Do you have a closet full of silver treasures you are afraid to use? Are you under the impression that the real thing shouldn't be paired with plated silver or pewter? Don't be so hard on yourself. Get your collection out, and set a stunning table.
There are no rules when it comes to mixing metals. You can set a table with a style of your very own. Because sterling has such a high-maintenance reputation, pair it with a few low-maintenance pieces, such as pewter. Use ornate items with simple ones, or mix new pieces with old. The looks you can create, just by altering a few elements, are endless.
Don't save your silver for special occasions--it doesn't have to be a dressy affair to create a beautiful table or vignette setting. As long as it is in good condition, silver deserves to be used. If pieces are broken, take them to a repair professional.
Plated Versus Sterling
Sterling silver isn't actually pure silver. Sterling specifies that the metal contains at least 925 parts of silver to 75 parts alloy (usually copper). Pure silver is rarely used because it is too soft. On the other hand, with silver plate, a coat of silver has been applied over another metal. Therefore it is best to use a gentle hand when cleaning, because in time you can rub the silver off to reveal the metal underneath.
While the dishwasher is a wonderful invention, it's not so great for your silver. Over time, the combination of abrasive detergents and agitating water can wear down patterns. While you might not like to hear it, old-fashioned hand-washing is best. To clean pieces by hand, fill the sink with warm, soapy water. Use a soft rag to clean silver, and dry immediately. Never let your silver sit in the water too long or wash your stainless with your sterling.