Thursday, March 26, 2009

Myths about Metals – or “I only buy PURE gold or silver” Pt 4

Sorry for the late post on this blog – my husband had oral surgery yesterday afternoon and we had to make an emergency trip back to the surgeon because the stitches weren’t holding! Arrrggghhhhhhh!!! All is well now tho, so on with the blog!

I’m doing a series of blogs this week delving into the facts and myths about Gold, Silver, Copper, Nickel, and “other” metals. So far, I’ve discussed gold, silver and “silvery” metals as well as Copper.

These are pretty beautiful pieces of jewelry, aren’t they?

You might be surprised to know that, in order, the metals used are Bronze, Brass, and Zinc Alloy.

Any of you who admire most vintage or vintage style jewelry should know that these metals, especially Brass and Bronze are the alloys responsible for the beautiful Victorian Era castings and stampings that dominate the vintage jewelry market. Steampunk, that trendy mix of Victorian era with science fantasy is a jewelry genre that predominately uses incredibly lovely and unique brass and bronze components. Vintaj – a trade name synonymous with neo-vintage jewelry styles, is known for their beautiful and sometimes quite expensive natural brass jewelry components.

So why is there a love/hate relationship with these metals? Simply because they are not “precious”??? Or is it simply because jewelry advertising trains us to be snobs when it comes to the precious metal and precious gemstone contents of our jewelry? Hopefully I might be able to change your mind a little bit.

Let’s talk about Brass first. Remember those gorgeous ornate jewelry pieces that you found in your grandmother’s or great grandmother’s attic? Or that beautiful pocket watch belonging to your great-great uncle? How remarkably intricate the designs were, how almost empowering the weighty feel of the substance was in your hand? And if you chose to clean away the years of oxidation, how beautifully it gleamed – almost like gold? Most likely, those lovely antique jewelry pieces were made of brass. In fact, brass jewelry has been around for thousands of years!

Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc and comes in many types for many applications. Brass used in jewelry design is an alloy of 84-90% copper and 10-16% zinc. It is commonly called Jewelry Brass or Tombac. It is a very malleable alloy, which is probably one of the reasons it is so popular for the castings and stampings that are representative of vintage jewelry. However, because it is an alloy that contains two metals that can cause skin reactions in a very small population, many jewelry designers who work with brass can and will coat the metal with a special coating to prevent direct contact with the skin for people who have such sensitivities. And if you’ve been reading my past articles, I’ll reiterate here that you can have allergies to ANY metal, even pure gold and silver.

Bronze is an alloy of at least 60% copper and some combination of tin and occasionally other metals, although the copper content can be much higher. Bronze with 90% copper content has a deep, rich coloration and is referred to as jeweler’s bronze, red bronze or NuGold. Newly processed bronze with a high copper content is a rich gold color, only turning the golden brown color that we associate it with as it forms a patina. It is a very durable alloy, ideal for casting. Bronze has been used both for tools and as a jewelry adornment since the early Bronze Age (3300BC) and is becoming even more popular lately in the vintage jewelry trends that are so popular today.

There is also an alloy of copper, tin, and zinc that is being more commonly used in jewelry production now. Known as “White Bronze”, this alloy is not considered a true bronze, as its copper content is lower than 60% and its color is similar to bright nickel or silver. It is used both as an undercoating for precious metals or a topcoat for silvery precious metals. As an added plus, it does not easily tarnish, even under harsh conditions and can be substituted easily for nickel in jewelry where nickel allergies are a concern.

Zinc alloy is the last of the metal alloys I’ll be discussing today. It is probably the least commonly used alloy in jewelry, although it lends itself beautifully to exotic middle eastern inspired jewelry designs as well as vintage inspired cast metal designs. Most commonly a mixture of zinc with tin or aluminum with a small percentage of copper included, this alloy is ideal for casting intricate designs. The same risk of allergies occurs with this alloy due to its copper content, but again, most zinc alloy jewelry has or can be coated to alleviate the risk of a skin reaction.

Tomorrow I’ll be discussing the high end precious metals – platinum, rhodium, and palladium and that will be the last in this series of informational blogs on the most common jewelry metals. I’m going to take a few days for a few “fun” posts, but next week I’m planning on doing a post on the use of wire in jewelry, since wire-wrapping is such a popular style right now! I will also be doing a piece on different jewelry finishes – the “patinas” I keep referring to! Other future topics I have planned are a piece to clarify some of the myths and facts about precious stones and semi-precious stones, as well as a jewelry glossary to familiarize you with some of the common and more obscure terms used in the jewelry trade.

Enjoy these examples of brass, bronze and zinc alloy jewelry pieces borrowed from the shops at Etsy – and as always have a great day!

1 comment:

Donnalda Does Art said...

This is a great tutorial. Thank you.

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