Pinchbeck was invented by Christopher Pinchbeck around 1720 and was guarded as a family secret for many years, although there were many copies. It is a type of brass made from copper and zinc to resemble gold. It is lighter in weight than gold and stays unoxidized for a very long time.
Pinchbeck’s great benefit was that it brought a gold colored metal to ordinary people. It was also good for those concerned about theft, particularly when riding on stagecoaches; the wealthy often liked to leave their real gold at home and bring along Pinchbeck replicas.
Many pieces throughout the 18th and 19th century are made from Pinchbeck, particularly chatelaines but also a wide range of other jewelry and watches. Pinchbeck was eventually replaced by 9 carat gold in 1854 and electro-gilding in 1840.
Pinchbeck typically comprises copper and zinc in ratios between 89% Cu, 11% Zn; and 93% Cu, 7% Zn.
Today, Pinchbeck is considered quite rare and collectible. It has a distinctive look which you can learn to recognize once you have handled a few Pinchbeck pieces.
A related metal is Bath Metal which is like Pinchbeck but has a higher zinc content (approx 45%) It was developed also in the 18th century. It has a white color. It was, however, not used frequently in jewelry.
In German, Pinchbeck is referred to as 'Tombak' and in French it is 'Tombac.'
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