Brass Basics

11:03 AM Posted In , , , , , , Edit This 0 Comments »
This weekend, I had a customer ask me some questions about Brass stampings. In composing an answer for her, I realized that this would probably be a good blog topic as there seems to be a lack of honest, concise information out there about these pretty things that so many people are buying and using these days.

The first place to start would be what Brass is made of. Wikipedia has a good explanation
that needs no extra babbling from me. Copper and Zinc. No lead. Yay!

Part of the confusion around all of those pretty filigree pieces out there today is the question of whether they are truly "antique" or "vintage" or not. Based on my experience with these items, I believe that most of them for sale today on Etsy and elsewhere are actually newly manufactured items. There are some out there that are obviously old - left over from old boxes stored in warehouses for decades but those show significant oxidation beyond the simple patinas that modern jewelry artists are applying. The truly old stuff is often dirty and pitted and have come from some auction house clearing out old, unclaimed stuff.

All of my brass pieces are newly made from vintage and antique dies by manufacturers in the U.S. (Yay for American manufacturing jobs!) For basic information on the manufacturing process, we turn to Wikipedia again. In many cases, these dies were put away for decades until the recent fashion trends in vintage style, Steampunk, and retro Victorian jewelry came into vogue. Then the old dies were pulled out and put to work again to create new findings in vintage designs. Thus, you can buy a brand new filigree piece of the exact same design used in a brooch your great-gramma wore. Molly Byn was excited to learn this as she was recently allowed to claim some goodies from her Great Gramma's jewelry box - some items needed repair or repurposing and she discovered a treasure trove of possibilities in my studio. (I'll post some of those creations later on.)

Raw brass items are just that - brass charms, filigree and findings that are unaltered from their original state. These pieces will age and darken, sometimes in a very unlovely fashion and will probably leave a green mark on your skin unless they are sealed in some way. Floor wax, jewelers sealant, clear nail polish and furniture wax (like Renaissane micro-crystaline wax) all work well for this purpose. Brass reacts with all sorts of chemicals unless sealed - amonia will quickly darken brass and will actually eat away at it if exposed for too long. I have started using a jewelrs grade sealant for my patina items so that my customers' creations remain stable and clean.

Because brass reacts with many chemicals, there are many solutions that can be applied to create a patina on the brass. The most usual patina color is a brown-gold color that makes the piece look aged. I recently learned how to apply a green-blue verdegris patina that will start appearing in my shop soon and I have seen a few other colors that I'm intrigued by - chartreuse, deep purple - but I'm intimidated by the chemisty right now and will have to wait until I have a studio with beter ventilation and running water for safety's sake before experimenting with those.

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