Copper is an essential mineral found in plant life and in the human body and it is also a metal alloy with a reddish-orange color. The use of copper dates back over 10,000 years. Pure copper is very soft and malleable and is combined with other metals, such as brass and bronze, for use in jewelry and other uses. Copper is used in currency (the U.S. penny), and is used as a heat conductor, in medical instruments, and has been used as a decorative coating of famous gates, such as the Temple of Jerusalem, sculptures, and statues, most notably, The Statue of Liberty, the largest copper statue in the world.
Since 100% of copper can be recycled without any loss of its original mined quality, it is the third most recycled metal. Over 80% of the copper mined since it was discovered thousands of years ago is still in use today. When copper tarnishes, a beautiful green patina covers the piece.
Copper, according to archeological discoveries, was the first metal used by Neolithic mankind to supplement his stone tools over 10,000 years ago.
Copper's antibacterial properties were used in ancient Egypt to sterilize water and prevent infections.
By 600 BC, copper also saw its first use as a medium of monetary exchange.
Most copper occurs in ores and must be smelted for purity before it can be used. But natural chemical reactions do sometimes release native copper, according to Chemicool; this explains why humans have been making things from the metal for at least 8,000 years. People figured out how to smelt copper by about 4500 B.C., further increasing supplies. The next technological leap was creating copper alloys; by adding tin to copper, people made a harder metal: bronze. The technological development (which occurred at different times in different regions) ushered in the Bronze Age.
Copper artifacts are sprinkled throughout the historical record. A tiny awl, the oldest metal object ever found in the Middle East, was discovered buried with a middle-age woman in an ancient village in Israel. The copper probably came from the Caucasus region more than 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) away. In ancient Egypt, people used copper alloys to make jewelry, including toe rings. Researchers have found massive copper mines from the 10th century B.C. in Israel.
In its elemental form, copper is soft, shiny and highly malleable. Due to its soft nature, it is most often used as an alloy. An alloy is a material comprised of a metal and a non-metal or two metals. Alloys are typically stronger than single metal materials. Two common copper alloys are bronze and brass. Bronze is a mixture of copper and tin, while brass is a mixture of copper and zinc and most popularly used in instruments, including brass instruments. Copper is also an excellent conductor of electricity, which is why it is often used in electrical wiring.
Copper is known as a coinage metal. But why is it so popular in coins? Copper is resistant to corrosion from air and water. According to the the United States Mint, the penny was made from copper or a copper alloy up until 1982. Since then, pennies have been made from 97.5% zinc and plated with copper due to its high cost.
Copper - Just the facts
- Atomic number (number of protons in the nucleus): 29
- Atomic symbol (on the periodic table of elements): Cu
- Atomic weight (average mass of the atom): 63.55
- Density: 8.92 grams per cubic centimeter
- Phase at room temperature: Solid
- Melting point: 1,984.32 degrees Fahrenheit (1,084.62 degrees Celsius)
- Boiling point: 5,301 degrees F (2,927 degrees C)
- Number of isotopes (atoms of the same element with a different number of neutrons): 35; 2 stable
- Most common isotopes: Cu-63 (69.15 percent natural abundance) and Cu-65 (30.85 percent natural abundance)
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What is the history of copper jewelry?
So, what can you make out of copper? Anything and everything! You can make jewelry, utensils, bowls, critters (like fish!), artwork, impress coins on it, hammer it, patina it, enamel it, color it, flame it, twist knots into it, make faces out of it, the options are endless!
Due to its malleability, jewelry makers found it an easy medium to work with and were commissioned by royalty and high officials to create crowns and other elements that signified their station. Copper was also used in religious and spiritual ceremonies, as well as for medical procedures. Hieroglyphics depict that not only was copper valuable, but that copper jewelers and the owners of copper held an increased status in that era.
Early man in the Americas also used copper, mainly to produce jewelry items such as beads and earrings. With the arrival of Europeans on the continent, copper jewelry, mainly bracelets, gained a whole new significance as a trading item for Native Americans. To this day, Native Americans still value copper jewelry highly. In fact, many Native American reservations still produce copper jewelry, with bracelets, pendants and earrings containing Native American markings and etchings being a popular tourist souvenir.
Today, the healing properties and simple beauty of copper still make it a fashionable and highly sought after jewelry item.
- Jewelry: Copper is commonly made into fashion jewelry items, including earrings, magnetic bracelets, charm bracelets, engraved or carved rings, necklaces, brooches, cuffs and chokers. Copper jewelry can be accented with enamel, beads, engravings, gold, brass, nickel or silver plating and can also be embellished with precious gemstones.
- Health benefits: Many civilizations around the world have hailed copper for its health benefits. Copper was used holistically by the ancient Egyptians and Aztecs. Though there is little scientific evidence for the health benefits of copper jewelry, many studies are currently being conducted to determine the connection between copper jewelry and relief from arthritis and other ailments.
Copper jewelry is beautiful and unique. Many believe that copper jewelry pieces such as copper bracelets can also offer relief from arthritis and other medical conditions. The rich bronze color of copper jewelry selections, such as copper rings, necklaces and earrings, can accentuate almost any ensemble, and its malleability makes it a popular choice for jewelry makers. Different types of copper jewelry can be shaped and accented with creative designs and embellishments to serve as an eye-catching accessory for your formal or casual outfit. Try a copper bracelet or copper earrings with other fashion jewelry selections for a look that is unique and interesting.