The rising cost of gold and silver is driving jewelry makers and buyers for alternative metals as possible substitutes. Undoubtedly, the global economic crisis in which entire national economies are crumbling has enhanced our appetite for stability, strength and permanence. This has led to the resurgence of noble and classical materials such as copper in fashion jewelry.
The most familiar forms of copper are pure copper, brass, a copper-zinc alloy and bronze, a copper-tin alloy. No one knows exactly when copper was first discovered, but earliest estimates place this event around 9,000 B.C. in the Middle East. The fact that copper has been used for thousands of years proves that copper is a very adaptable and immensely versatile material. It is also one of the most common base metals used to harden soft metals. In other words, if you have a 14kt gold bracelet, it might contain up to 41 percent of copper and a silver plated pendant might consist of alternative layers of copper and layers of silver. Copper is one of the easiest metals to work with as it is very soft and pliable and thus easy to cut, form and fold.
Copper can range in tone from rose to deep brown. It can be beaten, laser-cut, polished and hammered into different surface textures, made rough, or smooth, thin or thick, matte or gloss. Copper has a quiet refinement and an understated, timeless quality because it holds the promise that it could last a thousand years or more. A copper jewel will take on a different patina in time but it will not lose any of its intrinsic beauty.
Egyptian born, Rana Nader is part of an increasing number of artists working with copper. She finished her art studies four years ago, specializing in mosaic, stained glass and oil painting. Rana, at first, produced paintings and mosaic pieces. However, she acknowledges that this artwork is not only costly but it also takes a lot of time and effort. “I also had to wait a long time to receive an order or two,” she said. This encouraged her to look for another artistic venture.
In January 2010, she decided to set up her jewelry design business after following a course on copper jewelry.
“Copper is inexpensive, available everywhere and can easily be shaped with traditional tools, which makes it possible for many to make good use of it to start a business of that kind,” she said.
Rana does not bend over a furnace like a traditional coppersmith. She first heads for the copper market where she purchases copper sheets and wires: “At the workshop, the production goes through many phases, from cutting, sanding and polishing to hammering, twisting and spiraling. The type of design should finally determine whether I will use sheet or wires. Maybe the best thing about copper is that it’s extremely flexible and can go with all styles. As for me, I enjoy doing modern, classic and even crazy designs,” Nader explains.
Over time copper jewelry will lose its bright shine but there is a very easy way to clean copper and bring back its bright and shiny look. All you need is a small glass of lemon juice, an old toothbrush, soap and a drying towel. Place one piece of jewelry in the lemon juice and leave it for about 10 to 20 minutes. Once you have cleaned the jewelry, use a little soap and the toothbrush to clean just a little more, then rinse and dry with a towel.
Copper jewelry has been worn by the ancient Babylonians and the ancient Egyptians saw it as a mark of high status in society. Throughout history, besides its use as an ornament, copper was also used for its incredible healing properties. Copper jewelry has been used for a hundred years, at least, to cure a number of ailments, including, arthritis.
Copper, which is the 25th most abundant element in the world, is emerging as a popular substitute for silver, gold and platinum. Copper jewelry has been worn throughout the ages. Copper artifacts from the ancient Babylonian civilization (8700 BC) predate the earliest gold jewelry by about 4700 years.
Using inexpensive materials for making art jewels is not new. At the Paris International Exhibition in 1900, Piel Freres, a Paris jewelry firm, caused a sensation by replacing sculpted ivory with plastic and replacing gold with copper and silver. In the 1950s, beautiful copper jewelry was made. The French artist, Claude Lalanne has designed some of the most stunning copper jewelry of the late 20th century and her pieces have become collector’s items.
The use of brass, bronze and copper has opened an exciting and affordable fashion-focused jewelry, a new area of artistry and sophistication. These new materials are re-energizing the jewelry landscape. Designers like Rana Nader are not only bringing a sense of individuality, personal expression and hand-craftsmanship but they are also reminding us that jewelry is made to be worn.