Around 1720, a London Watchmaker invented a new ‘alloy’ which was to change the worlds of watchmaking and jewellery.
It was a mixture of copper and zinc and the watchmaker’s name was Christopher Pinchbeck.
This doesn’t sound very exciting, but what the watchmaker had actually created was the best “copy” of the World’s most desired precious metal.
The ‘new metal’ which is now known as ‘Pinchbeck’,
looked EXACTLY like gold, but felt lighter.
He originally developed it for making watch cases, but because it looked so much like gold, Pinchbeck was soon being used to make jewellery of all shapes and designs.
Original Pinchbeck jewellery is not so readily available now, but any which has survived shows great quality and craftsmanship. The workmanship found in pieces of Pinchbeck jewellery is often of the same high standard as those skills used in quality gold jewellery.
In the late 18th Century, it was used for setting good quality paste stone pieces, snuff boxes, watch cases, brooches and chatelaines. It was also used to make intricate mesh or net designs because it was so pliable and easily crafted. It was often very difficult to tell the difference between Pinchbeck and real gold.
Pinchbeck was at the height of its popularity in the 1830’s and 1840’s. However, just a few short years later, Pinchbeck became more or less obsolete after 1854.
The sudden drop in its popularity was caused when it became legal to sell lower purities of gold. The previously used high purity gold grades of 18 and 22 carat gold, were too expensive for many to afford. With the introduction of 9 ct / 12 ct / 15 carat gold, it became more affordable for the masses.
The next ‘cheaper alternatives’ which were developed and later extensively used were Rolled Gold and Electroplating. These still used ‘Real Gold’ but they were not made using solid gold, because they were ‘plated’.
This was the end for Pinchbeck’s ‘Pretend Gold’,
as people will always prefer the real thing given the choice.
Even though Pinchbeck only enjoyed a very short period of glory, some of the individual pieces of jewellery which were created using this unusual metal, were without a doubt both intricate and very beautiful.