Brass has been an important metal throughout history. Known for its yellowish warm tones that can gleam as good as gold, brass is a versatile metal that has numerous applications, and is used in the making of musical instruments, decorative items, machinery, household items and jewelry.
Because it looks like gold, brass became a popular jewelry metal. It’s also affordable, workable, and durable. Here’s a look at the origins, pros, and cons of brass.
Brass Origin and History
Brass is an alloy made of mainly of copper and zinc. The proportions of the copper and zinc can vary do produce different types of brass. Sometimes, other metals such as lead and nickel can be added to brass as well.
Variations of brass has been around since 500 BC and has been used in many parts of the world. Brass has been referenced at least 39 times in the Bible as well as by prominent writers such as Shakespeare. Around the Middle Ages, the metal was used extensively.
From the earliest times, brass has been used in making beautiful decorative items. Its warm golden tones give an impression of sophistication, class, and value without the high price tag of gold. Brass is also commonly used in the making of musical instruments due to its acoustic properties.
In East Burma, brass coils are worn by the Kayan women to elongate their necks for beauty purposes.
Brass is a strong metal. However, it is also very malleable, making it ideal for shaping into intricate jewelry designs. It doesn’t break easily as it is not a brittle metal, like tungsten, for example. Rather, it tends to stretch when under pressure. Brass jewelry can last through the ages with reasonable care and maintenance.
Brass does not rust and is resistant to corrosion. However, it does develop a patina, or greenish layer, over time. This is due to the copper content in the alloy.
Avoiding Brass Tarnish
Brass tarnishes over time and loses its luster and golden gleam. While some people like the appearance of the tarnished piece, others prefer the bright luster of brass. To avoid tarnishing, brass can be sealed or lacquered.
This is done by coating the brass jewelry with a clear coating that will keep it from oxidizing due to air and moisture. This will also prevent the brass from turning your skin green (more on this later).
Solid Brass vs. Brass Plating
Solid brass jewelry, as the term implies, refers to jewelry that is made purely of brass. However, sometimes, brass plated items can be found. Brass plating is when a thin layer of brass is coated over the surface of another metal such as steel or zinc. It is very difficult to tell brass plated jewelry items apart from solid brass.
Why does this matter? Because brass plate wears off over time, the metal beneath will eventually bleed through. If your brass jewelry is actually brass plated, then you may need to have the item replated over time.
Is Your Brass Solid?
The main way to test if your jewelry is solid or brass plated is by using a magnet. Solid brass jewelry does not react to magnets, whereas brass plated items do.
Another way to check is by checking out the scratches on your jewelry. If there are no scratches, use a pin to carefully scratch the piece in an area that is not readily visible. If you see yellow beneath the scratch, it is solid brass. If, however, the metal beneath is white, you likely have a plated piece.
Types of Brass Jewelry
Because of the pliable yet durable nature of brass, this metal is popularly used by jewelry designers. The beautiful warm tones of brass ranges from yellow to dull gold. Often, large statement pieces are made using brass for a stunning effect.
However, you can also find brass in dainty minimalist designs. Brass can be made into all forms of jewelry, including rings, necklaces, bracelets, bangles and earrings.
Brass cuffs are popular and give a touch of stylish rustic sophistication to an outfit. They are gender neutral and can be worn by both men and women.
Brass stud earrings are perfect for regular wear, while elaborate dangle earrings immediately dress up any outfit.
Because brass is a resilient metal, it makes for secure settings for gemstones. Pairing brass with colored gemstones produces a beautiful and antique touch. Because brass has a versatile color, it pairs well with almost all colors.
Brass is also used in conjunction with other metals for a unique effect. Pair brass with silver or copper for an interesting and beautiful look.
Does Brass Turn Your Skin Green?
Because of the copper content in brass, wearing brass jewelry can sometimes turn your skin green. The reason this occurs is because the metal oxidizes and reacts with the sweat from your body, creating copper chelates.
While pure copper cannot be absorbed by the skin, copper chelates can. The excess copper that isn’t absorbed by your skin is what turns your skin green.
However, green skin from wearing brass jewelry is not harmful nor is it a permanent stain. The green stains are easily removed with soap and water. In order to avoid green staining, you can have your piece of brass jewelry lacquered.
You can also do this yourself by applying clear nail polish to the part of the brass jewelry that touches your skin. This will form a barrier that will keep your skin free of stains.
Brass Health Benefits
Because brass contains copper and zinc, minerals essential for the human body, some believe that wearing brass jewelry or using brass utensils for eating and drinking can improve health and help reduce copper and zinc deficiency.
Some claim that wearing brass assists in alleviating rheumatism, arthritis, headaches and joint paints. While these aren’t scientifically proven, it is possible that wearing brass jewelry can produce some health benefits. However, if your brass items are lacquered, you will not feel these effects as the metal has to touch the skin to be effective.
Brass Cleaning and Care
When brass oxidizes and weathers, it begins to tarnish. To clean tarnished brass at home and to restore its shine, use a cleaner that contains acidic ingredients, such as lemon, tomato or vinegar.
There are many effective ways to clean brass jewelry easily at home. Often, these home remedies are as effective, if not more so, than commercial brass jewelry cleaners.
Related Article: How to Clean Brass Jewelry
Use a soft brush or cloth when cleaning your brass jewelry, as it can be scratched easily if you use abrasive items.
Dirt and grime build up reduces the luster of brass so regularly washing your brass jewelry in warm water and soap will keep it shining. Use a polishing cloth to buff the brass and maintain its luster.
Regular maintenance of your brass jewelry will ensure it sparkles and remains beautiful for a long time.
Brass, like copper and bronze, is a beautiful metal for costume jewelry. While it typically suits bohemian and rustic styles, it’s also perfect for ethnic jewelry and can be elevated into classic styles as well. With some proper maintenance, brass jewelry can last a long time.