Fatigue damage modes and reliability of hand-veneered (HV) and over-pressed (OP) aluminum-oxide layer structures were compared. Influence of luting cement thickness on mechanical performance was investigated. Sixty-four aluminum-oxide plates (10 × 10 × 0.5 mm) were veneered with hand built-up or pressed porcelain (0.7 mm) and adhesively luted (50- or 150-μm cement thickness) to water-aged composite resin blocks (12 × 12 × 4 mm). Single-load-to-failure and fatigue tests were performed with a spherical tungsten carbide indenter (d = 6.25 mm) applied in the center of the veneer layer. Specimens were inspected with polarized-reflected-light and scanning electron microscopy. Use-level probability Weibull curves were plotted with two-sided 90% confidence bounds, and reliability at 75,000 cycles and 250 N load was calculated. For all specimens but two OP with 50-μm cement thickness, failure was characterized by flexural radial cracks initiating at the bottom surface of the alumina core and propagating into the veneering porcelain before cone cracks could extend to the porcelain/alumina interface. HV specimens showed higher reliability compared to OP. Those with 50-μm cement thickness were more reliable relative to their 150-μm counterparts (HV_50 μm: 95% (0.99/0.67); HV_150 μm: 55% (0.92/0.01); OP_50 μm: 69% (0.84/0.48); OP_150 μm: 15% (0.53/0.004)). Similar failure modes were observed in HV and OP specimens. Radial cracks developing in the core and spreading into the veneer are suggested to cause bulk fracture, which is the characteristic failure mode for alumina core crowns. However, the highest resistance to fatigue loading was found for the HV specimens with thin cement thickness, while the lowest occurred for the OP with thick cement layer. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Biomed Mater Res Part B: Appl Biomater 100B: 508–515, 2012.