Looking for your first set of flatware? Giving a set as a wedding gift? Buying flatware is trickier than you might realize. There are so many numbers, metals, and choices involved that it’s difficult to know where to start.
Fortunately, buying flatware comes down to three things: the look you want, the budget you have, and the number of place settings you need to buy.
Here’s what you need to know to find the flatware that best suits your needs.
1. Stainless Steel Flatware: `18/10, 18/8, and 18/0
Most flatware made today is forged from stainless steel. You’ll see the numbers 18/10, 18/8, or 18/0 around when you’re hunting for the perfect set. These numbers refer to the stainless steel sets.
The top number – 18 – refers to the percentage of chromium in the material. The bottom number represents how much nickel was added during production.
A set rated 18/10 will have more nickel, which means it will be shinier and sturdier than flatware with a rating of 18/0. An 18/10 set will also see less corrosion over time.
It’s the amount of chromium and nickel found in the flatware that explains the price difference between these varieties.
2. Stainless Steel Flatware: Hand Forged vs. Stamped
The amount of chromium and nickel included isn’t the only factor involved in choosing a stainless steel set.
There are at least 25 steps required to create a single piece of flatware. These 25 steps will be completed using one of two processes: forging or stamping.
Forged flatware is made from a single continuous piece of metal. Artists are able to transform the metal into one piece of flatware by subjecting it to high temperatures to make it malleable and then shaping the piece by hand.
A forged flatware set will usually feature a simple, contemporary pattern.
Stamped flatware is created using a patterned stamp placed onto a single continuous piece of metal.
Both methods produce quality flatware. The primary difference is in the weight. A forged fork will feel heavier in your hand than the stamped flatware. Stamped flatware doesn’t feel flimsy; it simply has a solid feel that doesn’t press into your hand.
3. Sterling Silver Flatware: Antique and Commemorative
Still thinking about a timeless sterling silver flatware set?
Here’s what you need to know.
Flatware is made of sterling silver, which means it’s not pure silver. Pure silver is beautiful, but it’s also soft. You don’t want to use it for any functional purpose, like eating a Thanksgiving dinner, because it will bend.
Flatware manufacturers harden the silver for their products by adding other metals; hence, it is sterling silver.
Sterling silver is made up of 92.5% silver for beauty and shine. The other 7.5% is made up of other metals, often copper. You might also find manufacturers choose other metals to make care easier because certain alloys make the set stronger or improve the luster of the surface.
These flatware sets also present a second option: choosing between contemporary sets or antique sets.
A complete antique set of flatware will often come with a special antique storage box. Finding a complete set is difficult and it means the set is very valuable. You don’t need to worry about finding a complete set because you can search for missing forks or knives available individually.
Your antique set will include a unique hallmark imprinted on the set by the silversmith who produced it. This hallmark may be worth more money if the set is rare or the silversmith was particularly talented.
Additionally, antique sets are priced according to the condition (completeness, corrosion, etc.) and the original craftsmanship. However, two sets may be virtually the same but may feature wildly different prices because of historical preferences.
For example, if you find a set that was once owned by a distant member of a foreign monarchy, it will be priced to reflect its heritage.
Although sterling silver flatware is often a reflection of times gone by, it’s still in production. Many contemporary pieces are commemorative flatware sets designed to celebrate milestones like anniversaries.
4. Stainless Steel or Sterling Silver: Choosing Heft and Strength
Now you have a better understanding of why various sets are priced the way they are. Materials, production, and history play a role in flatware sets, whether they’re antique or not.
If you intend to use the flatware for special occasions, you’ll want to try it out first.
Because some flatware is beautiful, but it’s not functional.
The best way to try out your flatware is simply to pick it up. Hold your knife and fork correctly to see if you can hold them comfortably.
Are they too heavy? Is the piece balanced to sit in your hand correctly or does it lean one way or another? Does the make feel strong enough to eat with not only once but every year?
Take the fork and knife and mimic the cutting action. Can you do it without rearranging your cutlery in your hand or modifying the way you hold them? Lift the fork close to your mouth. How much effort was involved?
Don’t forget to look at the spoon. Some flatware sets include a spoon bowl that only a giant could use, which means mere mortals will spill their soup or gravy attempting to use it. You’ll want the bowl of the spoon to be deep enough to comfortably hold food but not so deep you have to contort yourself to eat off it.
Ready to Buy Your First Set of Flatware?
You already know what look you want, how many settings you need, and how much you’re willing to spend. Now, you know how to distinguish between the many confusing terms associated with shopping for flatware and how to get the most bang for your buck.
The perfect set of flatware is a great addition to any home, especially if you’re partial to entertaining. It’s more than a set of forks and knives; it’s a box containing memories of special occasions.
Has this guide helped you narrow down your decision? Let us know in the comments below.