The town is Meissen, Saxony; the year, 1710. After centuries of envying the porcelain that comes out of Asia, Westerners finally figure out how to make the delicate but durable dinnerware themselves. In a classic act of lily-gilding, royals and nobles commission china services encrusted with platinum, silver, and gold.
For the next 250 years, "putting metal on a plate made a very strong statement about elegance and social standing," says Walter Lowry of TableArt, a home-furnishings store in Los Angeles. Today, gold still signifies luxury, but it's less about a flush bank statement and more about a magnanimous state of mind.