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Insights: Indulgences

King of Cutlery James Robinson's sterling silver flatware is truly "the best"
Matt Kramer
From the Print Edition:
The Sopranos, Mar/Apr 01

(continued from page 1)

Munves is a sunny, unaffected sort who brims with enthusiasm for his reproduction flatware. "Not everybody can afford a table full of great antique flatware. Let's be honest -- unless you're really into antiques, there's no need. What you want," he insists, "is the same quality. That's what makes our hand-forged flatware unique."

It's only when you discover how nearly every other flatware in the world is made, never mind how expensive, that you're impressed. For almost every other flatware -- American, French, Italian, English, Danish -- sheets of sterling silver are fed into a machine that simply stamps out spoons and forks. The silver is stretched, rather than compressed. Lesser-quality producers also polish by machine. Better-quality producers do polish by hand on a wheel, which gives a better finish.

Hand forged, in comparison, is totally handmade. So much so, that Robinson's flatware is almost always produced in sets of 12 pieces at a time. "It's very curious," concedes Munves. "But it shows you just how much the hand of the maker is involved, just how spontaneous even a fork can be. The artisan gets into a ?zone,' like an athlete. There's a rhythm, and the pieces will match best when he does a dozen at a time."

Precisely because it's utterly handmade, you can get exactly what you want. "We recently had a customer come in. He was a young guy. He looked at our 18 different patterns and said, 'I like the design of this knife handle. Can I get that design on this pattern?'

"I said, 'Of course you can. We're not going to do it for just a couple of pieces, but if you're looking to buy, say, service for six, we'd be delighted. After all, everything is handmade. We can do anything you want,'" says Munves. "So we made him a prototype so he could see how it looked. He loved the result -- and he bought 26 place settings!

"Once, someone asked us if we could make a silver honey dipper -- you know, that spherical thing you dip into a jar of honey. We said, Sure we could. And we did. Someone else wanted an ice cream dipper. Not a problem. It's all handmade, you see. That's why when someone comes in and asks about the price, we talk about individual pieces rather than, say, five-piece place settings. You can get -- and you should get -- only exactly what you want."

The price, not surprisingly, is stiff. But -- and this is a surprise -- I can name you a half dozen or more, industrially made flatware patterns that cost significantly more. So for once, the highest quality isn't the highest price.

A three-piece place setting of James Robinson sterling flatware -- a knife, dinner fork and dessert spoon -- costs between $565 and $700, depending upon the pattern. (You get a 20 percent discount when you buy six place settings, which is reflected in the preceding prices.)

Of course, you can get any piece of flatware you can imagine (and some you cannot): flat sauce spoons, tiny espresso spoons, an osso buco scoop to get out the marrow, all sorts of ladles, serving forks and so on. James Robinson's 18 patterns (plus variations) are all traditional yet some, such as the sleek three-tine fork of the Queen Anne pattern, are so pure in line and shape that they pair perfectly with the most modern plates and table settings.

There's one other thing that has to be noted: how this flatware feels in your hand. Having lived with James Robinson flatware for more than 20 years, I can say that nothing else I've used quite feels the same way. The pieces are heavy, but not excessively so. The feel of the spoon in your mouth is sensual in the same cosseting way as sleeping on luxurious sheets. We forget just how intimate an experience flatware can be. Once you get used to it, it's hard going back.

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