Things are not always what they seem. The name “Alpaca Silver” would make most people think of a silver that occurs in the Andes mountains where the alpacas roam, or, as some have thought, is made from the furry creatures themselves (Fortunately, this is not the case).
We’ll explain what alpaca silver is, its history and uses.
The Origins of Alpaca Silver
Contrary to what its name suggests, alpaca silver has nothing to do with alpacas or silver. It is based off a Chinese formulation of nickel silver (a type of copper alloy containing nickel and zinc) named paktong, translated in English to “white copper.” Nickel silver has a long history, tracing its origins all the way back to the Qing Dynasty in China. During the Qing period, nickel silver was smuggled into the East Indies in direct opposition to a government ban on export of the alloy.
Europe came to adopt paktong, even referring to the metal by its original Chinese name. Germany began to imitate paktong in 1750, producing several offshoots. Alpaca silver, also known as German silver, was developed in 1823 as the result of a German competition held with the goal of developing an alloy that had the most visual similarity to silver. Its trademark name Alpacca became widely known in Northern Europe as a source of nickel silver.
Although it is not as financially valuable as silver, alpaca silver is a popular material amongst some jewelers and craftsmen.
The Use of Alpaca Silver in Jewelry
In Mexico, Central America and South America, alpaca silver is frequently used to make jewelry and crafts. It is incredibly durable and malleable, allowing itself to be shaped into detailed pieces while being strong enough to hold its shape. The end products can be beautiful, but people with nickel allergies should avoid wearing alpaca silver jewelry to avoid potential breakouts.
Watch Out for Fraud
Though alpaca silver is important as a crafting material, you wouldn’t want to buy it thinking you are investing in silver. Many counterfeiters have used nickel silver to create coins and medallions, later selling them under the guise of these items being made of silver. Fraud also occurs when replica bullion bars marked as “German silver” or “nickel silver” are sold without any warnings that they contain no elemental silver. Make sure to always buy your precious metal investments from a reputable dealer.
Alpaca silver may not quite live up to the reputation silver has, but it has still found a valuable niche within the world of metals.