Alpaca, originally called malhechor, also known as alphé nido, German silver, white metal, new silver or argentan, is a ternary alloy composed of zinc, copper and nickel, with a colour and lustre similar to silver. This alloy was invented by the Frenchmen Maillot and Chorier in 1819, which is why it was known in France as malhechor. Its purpose was to imitate silver for tableware, especially cutlery.
Characteristics of nickel silver
Alloys containing more than 60 % copper are single-phase and are characterised by their ductility and ease of working at room temperature; the addition of nickel gives them good resistance to corrosive media. In addition, it has other properties such as:
- Nickel silver is generally harder and more elastic than silver.
- It has low electrical conductivity.
- It is excellent for cold work, but its hot formability is limited.
- It is not resistant to oxidising acids, but the sensitivity to stress corrosion cracking of this alloy is much lower than that of brass.
- Unlike silver, it can lose its lustre, but it never blackens, although it does oxidise earlier than silver. It can turn a greenish colour with poor preservation and ageing.
Applications and uses
Applications include the manufacture of religious imagery, tableware, bombillas (sherbet) for mate or tereré, zips, costume jewellery, keys for musical instruments (e.g. the oboe), guitar frets, model railroad tracks, radio dials, coins, surgical and dental instruments, and rheostats.
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