When firms such as Old Hall first produced stainless steel flatware in the 1950s, it was seen as a labor-saving alternative to silver plate, but its aesthetic merits quickly drew the attention of both customers and designers. The best stainless flatware set is one that is well made, durable, and sized to meet your needs. With the variety of choices available, it also should reflect your sense of style.
A general term for the knives, forks and spoons used at the dining table, the word “flatware” dates from a time when pieces of cutlery were cut from thin, flat sheets of silver. Stainless steel is an alloy of steel and chromium. Developed in the 1920s and 1930s, it was originally intended for industrial use. West Midlands, England, manufacturer J & J Wiggin was one of the first to see its potential for domestic wares such as tea and coffee services, freeing housewives from the endless drudgery of polishing silver plate and soaking the stains out of china.
A buyer's first step in choosing a stainless flatware set should be to make sure it's well made. Look for the 18/10 symbol, which indicates an 18 percent chromium and 10 percent nickel content. Another sign of quality is the set's box or container. If the box is flimsy, chances are the cutlery won't be much better. Expect to see a quality stainless flatware set in a handsome hardwood presentation case with a fitted interior and lift-out drawers.
A second consideration should be the size of the set, or “canteen,” as it's more properly known. For formal dining, an individual place setting usually consists of seven items — table knife, table fork, dessert knife, dessert fork, dessert spoon, soup spoon and teaspoon. A fish knife and fork can be in addition to or in replacement of the dessert knife and fork. A good stainless flatware set should also have several large serving spoons.
Choose the size that is appropriate to your needs. For a couple who occasionally entertain a few friends, a set for six people — with around 40 to 50 pieces — should be ample. If you love to throw lavish dinners for business colleagues or your extended family, then the stainless flatware set for you might be a grand 12-person canteen with more than 100 pieces of cutlery. Don't cut corners; the most lovely, gleaming flatware will underwhelm if you're forced to supplement it with odds and ends from your kitchen drawer.
Once you have dealt with these practical concerns, you can turn to the most important question of all — the question of style. It may be that you are a traditionalist, in which case there will be plenty of ornate patterns to suit you. For non-traditionalists, the stainless flatware that is most admired in interior design magazines and that best retains its resale value is that which is made in a cool, sinuous, modern style.
Before finally deciding on the best stainless flatware set for you, consider investigating some of the designs created in the 1950s by trained silversmiths such as Robert Welch and David Mellor, and between 1964 and 1967 by Danish architect Arne Jacobsen for the firm Stelton A/S. You'll find their pieces in books on 20th century design. These can help to show you the potential of the medium.
Brand also can be a consideration. Brands with a history of hiring name designers include Viners, Arthur Price, Reed and Barton, and Georg Jensen. Most of these can be readily accessed through their websites or through the websites of major department stores.