Porcelain Production in the Augarten Porcelain Manufactory

The Vienna Porcelain Manufactory Augarten

Founded in 1718, the “Vienna Porcelain Manufactory Augarten” is one of the oldest and most renowned porcelain manufactories in Europe. Since its very first days, the company has been devoted to producing the highest quality of porcelain. Manufactured and handpainted in the heart of Vienna, each piece of porcelain has been a reflection of the company’s standard for excellence. Marrying an impecable purity of line with delicate patterns, the manufactory’s porcelain has come to be world renowned for its timeless grace and elegance.

 

Porcelain production: Starting with Raw Materials

Historical picture of shaped porcelain mass

Historical picture of shaped porcelain mass

The secret to the production of porcelain had fascinated the western world ever since Marco Polo brought the first porcelain pieces back from his travels to China in the 14th century. While only three ingredients were necessary to produce porcelain, dosing them properly required near  alchemical sensibility. Yet, once the correct ratio of Feldspar, Quartz and Kaolinite was found, porcelain was born.

As a viscous molding compound, it can be processed immediately to produce castings.

On the other hand, the porcelain mixture used for flat parts – such as plates – must mature for a few months in order to obtain the ideal consistency.

Thus, a recipe which at first glance seems so simple is actuqlly quite complex. Indeed, achieving the right porcelain consistency through blending and timing is a process which requires a lot of experience and intuition.

Shapes and Designs

Made a plaster mold for the porcelain-cast

Made a plaster mold for the porcelain-cast

Using either historical models, designs drawn by renowned contemporary artists or new Augarten creations as a reference, a gypsum mold is created. The latter is formed through a complex and timeintensive pouring process which uses a special plastic.

The gypsum mold will then be used a maximum of thirty times before a new mold needs to be produced.

Why do we use gypsum? The answer to that question is multiple. First of all, the gypsum mold removes moisture from the porcelain. As such, gypsum allows porcelain to dry more effectively. Moreover, the gypsum and the moist porcelain do not bond with each other leaving the porcelain form to be easily molded.

Even so-called firing aids – frames used to support complex figurines – are poured into molds.

Our highly detailed figurines usually require a multitude of molds since a complex design is usually not molded in one piece. For a highly detailed porcelain figurine such as our Spanish Riding School rider approximately 70 individual pieces and their firing aids must be cast.

Porcelain production: Turning

Turning a porcelain dish on a plaster mold

Turning a porcelain dish on a plaster mold

All of our round, open dishes and ornaments are manufactured with the pottery wheel. Plates, saucers, bowls, dishes, etc. are rotated over a plaster mold which will set their internal shape while their outer shape will be determined by movements made with a rotating stencil.

After drying for several hours, the porcelain this then separate at points dictated by the mold.

Porcelain production: casting

Casting a plaster mold for hollow porcelain

Casting a plaster mold for hollow porcelain

The process of making molds for hollow porcelain pieces using dry gypsum mass, is called slip casting.

Once the liquid mass – the slip – is in the plaster mold, the dry form begins to soak up the water: The porcelain mass solidifies. Minutes later, the specific density is checked and leftover water is poured out. Before opening the mold to remove the moist raw material, the thickness of the porcelain can be checked according to the time it has spent in said mold.

Garnish

Garnish: gluing together pieces of porcelain with porcelain clay

Garnish: gluing together pieces of porcelain with porcelain clay

The next step is to assemble, “garnish” or in older tems “emboss” items. It is during this phase that individual pieces of a cast or twisted raw materials will be glued together with viscous porcelain mass. They then will be embelished- points were pieces are joined will be embelished to make the connections non apparent- before being set into their final shape.

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First firing: smoldering

First firing of the porcelain: smoldering

First firing of the porcelain: smoldering

Through the first firing – known as “biscuit firing” at 930°C – the raw material reaches a specific hardness, but its surface remains porous and keeps a “chalky” looking rough finish. This absorbent surface stage is a prerequisite for glazing.

Signing the Bottom

Signing porcelain with the Crest Stamp

Signing porcelain with the Crest Stamp

After the first firing, the raw porcelain is checked, dusted, and the Augarten Porcelain Manufactory crest is applied with a cobalt blue stamp. This House Crest of the Babenbergs, the manufactory’s insigna, dates back to the time of Empress Maria Theresia. Ever since that time, it has been used as the trademark symbol for the Vienna Porcelain Manufactory.

Glazing

Glazing of porcelain raw materials by hand

Glazing of porcelain raw materials by hand

All articles will then be glazed by hand. The glaze we apply to our porcelain is a liquid mixture of quartz, feldspar, kaolinite and dolomite. Upon immersion, the porous “biscuit” porcelain with soak up the glaze within seconds. Handles and edges will also be precisely retouched with a brush while excess glaze will be removed from the bottom of pieces to prevent them from sticking to the support frame.

Second Firing: Flat Firing

Main or Flat Firing: Second firing of the glazed porcelain

Main or Flat Firing: Second firing of the glazed porcelain

Once the glazing phase is over, the raw material will come in for its second firing: flat firing. With temperatures nearing 1380°C, this phase is also commonly refered to as the the main firing. These high temperatures will give the porcelain a glassy surface aspect and a surprisingly high hardness level will be reached to the point that porcelain will gain almost the same compressive strength as steel.

Before firing, we should always remember that the main firing causes individual pieces to shrink by up to 14-15%. Such a drastic size reduction must be taken into account when the pieces are first cast.

Paint: Decor and Decoration Firing

Glaze Painting: the Augarten's preferred painting technique

Glaze Painting: the Augarten’s preferred painting technique

The porcelain painting techniques are organized within the lines of these three different groups:

  • The Glaze Painting technique: color is applied to the glaze.
  • The Immersion technique: color seeps into the glaze.
  • The Underglaze technique: color is applied under the glaze.

At Augarten we use the glaze painting technique as we apply fine brush strokes or pen and ink drawings to our already twice-fired porcelain. This technique allows for the fine painting nuances to appear thus reinforcing the high artistic quality which is attached to the manufactory. Special colors that will melt together with the glaze during the subsequent decoration firing at 820°C are used to firmly anchor the colors within the glaze. Up to six intermediate firings can sometimes be required to translate the artist’s vision onto a given piece.

Painting tradition of the Augarten Porcelain Manufactory

Motifs are designed by the different specialized artists and painted by hand on the white porcelain. Specializing in decorative, figurine or edge painting, the painter assumes different tasks, making every piece unique.

Among porcelain painters, there are three groups of specialists:

  • Coloring painters (flower decors, genre scenes, landscapes and hunting themes)
  • Edge and Handle painters
  • Figurine painters

Each porcelain painter has their own unique number, which is painted on the back of any new porcelain product they worked on.

Gold and Color

Colors often obtain their luminosity and brilliance only after the firing process. To achieve gold colors, 24-carat gold dust is dissolved in a special acid. The firing makes for a matte gold color and it is only after a piece has been polishing with sand and agate dust that its golden shine will return.

Experience Porcelain Production

In the seminars and workshops of the Augarten Porcelain Manufactory you will experience the production and painting of porcelain. We also offer porcelain painting classes for kids at the children’s studio. As an adult, you can also get a glimpse into our porcelain world with one of our our regularly scheduled tours and of course in our Porcelain Museum Augarten.