Interview with Duchess China, Makers of Jin Designs Mugs

Have you ever wanted to find out a little bit more about your Jin Designs Mug, where it is made and who is behind the work involved? Well, here are the answers to some of your questions after Designer Jinny travelled to Stoke-on-Trent for a question and answer session with Jason Simms, the co-owner of Duchess China.Duchess China - Jason and JinnyDuchess China produce Jin Designs fine bone china mugs and plates so it was a great opportunity to visit the factory and find out a little bit more behind the process of mug production and a rare glimpse into life behind one of the UK’s finest ceramic manufacturers.

1) What is Duchess China?Coronation Mugs by Duchess ChinaDuchess China 1888 is one of the few true remaining British Manufacturers of bespoke fine bone china tableware, teaware and giftware. We have over 130 years of rich heritage, manufacturing classically designed patterned ranges of fine bone china products in Stoke-on-Trent, England - the heart of the World's ceramic industry, also known as the ‘Potteries’. In 2019 the business was close to closing but luckily, myself and my business partner Andy Tooth, were able to buy Duchess and keep the tradition going.

2) What makes Duchess China so special?Glazing a MugOur mix of traditional and machine made manufacturing uses skilled craftsmanship involved within every process. Potentially over 20 pairs of hands can touch a single product in the various stages of making. We are utilising the skill base of our local workforce while also offering the sustainability of fully British made fine bone china products. Our current and historical expertise in production of fine bone china ensures our products are known throughout the world.

3) How do you make a Jin Designs Mug? 
It's a complex process! And probably easier to explain in this video 4) What does Made in the UK mean to you? 
From my background, it means everything to me. I grew up in this area, here in the Potteries. It means everything to keep production going in this county where we have such history in this industry. It's an honour to be a part of this. You will often find other companies claiming to manufacture in the UK but quite often it will focus on the decoration - importing mugs from abroad which will then be labelled "Hand-decorated in Stoke". But we are bucking this trend. We are manufacturing and decorating UK made whiteware from start to finish. There are very few companies in the UK doing this. Me and Andy are lucky to have this opportunity, to be custodians of this and it's something we are very proud of.

5) How can you tell the difference between an imported mug and those made by you?
The overall quality of our mugs is very high. The handles of the mugs, the bases of them, it's in the precise details. It comes down to pin holes and glaze runs and what we call spec in the ware. You can see the definition as well, if you look at the handles of the mugs and the bases, it's more precise and defined. It's the little details. A lot of the imported china isn't fine bone china. It's actually fine china, some of it is porcelain too. So we are able to offer a product which is traceable, sustainable and generally much better quality. 

6) What about the screen-printing? Can you explain the difficulties (or techniques) in producing colour onto ceramics?Mug transfers for Jin Designs
Silk screen printing involves printing layers of colour through a fine polyester mesh, directly onto a gum backed water slide decal paper. Each colour printed is matched to Pantone references or visual matchings provided by the client. With the limitations of the printing ceramic colour palette, we pride ourselves with aiming to push the boundaries to try to achieve our clients' expectations. It can be difficult to colour match. Colours can change on firing too. Cadmium colours, such as reds, oranges and yellows, don't need as much heat. Then pinks and purples need more heat. So it's quite technical, there's a lot of chemistry involved but thankfully we have the expertise to excel in this area.

7) Can you explain the process of getting a transfer to a mug?Jin Mug Decal being applied
The decorating department adds the final touches to the white ware, by applying the clients' printed decals to the pieces. Using a squeegee and lint-free cloth, the decals are positioned by hand to eye co-ordination, onto the white bone china pieces copying or matching a pre-agreed piece by the client. Any water or air has to be removed from between the decal and piece, otherwise in firing, blow outs will occur meaning often the decorated piece after firing would be turned out as seconds on selection.

8) Why are Jin Designs Collections a little harder to manufacture than some other designs?
Hedgehog MugBasically, Jin Designs has very minimal designs, there's no hiding place, the whiteware must be absolutely perfect. If you cover a mug with a pattern it can hide any slight imperfections in the mug. But not with these designs. Also, there can sometimes be difficulties with the pale grey background colour on the animal mugs, for instance the Hedgehog Mug or Robin Mug. It has big coverage with the background colour wrapping around the mug, but the light shade highlights any imperfections. So again, there's no hiding place because of the clean design style. It effectively means they take a little bit longer and have to be checked more regularly than perhaps more colourful, busier designs.

9) Most famous work to date
It's a difficult choice. We have had many great clients over the years. We have done a lot of commemorative work for the Royal Family, we have dining ware at the Savoy and we've produced work for Gilbert & George. In essence, we're proud of all the work we do - whether for bigger clients or smaller ones. Each one matters.

10) Three words to describe Duchess China
Sustainable. Historical. Elegant.

11) What’s your favourite Jin Designs CollectionI love the Woodland Collection, particularly the Woodland Collection Large Mug which is screen-printed on our fine bone china Coronation Mug. It's an excellent combination of great design and high quality product.

12) And finally, thoughts on the future of ceramics in the UKSkilled Staff at Duchess China
My thoughts are we are bucking a trend. We are helping to bring as much production of high quality products back to Stoke-on-Trent with reinvestment in both machinery and more importantly, people. We are bringing pride back to our community. It's a very exciting time for British ceramics.

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