It was during the late 17th century that the formula for porcelain began to unravel. The Europeans soon realize that there were two parts to the secret. One was the need to fire the porcelain to a higher temperature in order to change the clay into a hard white glassy form. The other part of the secret was the combination of material that went into making porcelain. There are reports that tell of English or Dutch traders bringing home samples of petuntse (feldspar), from China. They were not ceramists, so they failed to realise that they were bringing home only half of the secret mix. The Chinese were aware that the foreigners wanted to aquire the formula, so they never truly explained the whole process. When they talked of the porcelain, they used terms that could not be translated into the foreign languages. Even when they were being more generous with their explanations, much information was lost in translation. The Chinese used words such as “bones”, “meat”, and “oil” to explain the formula. They still do today.
The closest any European came to recording the complete recipe for Chinese porcelain was Père d’Entrecolles. He was a part of the religious influx into China at the time. He arrived in China just before the turn of the 18th. He travelled to Jingdezhen, the heart of Chinese porcelain production, and while there, he documented the porcelain process in two of his letters home.
He wrote in his first letter to Paris in 1712: “From time to time I have stayed in Ching-tê-chên to administer to the spiritual necessities of my converts, and so I have interested myself in the manufacture of this beautiful porcelain, which is so highly prized and is sent to all parts of the world. Nothing but my curiosity could ever have prompted me to such researches but it appears to me that a minute description for all the concerns this kind of work might, somehow, be useful in Europe”. We now know that it was. The Church not only saved souls it recorded the life in the community along with all the technical information possible. This priest was practicing industrial espionage.
It is also easy to see that the Chinese Porcelains have had a great influence on my own work.