A sterling silver tray or flatware set can make a beautiful family heirloom as well as a glamorous, elegant statement at a special occasion dinner. Choosing the best sterling silver flatware means not only picking a pattern you love that coordinates with your good dishware, but buying quality pieces. The most important thing to know is how to tell the difference between sterling and silver plate. Sterling silver flatware, serving dishes and the like should be marked with the number 925 to ensure you're getting the best silverware possible.
The number 925 should be stamped on each piece of silverware or flatware. This hallmark refers to 92.5 percent sterling silver content. Pure silver is too soft to form usable pieces such as cutlery, so the other 7.5 percent is made up of copper or other metal. Instead of 925, good silverware may also be stamped with the word sterling. It's important to look for the stamps because sterling silverware and silver plate can look quite identical.
Silver plated flatware is often marked with the letters EPNS, which stands for electroplated nickel silver. If what you think is sterling silver silverware is unmarked, as it may be if it's older and originated in Europe, a professional jeweler or silversmith may conduct an acid test on the metal for you. This professional acid technique uses the interaction of certain acids on the silver to determine whether the metal pieces are actually sterling silver silverware or not.
Once you've identified the best quality sterling silver items you want, you should decide what amount to buy. Sterling silver silverware is expensive, but it also lasts for generations and can make an ideal family heirloom. For instance, good sterling silver flatware may cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars per setting but can stay within a family for many generations. The best number of sterling silver flatware pieces to buy depends on how many people you usually entertain at formal dinners, but a minimum of eight to 12 place settings is a popular amount.
It's important to purchase your sterling silver silverware from a company with a good reputation for quality. If you want the best silver, it makes sense to buy it from a top manufacturer. Your chosen silverware should also come with a warranty. Make sure you examine your silver pieces closely before purchasing. For example, check that you like the lengths of the fork tines, the depth of the spoon bowls and, of course, the design on the handles.