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pinchbeck

Enameled pinchbeck bracelet, Swiss, ca. 1830-40

Jane H. Clarke/Morning Glory Antiques & Jewelry (www.morninggloryjewelry.com)

Definition: an alloy of copper and zinc (in a ratio of about 83% to 17%) used to imitate gold, although it is much lighter and eventually tarnishes; named for its inventor, English watchmaker Christopher Pinchbeck, ca. 1720, who employed it first for watches and watch chains, then expanded into articles of jewelry, buckles and various objets.

While the original alloy quite convincingly copied the bright look of gold, Pinchbeck always distinguished pieces made of it from the real thing with a marking. However, less scrupulous rivals developed their own alloys, which they often tried to pass off as genuine gold. "Pinchbeck" began to acquire a secondary meaning as "cheap jewelry," or even "counterfeit."

Still, it remained one of the best materials for costume jewelry until the mid-19th century, when it began to be supplanted by rolled gold, 9K gold and other gilding techniques or gold/metal alloys.

Also Known As: pinch, false gold, similor (actually a different copper-zinc alloy, developed slightly later in France)

Example: Although it was much cheaper than actual gold, pinchbeck jewelry often showed fine workmanship, as it was used as "traveling jewelry" by well-to-do people.

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