We're glad you asked! There are several reasons why some cost more than others:
1. Finish - edges, tines, roundness
2. Knife construction, handle construction
3. Polish, and alloy quality
Reason #1 - Finish
The care taken during the final steps of manufacturing is one of the top determinations of why some patterns cost more.
Edges - In lower-priced patterns, a machine will typically stamp out a squared edge that is usually quick-polished to prevent very sharp edges. You may still have a sharp edge on the handle, but it's only sharp enough to be uncomfortable. The Silver Superstore does not sell patterns that have a rough edge like this.
Tines - Higher-priced patterns will have more care given to polishing the fork tines. While it's very subtle and subconscious, your lips and tongue will feel the slight roughness. When you eat with a pattern that has well-polished tines, it feels smooth all the way through. These patterns typically sell for $30 or more per place setting.
Roundness - Higher quality patterns can feature more rounded handles, and some will even be completely round.
Reason #2 - Knife construction
There are three main methods for constructing a knife. The first method involves stamping a single piece of metal into the shape of a knife. The "blade" area is generally made a bit thinner, and is almost always serrated. This is the least expensive method for constructing a knife, and its cutting performance is poor to fair, depending on the manufacturer.
The second method is to use the "drop forge" technique, where molten steel is poured into a mold, and is fashioned into the shape of a knife. Again, the "blade" area is made thinner than the handle, and is also usually serrated. Most manufacturers who use this technique will spend a little more time on the blade finishing, and its performance is fair to moderate.
The third method is to use a hollow knife handle, insert a high-quality carbon-steel cutting blade, then sealing the two together. These knives are called "hollow handle" knives. With this technique, the manufacturer can offer a variety of different quality knife blades. Many of these blades are serrated, but in the higher quality of patterns they are not, due to their already superior cutting edge. The performance of this type of knife is moderate to excellent.
High-carbon blades are used in better kitchen knives, due to their superior performance. The only downside is that high-carbon blades are less stain-resistant than the other flatware pieces. Flatware manufacturers are always working to create a good balance of dishwasher resistance and superior cutting performance.
Reason #3 - Alloy Quality and Polishing Stages
When shopping for stainless flatware, you will often see the numbers "18/8" or "18/10" or "18/0", or even "13% Chrome". These numbers are often very confusing, so let's look at the details behind these numbers. All of these numbers refer to the percentages of Chromium and Nickel found in the stainless steel alloy. They do not refer to the weight of the flatware.
Chromium gives a flatware pattern its rust-resistant qualities. It is the best available in consumer stainless steel flatware patterns. The presence of Nickel gives a flatware pattern a superior shine, which is intended to mimic new silver flatware. Nickel is very expensive, and is a major contributor to the price of flatware.
So, here's what the numbers mean:
· 18/10 flatware - 18% Chromium, 10% Nickel
· 18/8 flatware - 18% Chromium, 8% Nickel
· 18/0 flatware - 18% Chromium, no Nickel
· 13/0 flatware - 13% Chromium, no Nickel
Which one is better? Well, if you want flatware with a high polish finish and superior rust resistant qualities, pick a flatware that is 18/8 or 18/10. If you are opening a restaurant, and want to keep your costs down, as well as being able to wash it several times a day in the dishwasher, pick a 13/0 or 18/0 flatware pattern with a cheap, flat handle knife.
One more thing, the difference between 18/8 and 18/10 is non-existent. The steel manufacturers who create sheets of stainless steel for the flatware makers don't use those numbers. They sell what is called Grade 304, which contains at least 18% Chromium, and a range between 8% and 10% Nickel. Most of them fall around 8.3%.
Reason #4 - Design
While all forks, knives, and spoons basically share the same characteristics, there are subtle differences in silverware designs that have a big impact on how it feels in the hand, how well the weight is distributed, and how it rests on the table. There aren't complex designs, but all of the characteristics listed above contribute to the price differences.