It would make an ideal bowl for chicken soup, in particular because it is painted with roosters, hens and chicks. But with a price tag of $36.05 million, a world auction record for Chinese porcelain in 2014, the Meiyintang 'Chicken Cup' is not a cup you'd ever eat out of. It was crafted during the Chenghua reign (1465-87) when porcelain "quality was at its peak and quantities produced at their lowest," according to Sotheby's, the auction house that sold the bowl.
At that time, Europeans had discovered porcelain, but they had not yet learned how to make it. The prized material has been described as delicate, elegant and translucent, but it also boasts high durability and is nearly impermeable. So what makes porcelain so special and sets it apart from other ceramics?