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jewelry glossary

Antique jewelry glossary

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Aluminium
in the United States: aluminum

A bluish silver-white metals that is very light, very malleable, ductile, and resistant to oxidation. Sir Humphry Davy 'aluminium' originally called the metal; the name was changed soon after to 'aluminum', but was then made 'aluminium' in England to conform to the names of other elements such as 'barium'.

In the early decades after its discovery it was more highly prized than gold, and was used in some jewelry made for Empress Eugénie, some articles being displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London.

It is now used in jewelry only for costume jewelry and junk jewelry, some such pieces being given a coloured finish since the introduction of anodizing.

From: An Illustrated Dictionary of Jewelry, autor: Harold Newman, publishers: Thames and Hudson

History on Aluminium

Ancient Greeks and Romans used aluminium salts as dyeing mordants and as astringents for dressing wounds; alum is still used as a styptic. In 1761 Guyton de Morveau suggested calling the base alum alumine. In 1808, Humphry Davy identified the existence of a metal base of alum, which he at first termed alumium and later aluminum.

Friedrich Wöhler is generally credited with isolating aluminium (Latin alumen, alum) in 1827 by mixing anhydrous aluminium chloride with potassium. As the metal had first been produced two years earlier (in an impure form) by Danish physicist and chemist Hans Christian Ørsted, Ørsted can also be listed as its discoverer. Further, Pierre Berthier discovered aluminium in bauxite ore and successfully extracted it. Frenchman Henri Etienne Sainte-Claire Deville improved Wöhler's method in 1846, and described his improvements in a book in 1859, chief among these being the substitution of sodium for the considerably more expensive potassium.

Deville (in his book is "De l'aluminium, ses propriétés, sa fabrication" - Paris, 1859) likely also conceived the idea of the electrolysis of aluminium oxide dissolved in cryolite; however, Charles Martin Hall and Paul Héroult might have developed the more practical process after Deville.

Before the Hall-Héroult process was developed, aluminium was exceedingly difficult to extract from its various ores. This made pure aluminium more valuable than gold. Bars of aluminium were exhibited alongside the French crown jewels at the Exposition Universelle of 1855, and Napoleon III was said to have reserved a set of aluminium dinner plates for his most honored guests.

Aluminium was selected as the material to be used for the apex of the Washington Monument in 1884, a time when one ounce (30 grams) cost the daily wage of a common worker on the project; aluminium was about the same value as silver.

The Cowles companies supplied aluminium alloy in quantity in the United States and England using smelters like the furnace of Carl Wilhelm Siemens by 1886. Charles Martin Hall of Ohio in the U.S. and Paul Héroult of France independently developed the Hall-Héroult electrolytic process that made extracting aluminium from minerals cheaper and is now the principal method used worldwide. The Hall-Heroult process cannot produce Super Purity Aluminium directly. Hall's process, in 1888 with the financial backing of Alfred E. Hunt, started the Pittsburgh Reduction Company today known as Alcoa. Héroult's process was in production by 1889 in Switzerland at Aluminium Industrie, now Alcan, and at British Aluminium, now Luxfer Group and Alcoa, by 1896 in Scotland.

By 1895 the metal was being used as a building material as far away as Sydney, Australia in the dome of the Chief Secretary's Building.

Many navies use an aluminum superstructure for their vessels, however, the 1975 fire aboard USS Belknap that gutted her aluminum superstructure, as well as observation of battle damage to British ships during the Falklands War, led to many navies switching to all steel superstructures. The Arleigh Burke class was the first such U.S. ship, being constructed entirely of steel.

In April 2008 the price of aluminium was around $1.35/lb.

From: Wikipedia

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