The singular beauty of copper

I have already mentioned on this blog that I find copper to be more beautiful than gold. This is more than an opinion; I regard it as an objective observation. The distinctive orange-red hue of pure copper is patently more vibrant and richer than the highest grade of gold. Moreover, when copper ages, the verdant patina is an incredible metamorphosis of the metal’s surface and I have left this green patina intact when it has developed on my copper candlesticks. A famous example of the beauty of this process is to be found in the Statue of Liberty. The image below shows how this landmark has aged.

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Unlike gold, which has many historical and allegorical associations with human greed (such as Midas), copper has a very positive background indeed. The Ancient Egyptians used it in water piping and for sterilized equipment, and let us not forget that the Scots opted for copper vessels in the whisky-distillation process, a practice that has continued unabated for the past twelve centuries. The photograph below (courtesy of ABC) shows copper whisky stills at the Talisker Distillery on the Isle of Skye. It is interesting that the beverage has a coppery colour at the end of the process. Everyone who likes cooking knows the appeal of copper implements, though I can never bring myself to use my copper kettle and copper colander, as I don’t want to taint them in any way.

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Along with its functionality – a quality that sets it apart from gold – copper has long associations with healing, being used by both the Greeks and Romans as a medication. Indeed, a modern company, Cupron, is dedicated to copper technology and its benefits. There is a strong connection between the metal and love, perhaps owing to the fact that the major source of copper for the Romans was the island of Cyprus, the birthplace of Venus and indeed the term for copper in Latin and English is a corruption of the island’s name, the late Latin cuprum being a contraction of Cyprium. The alchemic symbol for the metal is the same as that for Venus: ♀. Many medieval legends of the Holy Grail portray the chalice as being made out of copper, an appropriation of the associations with love, since on Maundy Thursday the liturgy includes the haunting hymn “Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est” [Where there is love, there God is], a piece of plainchant that possibly dates to the 4th century AD/CE. It is worth taking two minutes to listen to a portion of music that has inspired countless people across the centuries, here. I am also partial to Maurice Duruflé’s 20th-century version, which is both respectful to the original but also injects it with a very subtle and muted undercurrent of vibrancy. An older religious manifestation of copper is to be seen in the bronze doors of the Temple of Jerusalem, bronze being an alloy primarily composed of copper with the addition of tin.

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Today’s pair of cufflinks are relatively modern but are deeply imbued with copper’s long history. They are made out of sterling silver with a central, dominant core of brushed copper. They were designed by Glenn Roll, a renowned Swedish designer, being commissioned to commemorate the 700th anniversary of Stora Kopparberg (Great Copper Mountain), a copper mining company in Falun, Sweden, in 1988. The mine sadly ceased production in 1992, though now operates as a museum. Since it once produced two-thirds of Europe’s copper needs, Sweden’s historical prosperity is very much based on this mine. The copper disks used in the cufflink faces are made out of copper extracted from the mine itself. They bear Gustav Dahlgren’s maker’s mark and the backs have an interesting shape with the occasion of the anniversary engraved on them (below).

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I love this pair, both for the design and for the metals used. The design is robustly industrial, and the shape suggests a key to me, which is appropriate for this mine given how much it contributed to the making of Sweden. It also evokes, at least to me, the allure of copper itself. Not obvious faced with the wide-scale brainwashing of gold’s charms to which we are all subject. Since gladiators used to wear copper cuffs, I also am very seduced by the (loose) association of wearing this ravishing metal in the form of cufflinks.

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