Stainless steel flatware is the everyday silverware service of the American kitchen because it goes from dishwasher to table, and it holds up for decades with little visible wear. Sterling silver is special-occasion flatware because it is expensive and less durable and does not wash well in the dishwasher. Silver-plated flatware is a fine vintage collectible, but the plating wears with constant use. These three kinds of flatware have adorned the American table for more than a century, but stainless flatware is currently the most popular choice, according to Lenox.
Grade stainless flatware by metal content. The metal content of most stainless flatware is visibly marked, either on the backs of the handles or on the blades of the table knives. Three common marks for grades of stainless flatware are 18/0, 18/8 and 18/10. These numbers reveal the quantity of chromium and nickel in the metal. Eighteen percent chromium and no nickel is marked 18/0; 18/8 is 18 percent chromium and 8 percent nickel, and 18/10 is 18 percent chromium and 10 percent nickel. There is also a 13/0 grade that is a low-quality stainless with no nickel. Nickel content is important to quality, and 18/0 stainless is less expensive than 18/8 or 18/10.
Grade stainless steel flatware by weight. Stainless flatware comes in three different common weights: medium, heavy and extra heavy. Medium-weight stainless is bendable with table use. If you scoop ice cream with a tablespoon, this is not the flatware for your everyday use. Heavy stainless is the medium-quality stainless available from most flatware makers. Extra-heavy stainless is the highest quality available in stainless flatware and is considered a premium weight. The heavier stainless flatware is more durable and looks more expensive on the table.
Grade stainless flatware by pattern design and popularity. Oneida reports that the difference in price of Oneida patterns is in the weight, size of individual pieces, pattern detail, quality of finish and number of serving pieces available. The choice of pattern determines all of these factors, and the heavier weight, larger size, detailed, fine finish patterns with many serving pieces available are the most expensive in the stainless flatware lines from any maker. Popularity and scarcity also affect the price and value of stainless flatware, and some companies discontinue patterns after just a year or two of production. The prices of premium grades and scarce patterns are high from retail to the secondary market. Whether you are purchasing stainless for your home or for resale, and whether it is new or a secondary market collectible, the grade is important to the durability and look as well as to value appreciation.
Linda Richard has been a legal writer and antiques appraiser for more than 25 years, and has been writing online for more than 12 years. Richard holds a bachelor's degree in English and business administration. She has operated a small business for more than 20 years. She and her husband enjoy remodeling old houses and are currently working on a 1970s home.