Do you wish you had completed that correspondence course when you're in the flatware aisle? We know it's confusing, so here's a brief introduction to some of the common industry terms used to describe stainless steel and flatware. We hope this helps you find the perfect set of flatware!
Gauge is a measure of thickness, generally from 1 to 4 millimeters. Gauge generally determines weight and price. Gauge can be compared by looking at pieces of flatware from the side. The same place setting can include different gauges. For example, the dinner fork should be thicker than the salad fork.
is thicker better?
Often the higher the gauge, the greater the thickness and the more expensive the product, but design and retail margins can also affect price. Thicker doesn't always mean better. A thicker fork, for example, may be harder to bend out of shape with use, but may be too heavy to balance properly.
the bottom line
Recognizing good flatware all boils down to: Does it feel good in your hand? Does it fit with our sense of style? Does it feel like quality? Is it satisfying, useful and beautiful? Does it fit with your sense of value?
the truth about stainless steel
In order to be called stainless steel, a steel alloy must contain at least 11.5% chromium. All of our patterns are made using a minimum of 18% chromium. Some of our flatware, labeled as 18/10, contains nickel in addition to the chromium, which adds to the steel's resistance to corrosion. Because of a recent world shortage of nickel, which consequently doubled its price, we consulted with the independent metallurgists at CATRA (Cutlery and Allied Trade Research Association, www.catra.org) to assess the alternatives to using nickel. We learned that 18/10 stainless steel has a resistance to corrosion that far exceeds what is required for normal domestic use. Our 18 chrome stainless steel, properly processed, still meets our high standards for quality and passes all standard corrosion tests.
Stainless steel "stains less." The 18% chromium content in all our flatware increases its resistance to corrosion (rust). Some of our flatware contains nickel, an element currently in short supply, which also aids in corrosion resistance but is not required for everyday flatware.
Good flatware should feel balanced in your hand. Well-balanced pieces should fit comfortably in your hand whether you are cutting, lifting or piercing food.
Polished can look more formal, crisp and classic, while a matte finish looks softer and more contemporary. While brushed flatware is least likely to show scratches, polished surfaces will develop an attractive patina over time. Polished flatware will last as long as brushed stainless of the same grade.
Any flatware, no matter what finish or grade, will mark over time. With daily use, marking will add a gentle sheen to your flatware.
Stainless steel can last a lifetime with proper care. Avoid soaking for prolonged periods, damp storage conditions, abrasive cleaners and steel wool. Use a liquid or cream detergent and dry after washing. Stains and spots can be removed with a soap cloth or stainless steel cleaner. For more details see our use and care section.
If you follow European etiquette and hold your fork in your left hand with the tines facing downward, the handle should still feel comfortable upside down. If you follow North American etiquette and scoop your food onto an upturned fork, you should be able to do so with ease.
touch and feel
Touch and feel should play a big part in selecting flatware of quality. Examine how well the product is finished. Run your finger along the edges of the spoon and fork. Is the knife blade sharp? Are the handles comfortable?
The elegant European proportions of Continental size flatware are longer and sometimes larger than American. Continental size flatware is often used for formal dining.
Hollow handle knives are usually the finest quality knives with the best balance and feel in your hand. They can be either two- or three-piece construction (blade and handle soldered together, or blade and two handle pieces soldered together). The handle is usually weighted. Most knives are stamped, shaped and polished from one piece of steel.
Knife blades contain more carbon and less chromium to ensure blades are sharp and stay that way. Blades are forged for maximum strength.
Finish affects price and quality. The more manual steps you have in finishing, the higher the cost, and the more perfect the piece will be. Proper polishing removes the imperfections of the manufacturing process. Forks especially need to be polished properly between the tines.