Jewellery: The other yellow metal

The term "gold standard" exists for a reason; you simply cannot beat solid gold as a long-term jewellery choice because it is durable, tarnish-resistant, and develops that alluring patina. However, gold prices have never been higher; the price of gold jewellery has increased by 5-10% in the last six months, with many jewellers re-pricing existing stock to reflect their costs.

Your jewellery kitty does not go far once you opt for gold, and some women think of it as "too dressy", and prefer less-luxe materials. So today, brass pieces in the window, and not as a substitute for gold; skilled artisans are making inventive and insouciant pieces. Unless noted, prices shown are in $CDN.

Michelle Ross's brass and silver pieces are made in Toronto. 

Left: "Lee" brass and rhodium-plated silver bracelet, about 8in. Price, $178. A chic entry in the mixed-metal category.
Top right: "Zale" necklace of brass and rhodium-plating, length, 27in. Price, $278. Great example of a substantial chain that would cost a small fortune in gold.
Lower right: Detail, "Ion" brass and freshwater pearl earrings; length, 1.25in. Price, $90.

Brass harmonizes well with other metals and materials; silver and brass is classic and especially chic when the silver is blackened.

Photos: L.A. Pai Gallery

Left: Brass sea urchin pendant by Patrycja Zwierzynska, at L.A. Pai Gallery. The brass pendant is 2 x 2.5 cm, and hangs on a blackened-silver chain; price, $180.

Right: A luscious combination: brass and porcelain "Cherry Drop and Coffee" earrings by Catherine Granche at L.A. Pai Gallery; price $160.  

Nice piece of brass

Let's review what brass is. Jeweller-grade brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, in various percentages. (Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin, and sometimes other metals.) Brass looks like pale gold, but is duller and as it ages may develop some discolouration (verdigris) which is easy to remove with a sliver-polishing cloth or Brasso. Verdigris may be a deliberate effect, as in this vintage Robert Lee Morris "2X1 Block" bracelet. (Price on 1st Dibs, $3, 438.)


I avoid gold-plated brass. Even with relatively thick (3 microns) plate, in a few years, the gold layer will wear off or look splotchy. On the other hand, museums house collections of ancient brass that look mellow and charismatic thousands of years later. It is more durable than sterling silver, and almost 90% of the brass used in jewellery is recycled, according to the jewellery company Soko.

This brass bracelet by Etsy seller Trescode (price, $162) shows off the organic appeal of a modern hammered piece: 

Will brass turn your skin green?

Women worry that brass will turn their skin greenish where the metal contacts it, but this reaction depends on skin chemistry—some persons react, others do not. The green effect is neither permanent nor harmful. If you wear the piece routinely, it's common for the body to adapt to the metal. 

The greenish deposit is not an "allergic reaction"—metal allergies cause a rash and itching. They are most frequently due to nickel. Brass usually does not contain nickel (but it may be present in a minute amount), so that's another reason to deal with makers who alloy their own metals or know the exact composition of the metals they buy. If allergic to copper, brass is not for you. 

The price proposition

To capture the price differential, let's look at a ring made in three different metals:


This "Molten Ring #3" is made to order by Bournemouth, UK-based Josie Mitchell; in 9k gold, the price is $US 917; in silver, $US 163 and in brass, $US 154. This is why you will often see earrings offered in brass or silver for the same price, and then a big leap for gold, especially in higher karats. Brass brings less "bling"—but does not require a supplementary jewellery insurance policy! 

Top brass 

Aside from being an alternative to gold, brass is in and of itself a fascinating metal with roots in antiquity, and I've been watching some brands I do not associate with brass begin to use it. 

The finale belongs to the haut de gamme house, Loewe, whose elegant twisted cuff  (price, $CDN 3, 600) deserves its own vitrine. When they work with brass, you know it's anointed with chic.

The calendar says that today is the first day of spring; the gentle glow of brass captures that new warmth wonderfully.  If you are shopping, consider "the other yellow metal", and if you have brass in your collection, show it a little polishing-love and enjoy it once again. 


Leslie M said…
The ring cost differential was a great illustration. I had no idea gold had risen to astronomical levels. Loved the sea urchin. I have always liked brass and have a couple of pieces that are in my regular rotation. One is vintage and the other a purchase from a college craft show from 20 years ago. Polishing is the only downside, but now that I'm retired I have the additional time. :-) The Lowe bracelet, while beautiful, is a no for 3 reasons. 1) the price 2) polishing all of those nooks and swoops and crannies would take forever and 3) the price doesn't include shipping...from Canada, no less. I'd have to go back to work.
Happy spring!

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