Flatware is available as sterling silver, silver-plate, and stainless steel. Sterling is the most expensive and long-lasting. It is often used along with formal dinnerware for special occasions. However, the more it is used, the lovelier the patina becomes over time. Sterling is composed of at least 90% silver, making it strong and scratch-resistant.
Silver-plated flatware is made of a base of less expensive metal, such as brass, nickel, or stainless steel. The base metal is then plated with a silver layer, giving it a lustrous finish similar to sterling. The thickness of the silver plating and ornateness of the pattern will determine the cost. Stainless steel is an alloy of iron, chrome, and nickel. When purchasing a stainless, look for the designation 18/10/, 18/8, and 18/0. The first number is the percentage of chrome in the alloy, while the second number is the nickel percentage. Chrome increases durability and corrosion resistance, while nickel adds luster. The higher the percentages of each metal, the higher the quality.
The pattern in your flatware can be produced in several ways. The design may be stamped onto an individual piece of metal, resulting in solid flatware of one piece. Another method is forging. A single piece of flatware is heated and then struck to form the pattern. Both stamped and forged flatware is heavier than hollow handled flatware, which is constructed from three pieces.
Caring for your flatware is easy. Sterling, silver-plated and stainless can all be washed in the dishwasher. Check the instructions on caring for your flatware. Additional materials used in the construction of your flatware may require different care. Occasional polishing may be necessary to retain the luster of sterling and silver-plate.
Flatware is available in pre-packaged sets that usually consist of a dinner fork, salad fork, knife, teaspoon, and dinner spoon, or you can choose pieces individually. Most sets come with eight place servings. If you entertain frequently, you may need twelve or more place settings. Sets may include serving pieces, or they can be purchased in sets. Useful pieces include serving spoons, meat-fork, gravy ladle, sugar spoon, and butter knife. Consider a storage chest to protect your flatware and prevent tarnishing.