Bronze

Characteristics

Bronze is an ancient man-made metal with a history of several thousands of years. It is tough, wear-resistant and ductile, meaning it is easy to draw out into thin wires. 

This metal has a whole era — the Bronze Age — bearing its name, and for good reason. If the invention of bronze hadn’t taken place more than 5000 years ago, our lives today would look very different.

Made of a mixture of copper and tin, bronze has a warm metallic brown tone that gives jewellery a vintage, elegant feel. In art, it is the most popular metal for cast metal sculptures, while in the Olympic games the bronze medal is awarded to the second runner-up, right below silver.

What is bronze?

Bronze is a manufactured product that is traditionally made by melting copper and tin and mixing them together. "True" or "classic" bronze consists of about 90% copper and 10% tin, and it is harder than either of its alloy ingredients.

Other compounds can be added to add strength or lustre. Silicon, for example, when put into the mix, adds a vibrant red-gold hue.

When used in crafting jewellery, bronze can sometimes look quite similar to gold. However, unlike gold, it needs proper care against oxidation and corrosion.

Bronze requires treating or polishing to remove the greenish layer that accumulates on its surface, which is known as patina. Some people love the greenish effect of the patina, which moreover protects the object from further corrosion.

Even though nowadays metals like gold or silver are thought of as more popular in jewellery making, bronze has a unique ability to show even the sharpest detail. This is because after heating and just before solidifying, bronze expands slightly and fills every detail of the mould.

Molten bronze casting at the Crucible Foundry, Oklahoma.

bronze medal olympics

A bronze metal from the 1980 Summer Olympics, held in Moscow.

The history of bronze

The history of bronze begins in the regions of Mesopotamia and Sumer around 3300 BC at the dawn of the Bronze Age. It expanded in ancient Greece around 3000 BC with the birth of great ancient civilisations.

During the Great Bronze Age of China (1700 BC), it transformed lives with the invention of advanced bronze weapons, chariots and fabulous ritual vessels.

Did you know?

Bronze is lighter than stone.

Discovering how to use and how to mix copper was an enormous leap forward from the Stone Age. It enabled casting technologies for the making of new weapons, tools, and art that changed the world. This transition gradually brought about major social and economic advances and it became a hallmark of technical evolution. As a result, the populations of Bronze Age societies increased and states flourished through trade.

Despite the end of the Bronze Age, bronze remained a favourite material for artists throughout human history. Famous examples of bronze art throughout history include the Nebra Sky Disc (1600BC), the Artemision Bronze statue of Zeus (460 BC), Thor’s Hammer (900 AD), Donatello’s Bronze David (1440AD) and Rodin’s The Thinker. (1889)