IN THE beginning there was Teflon-by Dupont. In 1965 Teflon coated cookware was proclaimed "the hottest selling houseware item" of the year. Dupont then created Teflon II in Teflon's image but stronger than its predecessor. Again homeowners raved. But still Dupont was not satisfied. So, in 1976, silverstone was born.

According to a Consumer's Reports article earlier this year, "more than half the cooking utensils sold today have nonstick coating of one sort or another."

"But there is very little Teflon on the market these days," says Beverly Evans, home economics director at Wear-Ever Aluminum in Ohio. At a recent Home Economist Conference, Evans claims, the experts were really turned off by Teflon's mediocre performance. However, they have accepted its successor, Silverstone. "Silverstone", says Evans, "has really turned around the aluminum cookware industry."

John Eddows, the in-house chef at Bloomingdales, Tysons Corner, agrees. "I much prefer the Silverstone brand of nonstick pans -- it's not as delicate as the Teflon pans were."

So what is this mysterious-sounding substance, Silverstone?

Silverstone is simply a three-layer coat of Dupont's nonstick plastic formula (the actual ingredients are a carefully guarded secret). It is applied to the pot or pan according to Dupont's specifications. The first coat is a primer, the second an intermediate layer and the third, the top and finished layer.

Silverstone's main difference with Teflon is these three coats. Teflon was made of only one coat, while Teflon-II had two.

Because of the triple coat's density, Silverstone is more durable than the Teflons. The triple coat is less porous than the older models, so stains have difficulty penetrating; the chance for discoloration is minimized.And because of the three-layers, the heating coverage of the pan is more even, and in turn, more efficient.

Dupont's specifications require that the pan-to-be-coated be of a certain weignt in order to carry the extra coating, which is why Silverstone pans are heavier than the orginal Teflon pans. Each coat is applied and then "baked" in a 700-800 degree oven.

However, like the Teflons, Silverstone will get scratched -- although not as easily -- when metal utensils are used on it.

Unfortunately, says Bill Wollum, the national sales manager of the Leyse Aluminum Co. in Wisconsin, "there's nothing on the market that repairs a scratched non-stick pan." Robert Uth, the advertising sales and promotion manager at Enterprise Aluminum in Macon, Ga., agrees: "There's no way you can bring it back to the way it orginally was once it's scratched up or discolored."

"For a while there was a product that claimed it recoated Teflon scratches," recalls Beverly Evans. "It could be either brushed or sprayed on. Then the homeowner had to cure it in his own oven at about 400 degrees for so many minutes." Evans says the product didn't last long; the recoating usually chipped off. "You have to remember when we bake on coatings the ovens are much hotter than the usual kitchen oven. When the temperature is too low the coating will not bond properly. And there's also the problem of the pan handles being plastic."

Donna Arrington of Dupont, says the scratches bother alot of people. "if the chipped-off coating gets into our food, will it hurt us?" they ask. "Absolutely not," says Harrington. "The coating is an inert substance that will pass through your system. Chipped coating may be unsightly, but it won't harm you, if swallowed."

And what if you don't believe in throwing anything away? Can you bring your pan back to the manufacturer?

Sorry, says Enterprise's Uth. His company, as well as other licensees of Dupont, has never gone into the pan-repair business. "If we took back the damaged pan, stripped the coats of nonstick surface and reapplied the coatings, the price would be far greater than the price of a new pan."

Teflon pans have never been considered serious cookingware for professional cooks, says Eloise Sanchez of Kitchen Bazaar on Connecticut Avenue NW. c"They're not versatile enough."

The Cook's Catalogue (Harper & Row Publishers) also has doubts about non-stick pans: "We do not find them particularly satisfactory, for several reasons. As with the porcelain enamels, they don't do a good job of sauteing. rThe surface is quite fragile, and even the more resistant compositions tend to get scratched up. Furthermore, with age they lose their release capacity. Although they are recommended for special-diet cookery where no fat should be added, in reality they do not work well unless a coating, albeit a light one, of oil is present."

"That's right," says Bloomingdales' Eddows. "Chefs prefer the Calphalon line of pots and pans. [Calphalon pans have been dipped into a finish solution that is then electroplated onto the aluminum.] Calphalon doesn't scratch, even when scrubbed with a scouring pad. Jean Jacques at the Sans Souci uses Capalon." "Although it's more expensive," says Eddows, "more and more I see the Calphalon line on sale for the home cook." (Calphalon's omelette pan is $23, while the same size Silverstone frying pan is $9.)

So maybe you've just bought your first nonstick pan. A scratch or two won't hurt their performance, but will diminish their appearance. How do you care for them?

1. Do not use metal spoons, spatulas and other utensils. Wood and plastic do the same job and won't scratch the surface. (If you must use a metal utensil, make sure it has a smooth edge.)

2. Don't pile your coated pots and pans on top of one another in a cupboard. The constant contact will scratch them.

3. Don't expose your nonstick pan to the sun for extended lengths of time. This will cause discoloration.

4. Use a medium to low heat with your pan. "Few things require a consistently high heat," says Beverly Evans. "Boiling water isn't damaging since the water will keep the temperature of the pan from getting too hot." "Remember," adds Evans, "the hotter the pan, the softer the coating will get -- making it easier to scratch."

5. Never scrub a nonstick pan with a Brillo or scouring pad. Abrasive materials will quickly remove the stickless quality of your pan. Instead, wash the pan with a soapy sponge.

Says Bill Wollum of Leyse Aluminum: "If you treat your pans right, they can last indefinitely."

Several area stores carry one of the many lines of Silverstone pans:

Bloomingdales (price range: $9 to $32, complete set is $80).

Kitchen Bazaar (price range: $9 to $40).

Hecht's (by Wear-Ever and Mirro -- prices: $7-13, limited selection).

Woodward & Lothrop (by Wear-Ever -- prices: $10-22, limited selection).

Conran's carries a French brand of non-stick pan, called Le Creuset, Kitchen Bazaar carries another French brand, called T-Fal.

If you're holding your breath, Dupont expects to come out with a new, improved version of Silverstone in 1982.