Visit our facebook page.
Nickel is a naturally occurring, lustrous, silvery-white metallic element. It is the fifth most common element on earth and occurs extensively in the earth's crust. Unfortunately, most of the nickel is inaccessible in the core of the earth. Nickel has a high melting point (1453 ºC), resists corrosion and oxidation, it is very ductile and is ferromagnetic at room temperature. It is also expensive compared to most other engineering metals.
Nickel silver, also known as German silver, Argentann, Paktong, new silver, nickel brass, or Alpacca (or Alpaca), is a copper alloy with nickel and often zinc. The usual formulation is 60% copper, 20% nickel and 20% zinc. Depending on other elements added the colour varies from a yellowish brassy colour to a bright, silvery white. It contains no silver but has been widely used for centuries, firstly as to be silver coated as silverware. Later, as it's engineering properties such as ductility and corrosion resistance became more apparent, it became widely used in engineering and architectural products. In the twentieth century, nickel alloy, was the metal most used in the production of exposed metal sinks prior to the introduction of stainless steel, most notably Monel, a very expensive nickel alloy invented by the International Nickel Company and named after its president.
Pure nickel is very rarely used as a working metal, to achieve the most from its properties, it is almost always alloyed with other metals. All solid nickel sinks available today, for good reasons, are made from nickel alloys such as nickel silver or cupro nickel. Nickel alloys offer improved corrosion resistance and superior workability, enabling styles of sink which would be almost impossible to make using pure nickel. The downside of this is the effect alloying will have on the colour of the metal. Even with the use of carefully selected added metals, the colour, lustre and depth of pure nickel is so unique it cannot quite be replicated in alloyed nickel.
There is one way to provide the look of pure nickel and that is by plating it onto a copper sink. This has considerable economic advantages too with a plated sink costing much less than a solid nickel alloy one. The problem with nickel plated sinks is the amount of abrasion the plating can take before the copper is exposed. The quality and depth of plating will have a major bearing on the time this takes but it is still likely to appear at some point. For most users, a kitchen sink takes a lot of punishment. crockery, cutlery and glassware are continuously impacting and dragging across the surface, foods containing slightly corrosive compounds in regular contact with the sink and harsh chemicals used for cleaning as well as those accidental and unexpected chemicals like someone washing off their tools. Pure nickel plating will also tarnish with a darkish oxidation layer, each time you clean this off you are removing a tiny layer of the plating.
The surface can be protected by using a polish free wash such as beeswax, although in order to keep the sink looking bright it will need to be applied weekly or at least on a regular basis. Bathroom sinks in comparison have a very easy life and and the plating on the sink is likely to serviceable over its expected life.
In essence, if the colour or cost is the primary consideration then a plated sink maybe the right choice for you but bear in mind, firstly, with heavy use the plating may wear through to the copper in places and secondly you will have to clean it regular or put up with it gaining a dark oxidating layer where it gets little wear. If your sink is more of a show piece, a bathroom sink, or just a light duty secondary sink, the occasional wax will keep the natural beauty of nickel on show. If you are willing to pay and are looking for a robust, serviceable sink that you don't mind cleaning and polishing, or you like the patina that will occur as it ages naturally naturally, then a solid nickel alloy is more likely to suit your needs. If you want your sink to be tough, serviceable and stay bright without any maintenance, then as you have taken the time to read this, you are right back to where you most likely didn't want to be, choosing stainless steel.
A brace of hand made, solid nickel silver, farmhouse sinks by Texaslightsmith. The first shows a hand hammered apron front, the second photo shows smooth, brushed finish.
A twin under-mount sink. A hammered copper sink plated with nickel.
A bright, nickel plated over hammered copper, under-mounted farmhouse sink.