W ith the price of gold hovering around $1,660 an ounce, it's no wonder there's been a surge of interest in other metals for use in jewelry.
The prices of silver (about $30 an ounce) and copper (about $3.50 a pound) make them more appealing to some jewelers. And then there's brass, which jewelers typically buy in sheets priced around $12 a pound. Accessories made from the alloy of copper and zinc are experiencing a new popularity, popping up at stores and boutiques where shoppers who haven't been paying attention might expect to find gold or gold layered over silver.
Kelly Wearstler's new West Hollywood store is full of brass. The interior designer with the relatively new fashion label sells vases, bowls, letter openers, sculptures and jewelry. There's even a back scratcher in brass. She says she loves the metal's aged-looking patina and warm tone.
"Brass is a good, inexpensive alternative to gold," says gemologist Larry Platt, co-owner of Platt Jewelry Boutique in West Hollywood. "People would typically use sterling silver if they're trying to cut costs, but everyone has been so into the look of yellow gold lately, and brass has a warm, gold tone to it." He adds that for the first time in many years, the price of yellow gold has surpassed even the price of platinum, which is about $1,498 an ounce.
"The costs of silver, gold and many other traditionally used components have skyrocketed over the last few years, and brass has become a good choice for making jewelry," says Karen Giberson, president of the Accessories Council. "Everyone from the Etsy.com craftsman to major contemporary jewelry designers is using it in their collections."
New York-based jewelry designer and metalsmith Anna Sheffield uses brass as well as gold and sterling silver in her line Bing Bang and gravitates to brass for its versatility.
Brass works for strong statement pieces such as chunky cuffs and thick hoop earrings. Wearstler offers an array of brass pieces; among them, cuffs topped with natural agate stones set with thick prongs. The combination of stone and brass in the bracelet feels earthy, not precious, which means it's as easy to wear with a casual button-down shirt and jeans as it is with a dress and heels.
Raven Kauffman's "crocodile skin" embossed cuffs, made from reclaimed brass, have been crafted to show lots of texture and design; the metal appears opaque, rather than shiny, which means the overall look is more chic than superhero. Her jewelry is sold online.
A.L.C., sold online and at Barneys New York, has a different take on brass jewelry. The screw-top tennis bracelet feels dainty, even though its primary design motif evokes building materials. Brass "handcuff" earrings are shiny and bold. And for those who want to wear their brass in an unexpected way, Monika Chiang sells sleek wedge sandals and a flat version with brass ankle cuffs.