There are currently two main methods used for scientific authentication of ceramics available:
Most authentication of antique Chinese porcelain and pottery is done by visual inspection, which not only requires a vast knowledge but also many years of experience.
Scientific methods are available but not widely used. Partially this is probably due to the relatively high cost involved. It may not be a good idea to do a scientific analysis costing more than the item itself.
However, forgers also have found methods to defeat these scientific authentication methods. So even if one is used to verify authenticity of an expensive item, it is still necessary to do a visual or hands-on inspection also. Multiple factors need to be examined always in addition to the scientific authentication/dating, in order to validate these if the result is positive.
Thermoluminescence dating (TL dating) is more suited for pottery than porcelain. It requires the removal of fairly large clay samples of approx. 3 mm diameter, which may destruct thin porcelain. Here is a link to Oxford Authentication Ltd. , which currently probably is the world's foremost provider of TL analysis. Read more about the principle of TL dating, and how forgers try to defeat this test.
This type of examination can only estimate the approximate age of a ceramic item and is more suitable for an age of many hundred years.
Other scientific methods that are non-destructive are based mainly on elemental analysis of the material (clay or glaze); this is executed with the help of spectroscopy (spectrometric analysis).
Spectroscopy is not a new testing method. It has been used for material analysis for a long time. In different forms it has been employed for decades by the industry for deciding material composition of metals.
The current methods suitable for ceramics do not need the grinding of holes into the material. The amount of sampling material is either so minute, that it is invisible to the bare eye, or no material is extracted at all. That makes these methods more suitable for fine porcelain.
One method is Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS). In this case a laser is utilized to extract a minute amount of material. The trace of this in the material is so small that it is virtually invisible.
The other method uses X-rays (XRF, XRD analysis) to induce a secondary emission (fluorescence in the case of XRF). The emission shows the wave lengths of different chemical elements contained in the analyzed clay.
With spectrometry the trace elements
present in the clay or glaze of antique ceramics can be analyzed,
and the result is then compared to sample data from different
kiln sites and periods.
Once they fit, the period and location of production of a ceramic item is positively identified.
See more about elemental analysis and spectroscopy .
Download introduction to Laser Ablation ICP-MS (courtesy E. Bartle)
Download the treatise at this URL for more details.
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Antique Porcelain Appraisal
Spectrometry and its use with antique ceramics