Costing up to half a million pounds, these tea sets are certainly not the kind you’d want to put in the dishwasher – or even use. From rare European porcelain to those crafted by the iconic Tiffany & Co, we look at the most expensive tea sets sold around the world.
It's likely that most tea lovers have a teapot, cups and saucers that take pride of place in their cupboard - but this selection of tea sets, some of which have fetched hundreds of thousands of pounds at auction, are in a class of their own.
Crafted from beautifully decorated sterling silver to exceptionally rare porcelain, many of the tea sets we've featured sparked a bidding frenzy when they went under the hammer, often quadrupling their original estimate.
A Chinese silver-gilt tea service, auctioned by Sotheby's Amsterdam, exceeded its estimation of €50,000 to fetch €204,750 in 2011, while a 19th century six-piece Tiffany & Co. sterling silver tea and coffee service - expected to achieve $5,000 at auction in Boston - sold for more than four times the expected amount.
However, the prize for the most expensive tea set sold at auction goes to the Half-Figure Service Meissen porcelain tea set, which went under the hammer in London in 2012 for more than £500,000.
£541,250 - The Half-Figure Service Meissen porcelain tea set
Said to be one of the finest collections of Meissen porcelain in the world, the 'Half-Figure Service' fetched £541,250 at auction in London in 2012, making it one of the most valuable tea services ever assembled.
Made in 1723, the eight-piece Meissen porcelain tea set features very rare 'Half-Figure Service' decoration, which is one of the most sought-after types of European porcelain painting. The set is made up of a milk jug and sugar bowl, hexagonal tea canister and cover, beakers and saucers, and tiny tea bowls.
Believed to be a world record for a tea service, the sale of the tea set was part of 'The Marouf Collection, Part I: highly important 18th century Meissen porcelain', which went under auction at Bonhams, in Central London, in December 2012.
Image copyright of Bonhams.
£213,483 - The Westinghouse Set: Tiffany "Japanese style" tea set
Crafted by Tiffany & Co., the Westinghouse tea set went under the hammer for $380,000 (£213,483) when it was sold to silver dealer Anthony Marks in New York in 2006.
Comprising a teapot, coffee pot, creamer, sugar bowl, waste bowl, hot milk jug and a kettle on a lampstand, the set was made during the Aesthetic Movement, in around 1870 to 1890.
Decorated with dragonflies, insects and butterflies, the mixed-metal tea set also features a tray with an inlay of numerous metals, including copper, Japanese gold, platinum, and niello.
€204,750 - Chinese silver-gilt tea service
Sold for €204,750 (around £169,000), this 18th/19th century Chinese silver-gilt tea service from the Qing Dynasty once belonged to the estate of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands.
One of 1,600 lots from the Queen's estate, which were auctioned at Sotheby's Amsterdam in 2011, the tea service comprises a teapot on a stand, an oval box with cover on a stand, a rectangular casket with three caddies, two bowls with a cover and stand, a sugar bowl with a hinged handle, a pair of sugar tongs, twelve bowls with covers on a stand, twelve tea cups and twelve tea spoons.
Featuring filigree decoration of scrolling and floral motifs, the tea set exceeded sale estimations of up to €50,000.
$219,600 - Carved ruby dragon tea set
This 16-piece carved ruby matrix tea set, decorated with 18K gold vermeil mountings and accents, fetched $219,600 (around £131,000) when it was sold at auction in March this year.
Described by auctioneer I.M. Chait as "flawless artwork", the tea set is the creation of artist Luis Alberto Quispe Aparicio.
The set includes a covered teapot with a carved dragon inside, four dragon-form teacups, a chocolate/water pot, creamer, four claw-foot shallow dishes, serving accessories and a carved dragon centerpiece. A thick ruby zoisite freeform slab acts as the tray.
Image copyright of I.M. Chait.
$181,000 - Theodore Wende's Important and Unique Tea Set
Deemed to be Theodore Wende's most important and impressive works of his avant-garde period, this 1927 tea set sold to an anonymous buyer for $181,000 at auction in 2007.
Part of 'Deutscher Werkbund to Bauhaus: An Important Collection of German Design', the Important and Unique Tea Set comprises a silver and ivory teapot, creamer, sugar bowl and tray, all of which are stamped with German hallmarks.
Wende's Important and Unique Coffee Service, circa 1926, was also sold for $79,000 at the auction at Sotheby's New York, along with a 1927 tea infuser by Marianne Brandt which fetched $361,000.
$54,012 - Tiffany & Co. "Chrysanthemum" pattern sterling silver coffee and tea service
This 19th century Tiffany & Co. seven-piece sterling silver coffee and tea service sold for $54,012 (around £32,000) in 2013.
Consisting of a hot water kettle on a stand with a burner, a coffee pot, teapot, chocolate pot, covered sugar bowl, cream jug and waste bowl, the set comes with a matching Tiffany & Co. Chrysanthemum pattern double handled tea tray.
The set features a T Mark for Charles L. Tiffany, circa 1891-1902, and an impressed Tiffany "T" and globe mark for the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago 1893.
$31,200 - Roy Lichtenstein tea set
Made in 1984, this tea set designed by American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein fetched $31,200 (around £18,500) when it went under the hammer in 2006.
The complete set consists of 21 glazed, coloured ceramic dishes in colors, which all have a stamped signature on the undersides, a teapot, four additional tea cups, saucers and plates - with Rosenthal limitiere Kunstreihen Germany stamps - and two original fitted black wooden boxes.
Lichtenstein's Reverie coloured screenprint also sold for $90,000 in the auction at Christie's New York.
Image copyright of Christie's Images Ltd. 2014.
$22,800 - Tiffany & Co. sterling silver tea and coffee service
Sold for $22,800 - more than four times the original estimate - this six-piece Tiffany & Co. sterling silver tea and coffee service was made in New York in 1873-85.
Consisting of a kettle on a stand, a kettle on a stand with a burner, a coffee pot, teapot, covered sugar, and creamer and waste bowl with gold-washed interiors, the set was given as a gift and includes the inscription "A Wedding Gift to Sophia Augusta Brown From her Mother October 7th 1885".
The set was sold by the Skinner auction house in Boston in January.