How to buy cutlery

When buying cutlery, it’s best to think in terms of sets. Depending on the size of your family, or how many people you normally entertain, a basic 24-piece setting may be all you need. This will provide a knife, fork, spoon and teaspoon for six people. Some grander sets from elite cutlery manufacturers such as Christofle and Strachan often come in 56-piece sets, which comprise an eight-place setting of seven items – dinner fork, knife, spoon, dessert fork, knife, spoon and teaspoon.

You can add to these sets to build up to the number of place settings you want and include other implements such as soup spoons. While purchasing large sets may seem excessive, quite often this proves to be the most cost-effective method. Buying items separately will usually be far more expensive – and it’s surprising how often the odd piece of cutlery disappears. If you have the space to store it, a few extra place settings will stand you in good stead for the life of the cutlery, which can be anything from 10 to 200 years.

Antique, Bargain, Designer

What to look for

Cutlery should feel pleasant to hold and eat with. It should have good balance in the hand, a comfortable weight, and shouldn’t be too big, particularly if children will be eating from the same set.

Cutlery from the 18th and 19th centuries (and their reproductions) flaunts elegant shapes and patterns. Collections from 1920 onwards will have stainless-steel blades for easier maintenance, but older cutlery may have carbon-steel knife blades, which can rust if not looked after.

Bargain cutlery, such as the Ikea ‘365+’ 24-piece set, offers savvy design at mass-production prices. The Maxwell & Williams ‘Bistro’ 56-piece set proves big can be beautiful and wallet-friendly. With nearly all modern cutlery being made from 18/10 or 18/8 stainless steel, durability isn’t compromised in these bargain sets.

Modern designs like John Pawson’s pieces for When Objects Work reduce cutlery to its purest form – functional minimalism. For a more decorative touch, Gervasoni’s brushed silver set wrap five pieces in a linen pouch. The cost of designer sets can initially be off-putting, but the life span of beautiful cutlery and the pleasure it can provide make it easier to justify.

Care Tips

How to make it last

Ideally, all cutlery should be rinsed as soon as possible after use, to prevent acidic foods from staining the blades or tines. It should also be dried straightaway, to avoid spotting and possible corrosion caused by hard water or detergent residue.

Dishwashers are acceptable for stainless-steel cutlery, with manufacturers preferring liquid dishwashing detergent to powder. Hand-drying with a tea towel is recommended, though, as dishwashers tend to leave some spotting. If your cutlery gets a build-up of white marks over time, try cleaning it with a paste of bicarbonate of soda and vinegar, then rinse in clean water and dry thoroughly. This should bring it back to near new.

Avoid cleaning silver-plated cutlery in a dishwasher – the silver will rapidly lose its shine and eventually wear off. Silver can even turn blackish if the silver sulphide created by some foods is not totally removed. Intricate handle designs are particularly hard to keep clean, but don’t be tempted to use silver-dip cleaners, which are harsh and can eventually remove the silver plating.

As they are derived from natural products, mock-ivory or horn-handled cutlery from the early 20th century will shrink and crack in temperatures above 55C. While later Bakelite handles are much tougher, the best advice is to hand-wash all forms of bone-handled cutlery. Modern plastic handles are far more heat-resistant but can still be affected by caustic dishwashing detergents – gloss finishes will be dulled and some cheaper plastics in light colours can also yellow.

If you have indulged in expensive cutlery, it’s worth keeping it in a felt-lined cutlery tray. And if you’re storing your best cutlery for any length of time, wrap the pieces in acid-free tissue paper and seal in a polythene bag, which will prevent them from oxidising.


Like this? Try our other guides too:

* Buyer’s guide to dinnerware
* Buyer’s guide to dining tables
* Buyer’s guide to vintage homewares

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