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The Etiquette Scholar blog answering you dining etiquette questions.

etiquette scholar / dining etiquette / table setting / glassware / buying glassware

Purchasing Glassware

Before purchasing a set of glassware, consider the following.

How Often Will Your Stemware Be Used

The host who entertains often may want inexpensive glassware that goes into the dishwasher and is easy to replace.

If you entertain infrenquently, but extravegantly, you may want handmade crystal; it will require hand-washing, but the infrequent use is worth the extra care.

Long Stemmed Stemware or Short

The length of the stem creates different looks at the table.

  • Long stems lift the look of the table setting and are suited for formal dining.
  • Short stems are less stately and more appropriate for informal dining.

The Weight of Stemware

The weight of stemware affects the ornamentation.

  • Thin crystal is conducive to shallow-cut and enameled ornamentation and feels light in the hand.
  • Thick crystal accommodates cut decoration with deep grooves and feels heavy in the hand.

Clear Stemware or Colored Stemware

Clear Stemware
  • Does not compete with the color of wine or distort its clarity; it is recommended for formal or informal multi-course meals where several wines are served.
  • Clear glass blends with any dinnerware pattern, harmonizes with all table decor, and does not divert the eye from the beauty of a fully appointed table setting.
Colored Stemware
  • Punctuates the table setting with color and design. However, white wine looks pale in dark-colored glass and red wine takes on a muddy appearance.
  • Save colored wine glasses as a decorative tool for a simple table setting.
  • Even when using colored stemware, to preserve the color and clarity of wine, serve water in colored goblets and wine in clear glass.

Stemware Shape and Density

The shape of the perfect wine glass is similar to an egg, longer than it is wide, a form that directs the bouquet of wine upward to the nose.

The rim is 2 to 3 inches in diameter.

The density of the ideal wine glass is paper-thin.

  • White wine is served chilled" and red wine tastes best at a temperature slightly cooler than the average room (approximately 18°C or 65°F).
  • A thick texture absorbs the coolness, whereas a thin texture keeps the coolness in the wine.

Matched Set or Mix and Match Stemware

At a meal where a few courses are served, a mixture of stemware adds interest. Moreover, stemware such as aperitif and cordial glasses is used away from the table. It is not seen collectively, and a mix of patterns is festive.

When a pattern is discontinued, or stock is depleted and shipments are slow, extend an incomplete set by matching it to a similar pattern in another set. Often the differences are slight. However, make sure the shapes of the bowls, the stems, and the bases are the same.

How to Mix and Match Stemware

In a set of stemware, the water goblet, the largest vessel, is the focal point of a mix-and-match collection.

In a mix of stemware patterns, keep the design of a particular piece the same for the entire table setting.

For best results keep the mix of stemware patterns two-to-one.
  • Balance ornate dinnerware and flatware with plain stemware.
  • Accent plain dinnerware and flatware with stemware decorated in an elaborate pattern.
Keep the surface, sheen of tableware alike.
  • Mix brilliant crystal with glistening dinnerware and gleaming silver.
  • Match dull surfaces, such as machine-made glass with unglazed stoneware and matte-finished flatware.
Keep tableware textures alike.
  • Mix thin crystal with delicate dinnerware and flatware in a normal size.
  • Match bulky glassware with thick textures, such as heavy pottery and coarse flatware.
Keep the scale of stems similar.
  • At a table laid with a profusion of tableware, rather than divert the eye with a mix of assorted heights, keep the length of the stems the same.
  • However, for those who own an assortment of long and short stems, to avoid a profusion of design, match the dinnerware and flatware patterns and mix the height of the stemware.

Stemware Should Complement Dinnerware and Flatware Patterns

To establish design compatibility, take a small plate and a few utensils to the store and simulate a place setting with the chosen stemware.

  • The bucket and flared forms of stemware feature flat-bottomed bowls with straight sides, a line that is harmonious with dinnerware and flatware decorated with angular lines.
  • The tulip bowl is rounded, a form harmonious with dinnerware and flatware ornamented with curvaceous patterns drawn from nature, such as flowers and seashells.
  • When a stemware pattern features a combination of straight and rounded lines, keep the shape of the bowl similar to the predominant line of the dinnerware and flatware.

The Number of Stemware Pieces per Place Setting

A suite of stemware has a minimum of three pieces: goblet, champagne glass, and wine glass.

A four-piece place setting contains a goblet, champagne glass, wine glass, and a cordial glass.

A five-piece place setting incorporates a goblet, champagne glass, wine glass, cordial glass, and iced-beverage glass.

A six-piece place setting features a goblet, champagne glass, wine glass, cordial glass, iced-beverage glass, and a second wine glass.

Open Stock

Stemware purchased by the piece, as opposed to stemware purchased by the place setting, is called open stock.

However, the least expensive way to buy stemware is by the set. To make entertainment easier to plan, purchase stemware in multiples of four, and purchase extra pieces for pattern longevity.

Handmade and Machine-made Stemware

Handmade Stemware
  • Handmade stemware is a time-consuming, labor-intensive product made of the finest materials.
  • The texture is thinner than machine-made glassware, the ornamentation is sharply defined, and the edges are crisp.
Machine-made stemware

Machine-made stemware is mass­produced in seconds from common materials, glass recognized by uniformity of design, consistent dimensions, bulkier appearance, and ornamentation with blunt, and sometimes rounded, edges.

How to Judge the Quality of Stemware

Quality stemware is evident by:

  1. Smoothness,
  2. Balance,
  3. Invisible seams, and
  4. Uniformity of design.

To discern smoothness, run the fingers around the rim, the edge of the foot, and under the base.

Stemware with good balance rests flat on the table and does not wobble.

Invisible seams are just that-imperceptible to the eye.

Uniformity is associated with machine-made ware.

Handmade products are subject to the vagaries of human skill and exact dimensions are almost impossible to achieve; slight differences are of little concern unless they are glaringly noticeable, such as parallel lines that are not straight or a bowl that is a little larger than standard.

Allowances are made for slight variations in the glass itself and for imperfections caused by manufacture, such as:

  • Seeds,
  • Cords,
  • Shear Marks, and
  • Mold Marks.

Seeds are minute bubbles of air, about the size of a pinpoint, created by gas trapped in the material when it is mixed, melted, or fused; they give the glass "personality" when it is held to the light.

Cords are slight striae caused by an uneven furnace temperature when the material is melted or undulating marks made by tools when glass is rotated. Cords are perceptible to the touch and visible in an empty glass, but not when a glass is full.

Shear marks are slight puckers made from an overabundance of molten liquid on the pontil rod when the expanded object is cut away.

Mold marks are ridges that occur when two pieces are joined together or when the product is removed from the mold.

How to Judge Crystal

Criteria used to judge crystal:
Clarity

Clarity is apparent when stemware is held against a white background.

The higher the lead content, the greater the clarity of crystal.

Crystal with a low lead content appears cloudy and possesses a slight tint of gray, blue, or green. Crystal with a high lead content is clear.

  • Crystal is 10 to 24 percent lead.
  • Lead crystal is 24 to 30 percent lead.
  • Full lead crystal is 30 to 33 percent lead.
  • Anything over that is too soft.
Sparkle

Sparkle is indicative of crystal with a high lead content. Quality lead crystal possesses permanent sparkle.

Weight

Weight is determined by the amount of lead in the batch. Lead is heavy, and crystal with a high lead content is heavier than crystal with a low lead content.

Ring

Ring is determined by the shape, weight, and size of the piece.

  • When struck gently on the rim, delicate lead crystal stemware has a deep, sonorous ring.
  • Heavy crystal, such as a thick bowl, does not resonate

- , Editor, Etiquette Scholar

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