BRASS (metal used in jewelry)

Brass is a metallic alloy which is a combination of zinc and copper and has always been one of the exotic metals used in decorations. It is used extensively for mechanical purposes; for instance, brass is used in fabricating gears, bearings as well as other locks, ammunition cases, valves and doorknobs. But the most extensive use of brass is in the jewel-making industry. The high luster of brass that results from a good combination of copper and zinc gives the alloy the appearance of gold. It is the golden luster of this non-magnetic alloy that makes it a favorite among jewel designers.

History of the Metal

Although the use of brass dates back to the days of the early men, its real qualities were not easily recognized or understood until much later. The vapor that was produced as a result of the combination of copper and zinc was not identified to be a metal as well. It is assumed that the earliest forms of brass metal were created by melting copper and zinc ores. But by the era of the Romans, brass had gained recognition and was produced by making use of the cementation process. Different variations of the cementation process were employed in the fabrication of the copper-zinc alloy up until the middle of the nineteenth century. However, the cementation process was replaced by a process called speltering, which employs direct alloying of zinc and copper metals.

Brass has a low melting point (between nine hundred to nine hundred and forty degrees Celsius) which largely depends on the percentage composition of its parent metals and makes it an easy material to cast. The properties of brass can be altered by changing the proportions of zinc and copper to produce hard and soft brass. The malleability of brass is also higher than that of bronze and zinc.

Nowadays, nearly ninety percent of brass metals are recycled. The non-existent ferromagnetic property of brass makes it easy to be separate the alloy from other scraps of metal by passing the ferrous scrap near a strong magnet. Once the brass scraps are collected, they are transported to a foundry where it gets melted and cast into billets. It is the billets that are finally heated and forced through mold (extrusion process) to produce the desired shapes and sizes. There is no need to make use of cutting fluid when machining brass because the alloy is a soft metal, although there are exceptional instances where cutting fluid has to be used.

Sometimes, aluminum is employed to make brass stronger and more resistant to corrosion. Aluminum also creates a thin but hard and transparent layer of aluminum oxide on the surface of the copper-zinc alloy. A mixture of aluminum, iron, manganese and silicon makes the brass tear and wear resistant.

The Use of Brass in Jewelry

Brass is used extensively in chains for bracelets or necklaces as well as cufflinks. It is also used widely in making pendants, and when it is mixed with glass or beads, stunning designs emerge. The perception of brass as a vintage material is fading fast as it has begun to take new forms and has acquired a contemporary reputation.

There is this mistaken but common misconception that brass jewelry is weighty, but thanks to contemporary jewelers, brass has been proven to be light, delicate and as flexible as gold or silver.

The following reasons are what make brass metal a favorite among jewel designers:

  • Because of the ideal nature of brass for casting, it has been used in creating ornaments from molds. A lot of costume pieces are created using this process
  • Brass does not contain any precious metals which make it very affordable
  • Even with regular use, brass doesn’t corrode easily. However, it may turn green which is as a result of the amount of copper in the alloy. This usually happens if the brass is unlacquered and would require occasional polishing. But jewelry designers and makers have found a way round this by applying clear lacquer.
  • The durability of brass is assured due to the strength of the material. This makes costume jewelry made from brass to be long-lasting.
  • Taking Care of Your Brass Jewelry

Brass products, when used over time begin to lose that golden luster it is known for. This is as a result of exposure to air which brings about an oxidation process that leads to the tarnishing of the brass jewelry. The patina, which is a layer of copper sulfide that appears to look brownish, later turns blackish if nothing is done about it.

Nevertheless, looking after your jewelry that is made from brass is not that hard. You will find a variety of ready-made solutions in the market. These varnishes help to make your brass pieces of jewelry shine brighter as well as coat the ornaments with a thin layer of oil which also serve to protect the jewelry from tarnish.

The following are other options you may try your hands on at any time you notice that your brass pieces of jewelry are beginning to look dull:

  • Hot Water– You can heat a few cups of water to boiling point. Then add a mild soap to the water and use the mixture to wash off the dirt on the brass jewel. If the dirt does not come off quickly, then you may have to use the solvents mentioned earlier to clean the jewelry.
  • Using Other Household Materials– You may be surprised to know that tomato ketchup works wonders when used to clean brass pieces of jewelry. Just apply a few dollops on a used or new toothbrush and use it to clean the brass jewelry. Lemon or lime juice, water and table salt are also handy materials that you can employ in cleaning your brass jewelry. The amount of acids present in some of these cleaners will not wreak havoc on your pieces of jewelry.

    But be careful; if you misuse or overuse the solvents or special solutions, your brass jewelry stands the risk of turning black. If your brass jewelry is inlaid with precious stones, you will want to be careful since some of these solvents could ruin them. Secondly, if you are not so sure of the outcome of using a particular set of household items in cleaning your brass jewelry, then use the mixtures to clean a tiny part of the jewelry to see how it will look like before using it on the other parts of the brass jewelry.