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Discover the secrets of German porcelain


German porcelain has always been innovative and the country’s top brands remain world leaders, as Stephen Doig discovers

Verity Hogan
Verity Hogan,

Johann Friedrich Böttger is a name that resounds in the world of European porcelain; many sources point to Böttger as the father of contemporary porcelain. It was in the 1700s that the German chemist began experimenting to determine how the material, whose manufacturing process was a closely guarded secret in its native China and Japan, was made. The Meissen company, founded in the city of the same name in 1710, enjoyed the fruits of his labour when it established a business around a product that would become a major German export.

Böttger’s legacy can be explored in Frankfurt’s Porzellan Museum, a section of the extensive Historisches Museum, but the city also offers enticing opportunities to invest in pieces for the home that are as fitting in a 21st-century environment as they were in the homes of the Habsburgs.

It’s perhaps fitting that Meissen’s insignia shows crossed swords, such was the label’s protectiveness of its methods. To this day, an exacting training programme ensures that Meissen’s craftspeople work to the highest standards in their modelling and painting, and are trained for three years. Meissen’s artisans devote themselves to pushing the boundaries of porcelain craft, producing intricate detailing and richly decorative painting on everything from tableware to figurines.

Today’s Meissen offerings have expanded to encompass collaborations with contemporary artists, as well as sleek contemporary ranges and vivid colour tones and finishes; politely dainty porcelain tea sets have been superseded by gleaming metallic rainbow hues and architectural lines. In keeping with the label’s focus on innovation and keeping ahead of the curve, the house launched a clothing range last year, under the directorship of Frida Weyer – the same craft and attention to detail that applies to Meissen’s porcelain is carried into the clothing range.

As befits a label whose headquarters are next door to Munich’s Nymphenburg palace, Nymphenburg porcelain’s royal connections are integral to the brand’s identity. Nymphenburg was founded by the Bavarian crown in 1747, and a strong sense of the past remains essential to the brand’s operation today. For example, the equipment in the Nymphenburg factory is powered by water from the estate, all pieces are shaped on a potter’s wheel or cast by hand, and the process of handpainting, decorating and glazing is painkstaking. An original piece of Nymphenburg porcelain can be distinguished by the brand’s crest and coat of arms.

While the original skills and artistry of Nymphenburg remain intact, the company has moved with the times to include innovative new ranges and a roster of all-star collaborators includes Karl Lagerfeld, Miuccia Prada and Vivienne Westwood. The brand hasn’t been precious about breathing new life into its pieces, from the quirky Animal Bowls range, where 3D creatures roam across plates and bowls, to porcelain skulls decorated with insects and flowers – so long-standing technique and slick design can sit side-by-side on your shelves.

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