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Design Trend: Silver Servings is the Style That Will Never Tarnish

Top dinner party hosts prove solid silver heirlooms are still seriously chic

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By Architectural Digest US | July 8, 2024 | Trends

Last spring, I sat at a long dining table on the sidewalk outside of artist Laila Gohar’s studio in Chinatown, New York, feasting on suckling pig and Canetta, a buzzy new brand of canned wine. What I really remember was not the food or, I confess, the wine, but the ice bucket—an Art Nouveau Christofle vasque decorated with blooming anemone. That was the moment I began to notice: serving up food and drinks on hefty silver no longer felt passé. In fact, the timeworn pieces lent a dash of gravitas to an otherwise casual sidewalk gathering.

Image courtesy of Georg Jensen.

Silver—a material whose antibacterial properties lend it to culinary use—has been a tabletop status symbol since ancient times. Through the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, as silversmithing entered its heyday across Europe, elaborate table services were an indication of social standing and wealth—after all, the material corresponded directly to currency in many nations. (That said, some of history’s most captivating examples were melted down by their owners due to changing styles or, more commonly, to refill depleted state treasuries.) Even in the 20th century, silver still dazzled on the tables of those who could afford it, and a woman might inherit her mother or grandmother’s service and then pass it on to her own daughter in due time. But in recent decades, a younger generation has been ditching the heavy metal table wares, gravitating towards a more casual, contemporary aesthetic. But hold on to that silver, people, the pendulum is mid-swing back in its direction.

Image courtesy of Rowen & Wren.

“I only host with vintage silverware, whether sourced from my grandmother’s dusty cupboard or vintage flea markets on my travels,” says Clara Cornet, who works at Meta and cofounded the aforementioned Canetta with her husband Luca Pronzato. (You’ll also see a lot of silver at his roving dinner series, We Are Ona.) When they began launching these cute canned natural wines, they wanted to showcase the product alongside pieces made with a similar level of craftsmanship. “Vintage means ‘vin d’âge’—aging wine,” explains Cornet, who has a thing for vintage Christofle silver in particular. “It’s so interestingly crafted, almost baroque. We love the contrast with the aluminum cans.”

Image courtesy of Georg Jensen.

The resurgence seems to align with a recent repositioning of heritage silver brands. Names like Tiffany & Co., Buccellati, and the aforementioned Christofle are increasingly on the lips of a younger entertaining crowd. As if on cue, this past spring, the 200-year-old Christofle launched La Collection Vintage at the New York gallery Demisch Danant, showing off archival pieces like a late 19th-century candy basket that looks like it’s woven from silver and a circa-1925 gravy boat by Christian Fjerdingstad, first exhibited at the Exposition Nationale des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. At the gallery, hip young design people ogled the pieces, eager to source one—or something like it—for a forthcoming dinner party.

Image courtesy of Georg Jensen.

“They're timeless,” says Gohar of the silver serving pieces often incorporated into her imaginative tablescapes and food sculptures. “It’s traditional in Egypt to pass silver pieces down from mothers to daughters, so a lot of mine are heirlooms from my mother and grandmother.” At her events, a silver platter might hold a suite of sardines (part of Gohar World’s new venture Gohar Food) or a birthday cake for her son, Paz. Their line, Gohar (Old) World, sells vintage pieces like butter curlers, tureens, and egg cups, which Gohar likes to mix in with more modern designs.

Image courtesy of Georg Jensen.

Designer-influencer Athena Calderone is yet another member of the silver fan club. This past spring, as she launched her latest Beni Rugs designs at her new Tribeca home, an elaborate spread by Andy Baraghani was displayed on sterling silver platters. “I’ve been collecting vintage silver candlesticks and flatware for years from resale sites, antique stores, and auctions,” she explains. “It feels like investing in future heirlooms—a collection that can be passed down for generations.”

Tiramisu served in a traditional silver stemmed desert bowl. Image: Supplied.

This uptick in interest has already started to register at auction. “I’ve seen a growing excitement for Chinese export silver,” explains Alessandra Merrill, a silver specialist at Sotheby’s. “We’re also seeing strong results for characterful or unusual pieces.” Case in point: The highest earning lot in their recent auction of Alan and Simone Hartman’s collection was a set of silver gilt wine coolers from 1811 which fetched a whopping $312,000. Meanwhile, a George I silver punch bowl from 1719 soared far over the estimate at $30,000. A few months back when AD100 interior designer Adam Charlap Hyman was asked to select his favorites from Sotheby’s recent Classic Design auction, a gleaming Buccellati lobster (it went for $17,780) was among his picks—the fad for those crustaceans is another story. Merrill notes that, with the strength of the luxury division, silver pieces by brands like Buccellati, Cartier, Hermès, Bulgari, and Tiffany are often heavy hitters on the secondary market.

A traditional silver candelabra stands tall above a modern dining experience. Image: Supplied.

Online marketplaces are also making a bid for silver. “I think younger generations embrace using objects that would traditionally have been put on a shelf to look at,” says Bryony Sheridan, buying director at online retailer Abask, which has seen steady growth in the appetite for silver pieces on their site since launching in 2022. “Plus, because silver holds its worth, it’s a great investment.” At Salon Art + Design last November they showed a wide selection of silver pieces in their grass green booth, mixing works from sixth-generation Viennese silversmiths Jarosinski & Vaugoin with contemporary pieces from Zanetto and Brandimarte and 1960s pieces by the likes of Tage Göthlin.

Musing on the precious metal’s latest renaissance, Gohar explains simply: “It’s all cyclical. Before we saw sleek, minimal designs that looked industrial as popular and now we’re returning to things that are more ornate.”

This story originally appeared on Architectural Digest US.