Bright Makes Right: Silver for Today’s Table
May 31, 2017
The gleam of precious metals on a table can turn even the most ordinary meal into a celebratory dining experience.
Text by Regina Cole
Sure, you can eat off paper plates, drink out of Styrofoam cups, shovel in the food with a spork. But that’s not dining. Elegance at the table is a gift to our dining companions, a way of saying that they, as well as the meal itself, are important. When we set a beautiful table, we announce that even the simplest meal is an occasion worthy of celebration.
And what is more celebratory than the shine of precious metals? Just as a silver picture frame flatters the face within and a candle burns more brightly in a platinum holder, the gleam of gold on a dinner plate seems to make the food taste better. A touch of sparkle has been a hallmark of fine dining for centuries; indeed, finding fine pieces of antique metals continues to occupy many a collector.
“These days, we have more success with minimalist styles,” says Will Firestone of Boston’s venerable Firestone and Parson. The company, a Newbury Street fixture, deals in collectible silver, with a specialty in eighteenth-century pieces. “The Rococo and more ornate styles from that time are not as popular as they once were,” Firestone says. “Now, people come to us looking for Queen Anne styles, which date to earlier in the century.
Early American silver is popular, too. “Silversmiths in the Colonies were not as highly trained as their European counterparts, and their pieces are quite minimalist, not ornately decorated like English flatware from the same period,” says Firestone. “They have a lot of appeal for today’s homeowners.”
There are, of course, contemporary companies that produce silver and other metals for the table, including the French firm launched in 1830 by Charles Christofle. A jeweler stepping into the family business, he developed a method to electroplate gold and silver and applied the new technique to holloware. Today, Christofle continues to make candelabra, bowls, vases, picture frames, platters, vessels, sculpture, and flatware. Styles ranging from the ornate to the streamlined are on display at the company’s Boston boutique at The Heritage on the Garden.
“Sterling silver is not an easy production process,” says Fanny Cohen, of Christofle’s marketing department. “During the production of our flatware, each piece goes through fifty people—we call it ‘100 hands.’ Our silver is pure and perfect for use with food. All the platters, for example, can be used to serve meals.”
Forks, salt shakers, candelabra, and platters are not the only objects on the table with the glimmer of precious metals. And not everything that gleams is silver. In 2007, Shawn Laughlin launched Caskata, a Sherborn, Massachusetts-based company that creates sophisticated tableware whose highly detailed graphics are inspired by Laughlin’s childhood summers on Nantucket. Some of Caskata’s most popular patterns depict gold and platinum fish swimming around the circumference of a bowl, gilded peonies growing over the edge of a plate, or a shimmering spray of fan coral decorating a charger. “We are neither too trendy nor too traditional,” says marketing director Francine E.C. Shannon. “Our pieces, which represent contemporary takes on classics, are made to be mixed and matched.”
Peter Erickson, a silversmith in Gardner, Massachusetts, makes flatware the time-honored way, hammering every piece by hand. He learned his craft from his grandfather George, who, in the 1930s, worked with Arthur J. Stone. A famed craftsman, Stone is widely considered to be the dean of American silversmiths. Today, Erickson continues to make ten flatware patterns originally designed by his grandfather. “Each piece is 97 percent silver and 3 percent copper, reheated and hammered three or four times,” he explains. Besides the craftsmanship, the reason to buy handmade silver flatware is that it will outlast any mass-produced cutlery. “Anything made by hand is stronger,” Erickson says.
Caskata: Go to the website to shop or to locate retailers. caskata.com
Christofle: The Heritage on the Garden, Neiman Marcus, and Bloomingdales. christofle.com/us_en
Erickson Silver: Gardner, Mass., ericksonsilver.com
Firestone and Parson: Boston, firestoneandparson.com