Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What is Tombac

Most dictionaries including wikipedia simply define tombac as an alloy of copper and zinc (85-90% and 10-15% respectively). However, tombac-ing, if I may use it as a verb, is a technique of casing or plating with gold. Copper and copper alloys are veneered with an amalgam of gold and mercury, and tombac is the common name for pieces plated with gold using this technique.

It is a delicate process requiring patience and perfect timing. After preparing the gold and mercury amalgam, the piece is cleaned with sulphuric acid. Then it is brushed with mercury diluted in water. Now comes the amalgam which is again brushed over the piece and heated until mercury evaporates. The result is a thick and extremely durable gold plating.

Topkapi Museum hosts a variety of products, trays, bowls, pitchers, torches, candlesticks, chandeliers, etc made of tombac.

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