryn holds a bachelor's degree from Trinity College and a certificate in publishing from Columbia University
Updated Jan 26, 2024
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I grew up spooning mashed potatoes off of my parents' pink and cream floral Noritake wedding china for every holiday meal. Setting the table for such meals (my job) was like a meditation—watching the rings of blush blooms that patterned the bone china plates, cups and saucers multiply around the table four, six and—sometimes—eight times, depending on the occasion.

If you're on the hunt for wedding registry ideas, I'm sure you've wondered whether traditional wedding china should make your wish list. Our own data from our 2022 Registry Study suggests that 61% of couples who created a The Knot registry opted to ask for everyday dinnerware, while just 13% included a wedding china set on their list of wants.* That begs the question: Does wedding china, conceptually, stand the test of time?

While this data shows a trend toward more casual entertaining overall, there's still very much a place for fine china dinnerware on your table, with aesthetics like old money and coquette holding strong as well as hyper-styled, intimate dinner parties on the rise. And even if something is considered fancy and fragile, it doesn't mean you can't use it regularly. (Romanticize your life by eating your weeknight Trader Joe's cauliflower gnocchi off your wedding china set—there are no rules!)

I'll always defend pretty plates, but if you're still on the fence about adding wedding china to your registry as 21st-century soonlyweds (or have questions about what fine china is and what a wedding china set includes), read on. We've got expert intel and helpful information below.

In this article:

What is fine china?

Colloquially speaking, fine china is your best china, the most high-quality dishes in your hutch that are typically brought out for special occasions. But the term does have a formal definition: "Fine china is a high-fired clay body that is vitreous and has translucency," says Beth Baer, Senior Director of Marketing at prestigious tableware brand Lenox. According to Baer, the high firing temperature makes fine china stronger than most other ceramics.

Bone china is another term you might see in tandem with fine china—it's one of the most sought after construction methods for formal dishware. "Despite its lightweight, delicate feel, bone china is the strongest material of the porcelain and china ceramics," say the experts at Wedgwood, another well-known china brand. "It is made from china clay, china stone and bone ash (usually from cow bones)." Both porcelain fine china and bone china qualify as types of formal china dinnerware.

Pricewise, one five-piece place setting could cost, on average, anywhere between $100 and $250, with designer sets (think: Hermès or Versace) coming in at much higher price points. But again, in modern day, the most formal feeling or decorative dishes in your cabinet could be considered your own personal fine china regardless of whether you spent a pretty penny on those plates or you scooped them up at the thrift store for a steal.

Why should you register for china dinnerware?

The classic draw of registering for wedding china is having something special to step into married life with, but it's more than that—it's a tangible representation of your union. "The element of wedding china that I do still think has a place for couples today is the idea of registering for a gift that you find delightful and beautiful to use and reminds you of the time in your life when you were choosing to getting married and come together as partners," says Delaney Lundquist, the creative eye behind interior design Instagram account @tremont_home. She and her partner are currently registered for some everyday dinnerware and the fine china Ginori 1735 Oriente Italiano plates she's been coveting since high school. "We have registered for a number of plates and bowls that will flesh out the existing, (intentionally) mismatched dishware we've acquired over the years. I am excited, though, that these pieces will be ones we associate with our marriage and I think that is still in the spirit of traditional wedding china." Lunquist notes that her entertaining style is "colorful and casual" and her main goal is to make her home feel inviting, so her new registry china will share a tablescape with thoughtfully thrifted items and other pieces she's acquired over the years.

Madison Olson (@maddyolson_), a Instagram influencer known for throwing creatively themed gatherings, recalls registering for simple and durable Corelle dinnerware as her "wedding china," opting for a set that she could use everyday to balance out the more thematic and statement-making pieces she picks up for her table for parties. "I want my hosting style to feel fun and colorful," says Olson. "The kind of dinnerware I choose is always changing depending on the occasion."

Our own Executive Editor, Lauren Kay, doubles down on the sentiment that wedding china doesn't have to be so precious and matchy-matchy: "If you don't want to register for a traditional 12-piece place setting, don't. If you're not sure if you'll use more than dinner plates, just add those to your wish list," she says, noting that many classic china patterns stick around for years if you ever want to grow your collection in the future. "We use our wedding china regularly—my kids have eaten off it since they were two! It's special and elevates any meal, but I'm not overly precious about it. It is meant to be used, even if that means a teacup gets a chip or a plate breaks along the way."

In short, you should register for wedding china because you have free reign to do it your way. A few new pieces that expand your current slate of dinnerware will be a sweet reminder of this special time in your life, whether they're classic Lenox bone china or simply a set of handmade pottery plates from the ceramicist whose Etsy shop you can't stop scrolling through.

Lenox wedding china
Photo: Lenox

How many china dishes do you need?

Just as the definition and the intended frequency of use for wedding china is more flexible in today's day and age, the number of china dishes you register for is totally up to you. But there are some traditional guidelines you can stick to if you're feeling lost. "A general rule of thumb is to register for eight to 12 place settings, but this really depends on the size of your family and how many guests you typically invite over for dinner parties," say the experts at Wedgwood.

If you've got the space for a sprawling dining room table and are planning on being the holiday house in married life, then you may want to bump the number up (because it's smart to have a few extra plates than places at your table in case of extra guests or broken china). If you're cozied up in a city apartment and your kitchen counter is the spot where you gather for meals, maybe four to six sets might feel more appropriate (and easier to store).

Now that you've pondered over your perfect number of place settings, consider what individual pieces each should contain. Classically, china place settings come in four- or five-piece sets, the former consisting of a dinner plate, salad/dessert plate, bread plate or soup bowl and a cup for coffee or tea. The latter has all of the above, plus a saucer for the cup.

Sure, you can go for all sets if you're into a matching look or are really starting from scratch when it comes to formal dinnerware, but as aforementioned, you can also register for individual pieces to suit your needs. Maybe you've already inherited some fine china dinner plates and salad plates from your grandparents from a classic brand like Lenox—you can register for the additional pieces required to complete each place setting in the same pattern (if it's a classic still being produced) or a complementary pattern in a matching material. Perhaps your friends and fam' would rather sip their after-dinner coffee out of your handmade pottery mugs than a delicate vessel, skip the coordinating cups and saucers. And if you just want some fancy dinner plates without the additional fuss of matching extras, then go for it. It's still considered wedding china and you'll get the sentimentality without the storage issues (if you're a small-space dweller).

You might already have dinnerware you love and you wouldn't dream of adding another plate to each place at your table. In this case, opt for a few china serving pieces to complete your tablescape. A large and small platter, two or three serving bowls of various sizes, a gravy boat, a cream pitcher and sugar bowl, a teapot as well as some small serving dishes of various sizes and shapes might be helpful when trying to showcase your signature autumn salad and such for your first Thanksgiving as newlyweds. If you're not sure what you still need to pick up, use our detailed wedding registry checklist to keep track of all the dining essentials.

There are a few heritage heavyweights when it comes to fine china with some serious name recognition and caché. Choosing dinnerware from one of these classic producers will ensure longevity, quality and longstanding value. However, there are also many modern retailers breathing new life into the category you can explore. Discover some iconic options below.

Lenox

If you're looking for wedding china lovely enough to grace the tables at the Met Gala and the White House (actually though, both notably have showcased Lenox china), look no further. Lenox's fine china has been part of the crème de la crème for over 130 years. The American company offers a range of styles, with details like geometric patterns, scalloped edges, gilded bands and sweet bunnies and butterflies showcased in their collections.

Wedgwood

Founded in England over 260 years ago, Wedgwood is another iconic china brand that has graced the tables of royalty and heads of state around the world. The industry star now specializes in fine bone china dinnerware that's designed to stand the test of time in terms of both form and function. Wedgwood also boasts collabs with Vera Wang, Jasper Conran and other big names, making for some seriously chic table moments.

Royal Albert

All of my cottagecore and coquette-aesthetic couples, this is the fine china brand for you. English brand Royal Albert has been a big name in the fine china business since 1904, known for their breathtaking, whimsical teaware and tableware. You'll find delicate silhouettes with gentle curves, fluted details and gilded rims in their pieces, along with smatterings of stunning English roses in various designs. (The Country Rose pattern adorns this editor's very favorite vintage teacup.)

Royal Copenhagen

Royal Copenhagen has been a renowned maker of formal tableware for two centuries. Similar to Wedgwood, the company has a regal history. Today, couples can register for both classic and contemporary designs crafted from porcelain or bone china, from bold floral styles created in the 21st century to designs that made their debut in the 1800s. Danish Royal Copenhagen is most famous for their chinoiserie-esque blue and white dinnerware, which is made with a very specific royal blue hue derived from cobalt. The Blue Fluted collection makes me gasp in awe, especially the pieces with the "lace" borders.

Noritake

Founded in Japan, Noritake has been manufacturing high-quality china dinnerware and serveware for over a century. Today, the company's signature designs are sold in over 100 countries worldwide and are a popular choice for hotels and restaurants (hello luxury). Couples looking to register for fine wedding china here can browse four- and five-piece place settings on the site in a variety of modern and classic designs. You'll find elements like splatter paint-like swirls, florals with both English and Japanese design styles, thick gilded bands and Greek key motifs.

Hawkins New York

This modern New York-based brand captures that earthy, handmade, minimalist look perfectly. Hawkins partners with indie producers, family-owned manufacturers and other maker collectives globally. The wedding china you'll find here is functional, yet eye-catching—think: those satisfying large plates that look like bowls, sturdy mugs with modern-shaped handles and stoneware-like speckled patterns.

Michael Aram

American artist Michael Aram has a showstopping collection of porcelain dinnerware, including four- and five-piece table settings perfect for adding to your wedding wish list. The designer's fine china ranges from colorful florals and butterfly prints to understated white and banded dishes. Aram aims to reflect humanity in his artistry by embracing the beautiful imperfections found in both nature and handmade goods.

Bernardaud

The French porcelain from Bernardaud hails from a rich legacy—they opened operations in 1863 and have kept the business in the family since, now on their fifth generation. The fine china here is bedecked with everything from delicate leaves to thick gold "cracks" mimicking the art of Japanese kintsugi. Speaking of art, the producer also boasts multiple collections inspired by iconic artists, with plates featuring the free-flowing brush strokes of painter Marc Chagall and some punchy, thought-provoking contemporary patterns by Jeff Koons.

La DoubleJ

This modern brand is known for their gold-trimmed porcelain pieces in a slew of juicy hues and classic-with-a-twist patterns. Modern Art Deco arches will multiply across the surface of one dinner plate, while a delicate dragonfly perches at the center of another. Inspired by the brightness and zest of Italy, any wedding china from here will pair perfectly with the brand's selection of Murano-made colored glassware and colorful table linens.

Fornasetti

You know those plates with the classic antique-painting-like faces on them that you see in every maximalist house tour on Architectural Digest? Here they are. Italian producer Fornasetti looks to infuse art into everyday situations, case in point: your dinner table. Find predominantly black and white whimsical dinnerware that blends tradition and cheekiness, with design influences from ancient Rome and plenty of thoughtful gilding, here.

wedding china
Photo: Royal Copenhagen

How do you put china on your wedding registry?

Adding china to your wedding registry is quite easy, no matter where you choose to shop, if you choose to make a The Knot Registry. If you're shopping from The Knot Registry Store, just click the "Add to Registry" button and it'll show up on your wish list. If you've already got your heart set on wedding china from a certain retailer (and have added it to your individual registry with that store), you can sync it with your The Knot Registry so you can see all of your items in one place (which is great anyway, but especially if you're looking to match pieces from different brands). As long as you sign up with the same email address both at The Knot and at other partner retailers, they'll sync automatically. My biggest wedding registry tip: Add items from anywhere with The Knot's browser button.

Where to Register for Wedding China

We've covered what you might want to register for (again, I can't stop thinking about that blue and white Royal Copenhagen set), now we'll dig into where to get it. No need to make a separate china registry or anything like that, just add everything to your regular wedding wish list. The retailers below are great options for high-quality wedding china that'll stand the test of time.

  • The Knot Registry Store: The Knot Registry Store has a slew of casual and formal dinnerware from brands and designers such as Vera Wang, Wedgwood, Lenox, Noritake, Spode and Kate Spade. Add them to your registry with the click of a button.
  • Bloomingdale's: As one of our partner stores, your Bloomingdale's registry will automatically sync with your wish list on The Knot. Large department stores like Bloomingdale's carry a wide variety of brands and designs. Expect china for every style, from regal blue and gold designs to understated white dinnerware.
  • Macy's: Registering with Macy's will grant you access to a variety of china brands, from Bernardaud's contemporary spin on the classic dinnerware to Michael Aram's artistic designs. Macy's is another one of The Knot Registry's partner stores, meaning your wish lists will automatically sync as long as you use the same email address when signing up.
  • Etsy: Etsy is an unexpected mecca for wedding china. You'll find a bevy of handmade and hand-painted pottery and ceramics from independent makers. Plus, if you're looking for a vintage set or more cost-friendly secondhand gems, this is the perfect place to uncover those treasures.

Naoimh O'Hare contributed to this article.

*The 2022 The Knot Wedding Registry Study represents feedback among over 6,000 respondents ages 18+ in the US. The survey was sent to couples in February and March 2022 with an email address on file with The Knot.

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