Copper, Brass, Bronze, and More: Save Money, Have Fun with Alternative Metals for Jewelry Making

I’ve been working on a new series of mixed metal brooches with custom cut freeform stones for about four months now. Because of the popularity of alternative metals for jewelry making–copper, brass, aluminum, nickel and bronze–we’ve also created a new eBook on just that topic, 10 Cooper Jewelry Projects Plus Brass and Bronze.


A fold-formed bronze brooch by Helen Driggs. Photo by Jim Lawson.

A fold-formed bronze brooch by Helen Driggs. Photo by Jim Lawson.

Playing with Alternative Metals
For my recent work, I decided to use some silver for my bezels and settings, a little bit of brass, and mostly copper because I love the way it forges and patinates; plus it is inexpensive. Another benefit of working with copper is that it forces you to solder cleanly and accurately because of the color difference between the body metal and the solder joins of the piece. And there is nothing bad about a good solder join!

Also, the different metal malleabilities, colors, or thicknesses can take the lead as far as driving a design decision. That, combined with my newly acquired ability to custom cut a stone has really changed my way of making. I’ve also been toying with various folded, tension, and cold connections in those alt metals, too.



A handwrought brass bangle by William Fretz. Photo by Jim Lawson.

Base Isn’t Bad at All!
Sometimes called “base” metals, the alt metals are largely copper and copper alloys. Nickel and aluminum can also be added to the mix. The reason these metals are called “base” is because they are often used as casting material in large scale jewelry manufacturing, and they serve as a “base” for gold, chrome, silver or other plating operations. Most of the gold-tone or silver-tone costume jewelry you find in a department store has a base of nickel, brass, jeweler’s bronze, or other copper alloy.

Unfortunately, base metals have a bad rap, because many people have allergies to nickel, and copper oxidizes the skin to a sickly green color. Brass and bronze tarnish quickly, so it is hard to keep them polished to a high shine without sealing the metal with lacquer or wax. There is nothing wrong or inherently bad about any of these metals, you’ll just need to be aware of the limitations they present.

The good thing about base metals is that they are inexpensive, but have many of the same working properties as precious metals. When you are learning, it’s much less intimidating to cut and solder metal that costs $4 for a 6-inch square vs. metal that costs $250 for a 6-inch square. Besides, you’ll have enough to concentrate on when you’re mastering a technique without adding the anxiety of expense to the mix.


bronze and silver medallion by Roger Halas

Roger Halas’s Fantasy Medallion with Silver Accents. Photo by Jim Lawson.

More Alternative Metal Options
The other fun thing about “base” metals is that there usually are hundreds of milled options available from a well stocked vendor. Brass comes in sheet, rod, square stock, bar stock, patterned sheet, castings, chain, stampings, rivets, and findings, and my nearest and favorite supply house (Metalliferous, NY) also carries an immense stock of vintage and antique brass components from the turn of the last century. Marketed for the costume jewelry industry, some are plated and sealed with lacquer, and some are raw brass. All of them are a fun starting point for cold connected work, funky assembled jewelry or to solder or rivet to other components.


So, Get Busy!
Check out 10 Cooper Jewelry Projects Plus Brass and Bronze. If you haven’t worked with alternative metals for jewelry making, this is the perfect way to learn. So, download the book and get into your studio!

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