We use flatware daily and expect it to feel good in our hands
— perform a myriad of tantalizing tasks —
and look good!
If any of the following criteria raises objections to a pattern you like, keep looking; there are endless patterns, sizes, brands and qualities from which to choose.
If you need iced teaspoons, fruit knives and forks, sea food forks, etc. and they’re not made in the pattern you prefer, purchase them in a different pattern. Mixing is very okay!
1. IDENTIFY THE RAW MATERIALS :
Whether sterling silver, silver-plate, stainless steel, or pewter — retail prices for excellent quality flatware are based primarily on the value of the metal. Of course you must choose a pattern you like — but your choice of metal should be based upon its required maintenance as well as cost.
18/8 and 18/10 designate only the amount of chromium and nickel in the stainless alloy: chromium adds rust and corrosion resistance, nickel adds shine. The ∗grade of stainless steel refers to the quality and durability of the alloy—and also its temperature resistance — which affects the cutting quality of a blade.
Blades of choice for most of today’s flatware of any metal are made of a good grade of stainless steel but cutting quality depends upon the ∗grade and content of the alloy. This is why many knife blades are serrated.
2. PRODUCTION METHODS:
The mass-production of flatware is highly capital intensive and for better quality manufacturers, production is also highly labor intensive: excellent finishing requires much hand-labor. N.B. The country of origin of a ‘brand name’ may not be the country of origin of the production.
Same-metal patterns within a close price range usually have similar finishes. This is why it’s better to compare both cheaper and more expensive flatware within the same style and metal family— so you can readily see differences in weight and finishing.
Is the pattern articulate?
Heavy steel dies and machinery necessary to die-strike a pattern on the handle of each piece of flatware is costly. Patterns on better flatware should be struck on both the front and back of each piece and must be articulate to your eye.
Examine finished flatware to assess if the following standards of production are well executed.
Be sure the metal content is properly marked/labeled. Sterling should be marked sterling or .925 and the word silver plate should be stamped or die-struck on each piece of silver-plate flatware. Chrome/nickel percentages as 18/8, 18/10 or other must appear on each piece of stainless steel. Manufacturer logos are usually stamped or die-struck on the back of each piece of quality stainless flatware.
The ∗grading of finished flatware refers to the varying thicknesses of the metal for each piece—and should not be uniform. The profile of spoons and forks verify the metal has been grade-rolled to assure strength is built-in where needed.
(Don’t confuse this with the quality ∗grade of the composition of the steel alloy.)
Flatware should feel substantial; not too heavy — not too light. Try flexing spoons and forks; if they give—even a little bit—keep looking.
Hold each knife, fork, spoon and soup spoon and pretend you’re cutting and eating. Each piece must be balanced, especially soup spoons and forks which should remain level when lifting food to the mouth.
Flatware should be comfortable to hold— but function goes beyond the handle. Soup spoons must be sufficiently deep to hold soup. Forks must not be too flat because of the vegetables and sauces they must carry. Knife grips must feel secure.
Knives — handles & blades:
Hollow-handle knives of any metal are lighter in weight than one-piece knives and manufacturers of better quality two-piece knives use blades made of a good steel alloy—although many good steel alloys do not hold a good cutting edge. But if you prefer a pattern made with one piece knives that do not remain sharp, why not add a set of steak knives? Mixing adds interest.
• Martensitic steel is a superior alloy for blades. Its’ exceptional
hardness provides excellent cutting power, but use of this costly
alloy for knife blades is uncommon.
• Most manufacturers use an 18/8 or 18/10 austenitic steel alloy
for spoons, forks, knife handles and blades and neither holds a good
cutting edge because austenitic steel cannot be hardened by heat.
Since the job of a knife is to ‘cut’, many flatware manufacturers
serrate knife blades.
Fork tines should all be the same length. Tine tips should be tapered, uniform in thickness and not pointed or sharp. Edges of tines should be rounded and walls between each tine should be polished. Wherever metal is rough, food and bacteria can accumulate.
All edges of every place setting and serving piece must be smooth and polished.
Sizes: luncheon, dinner, place and continental.
These are the specific names and sizes of knives and forks successfully marketed in the United States during the 20th and 21st Centuries. (Many websites offer inaccurate information about flatware sizes.)
CARE OF STERLING SILVER OR SILVER PLATE FLATWARE:
N.B. Sulphur is in the air we breathe—and—sulphur tarnishes silver.
- Never wash sterling silver or silver-plate flatware in a dishwasher. Dishwasher detergents eventually dull the finish of silver and eventually wear off factory oxidation of a relief pattern. Also, don’t hand-wash sterling in the same dishpan with stainless flatware because these two metals have an electrolytic reaction.
- Avoid using chemical dips.
- Wash sterling or silver-plate flatware immediately after contact with mayonnaise or salty and acidic foods.
- Don’t soak silver flatware; wash it and dry it —very dry—with soft towels.
- Polish silver flatware with a quality silver polish and dry with a soft cloth.
- Store silver flatware in an airtight silver chest or tarnish proof bags (avoid plastic and rubber bands) .
CARE OF STAINLESS STEEL FLATWARE:
Stainless steel flatware can be safely washed in a dishwasher.
If you need to polish stainless steel flatware, use a good stainless steel polish.
CARE OF PEWTER FLATWARE :
Avoid acidic foods such as tomatoes and citrus fruits that stain and pit soft pewter.
WHEN WE CHOOSE BETTER QUALITY EVERYDAY PRODUCTS,
OUR LANDFILLS ARE SPARED
Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY
MY NEXT POST: JUDGING VINTAGE FLATWARE