Unfortunately, there's not a lot of transparency in the jewelry industry, and customers often feel like they never know what they're getting when it comes to fashion jewelry. I don't claim to be a jewelry expert (quite yet), but I've learned a lot throughout my years as a designer. Since I create statement pieces with bronze and brass, I'd like to share a bit about what I've learned.
1. You're probably not allergic to it. Most people with metal allergies are affected by nickel. Unless you have a known allergy to any of the elements listed in #2, you're golden! (Did you catch my clever pun there?). If you do have a nickel allergy, ear posts made out of sterling silver or gold fill are your best bets for preventing irritation. Although surgical steel is commonly thought to be hypoallergenic, it actually contains about 8-10% nickel. P.S. Do NOT under any circumstances google image search "infected piercing." Seriously.
2. Brass and bronze aren't the same, but they're close. Brass and bronze are alloys (or mixtures of metals) containing mostly copper. However, brass also includes zinc, while bronze includes tin. Traditionally, bronze has a slightly deeper, more red tone, but there are many variations of color for each. Bronze is a harder metal than brass, but for jewelry purposes, the pricing and way they wear are very similar.
3. Cast brass slowly develops a natural patina. Casting is the process of heating a metal until it's molten and then shooting it into a mold. Much like sterling silver, cast brass and bronze jewelry will gradually darken over time, and can be polished back to luster with a polishing cloth. Sweat and moisture are the main culprits that cause tarnish (along with lotion, perfume and swimming pools). These are my favorite jewelry polishing cloths, and I favor cleaning jewelry with soap and water rather than cleaning solutions. Keeping brass and bronze jewelry in a dry, plastic bag will also help slow down formation of patina
4. It might turn your skin green, but that's ok. Some people green and other don't, depending on the chemical make-up of their skin. Greening is a completely harmless reaction of metal to the moisture on your skin. While it's often associated with cheap jewelry, this can occur with all price points of jewelry that use metal alloys. Coating the inside of a ring with clear nailpolish, or this jeweler's skin guard can help keep your fingers their natural shade. While I find that soap and water usually does the trick with removing greening, rubbing alcohol and eye makeup remover can also help.
5. Stamped brass is more susceptible to fingerprinting and discoloration. Unlike cast brass, components like those pictured above are created by rolling out a flat sheet of metal and punching out a shape. Unless these types of pieces are plated or coated with a sealer, they typically show harsh discoloration and fingerprinting very quickly. If a piece is described as "raw brass," it isn't plated or coated. I haven't figured out the science of why this happens more with stamped brass, but I've seen it from experience.
I hope these brass jewelry tips have helped a bit – I know I'm barely scratching the surface, so I plan to have more detailed posts like these in the future!