Silver To Make the Dinner Table Shine

Perhaps the most pleasing arm of les arts de la table is the splendidly named orfèvrerie, which encompasses the gastronomically inclined work of gold- and silversmiths. The silversmith Buccellati, on the Via Condotti in Rome, is known for its brushed-looking gold jewelry for women, and also produces some dazzling silver tableware, including truly arresting centerpieces made of naturalistic forms—from game birds to mollusk shells.

The best-known names are from France. One of the greatest is Christofle, a company that supplied orfèvrerie for both King Louis Philippe and the man who replaced him, Napoleon III—as well as the Ritz in the 1890s, the liner the Normandie in the 1930s and President Pompidou's official jet in 1970. Christofle makes all the normal things that you might need for the table (salt cellars, pepperpots, etc.) and several items that you could definitely get along without, such as the marvelous paquebot centerpiece—an ocean liner in miniature for the table, a worthy reminder of Christofle's role in equipping the ultimate art-deco passenger vessel.

And then there is Puiforcat, a gem of a company owned by Hermès that makes flatware, coffeepots and tea sets with a jeweler's attention to detail. My favorite piece is probably the gilded silver entrée service, with lidded compartments—a sort of ritzy TV-dinner service, originally given by Napoleon to one of his marshals. I had the good fortune to be at a dinner with the French ambassador last year in London given in honor of Hermès, involving much drinking of champagne from Puiforcat silver gilt goblets. I suppose that is what I admire about the French: the way that they back their luxury goods. It does not matter if France is a kingdom, an empire or a republic, its luxury goods carry on regardless—and, in fact, continue to evolve. Although Puiforcat can trace its history back to the early-19th century, it is working with materials that are bang up to date, including pink titanium finishes on cutlery and even the use of materials such as DuPont's Corian. And since Corian is apparently available in about 100 different colors, there should be no problem matching it up with your favorite dinner service.