Both the terms Alpaca and Silver are misnomers in this lovely metal we find used in Central and South American jewelry making. Believe it or not, Alpaca Silver has nothing to do with the cute, furry wool animals, and contains no real silver!
Alpaca Silver is an alloy of copper, nickel, and zinc. Sometimes called Nickel Silver or German Silver, the usual formulation is 60% copper, 20% nickel and 20% zinc. This technique of metal working was practiced by the Chinese for two millennia, and called “Paktong.” In an attempt to imitate the Chinese alloy, “Neusilber” or New Silver was developed by a German scientist in the early 19th century, and later marketed under the trade name “Alpacca” Silver.
Alpaca Silver polishes to a bright silver finish and makes stunning jewelry. Many Fair Trade artisans in Central and South America work with Alpaca Silver material, as it is more durable and easier to work with than silver. It is also less precious than silver, making it a more affordable material for both the artisans and collectors!
Alpaca Silver is easy to clean and only requires a little lemon juice or soap and warm water to remove tarnish. Due to the copper content, the metal can darken over time. Copper can also leave its telltale mark on the skin when worn for long periods of time, but is not an indication of an allergy. This is a normal chemical reaction.
Anyone with a metal allergy to nickel should not wear Alpaca Silver jewelry.
For more information about handmade and fair trade Alpaca Silver jewelry, check out this post on the Global Gifts blog, all about Artesanas Alpaca Silver Jewelry from Mexico!