Sterling Silver flatware is made of 92.5 percent pure silver and 7.5 percent base metals since pure silver is too soft to use on its own. Usually copper is added to silver to give it strength and hardness. Law governs the use of the word sterling, so only silver articles containing the required percentages can be marked with the label.
Silver plate is just that, an item plated with a thin layer of silver. Under the surface is a base metal (usually an alloy of nickel, copper and zinc, sometimes just nickel or copper), which offers extra resistance to damage from nicks and scratches.
The nickel content acts like a primer to create a strong, silver bond that won’t chip or peel. The quality, and therefore the cost, of silver plate depends on several factors: the amount of silver used; the kind and thickness of the base metal; and the size, design, and decoration of the piece.
Silver plate is less expensive than sterling silver, but it has the same warmth and beauty. Without examining it for a trademark, most people cannot tell the difference between sterling silver and silver plate. European plate is heavier, and therefore more expensive, than American plate that tends to be priced closer to stainless steel.
Solid gold flatware is made of gold or gold alloy since gold is a very soft metal. Knife blades tend to be made of sterling silver or stainless steel because gold is not durable enough to withstand the use a knife incurs. Quality is measured by purity (i.e., 24-karat, 18-karat, etc.), the amount of gold used (i.e., weight), as well as the size, design, and decoration of the individual pattern.
Gold plate has a core of base metal, usually an alloy of nickel, copper, and zinc, which is covered by a coating of gold (except the knife blades since gold is too soft). As with silver plate, the quality and therefore the cost, of gold plate depends on several factors: the amount of gold used; the kind and thickness of the base metal; and the size, design, and decoration of the individual pattern.
Gold accent offers a combination of sterling silver or stainless steel and gold (usually 24k), with gold used more sparingly than silver or stainless to decorate selected details of the pattern.
Vermeil consists of a layer of gold plating on top of a sterling silver base.
Stainless Steel is an alloy of iron, chromium, and nickel that comes in several grades:
– 18/8 Chrome Nickel has 18 percent chrome for superior resistance to pitting and corrosion, but with eight percent nickel content to retain color and luster longer than flatware without nickel.
– 18/10 Chrome Nickel also has 18 percent chrome, with a higher (10 percent) nickel content to retain color and luster even longer. Typically, this grade is slightly brighter and more chrome-like. Although stainless is generally the least expensive flatware choice, there are also a variety of high-design and high-style stainless patterns available that can cost more than some silver plate.