Nickel silver is an alloy of copper (45-70%), nickel (5-30%) and zinc (8-45%). In some cases, it can also contain lead, iron, manganese or pewter. Due to its nickel content, nickel silver is harder and more resistant to formation than pure copper, which makes it particularly suitable for knife fittings. Nickel silver can be work hardened (by forging and milling) at temperatures below 500°C. Nickel silver has several other names, some of which points to the history of the alloy, including argentan and packfong. The material is also known as German silver. The alloy originated in China, where it was known as packfong. In Europe, a copper/nickel/zinc alloy similar to packfong was developed in the late 18th century in Thuringia.
The material was improved simultaneously in Saxony and Berlin in the early 19th century. While the Saxon alloy was sold as argentan, the product from Berlin was named nickel silver. Both alloys had similar properties. Apart from these historic terms, the material is also known as alpacca. Its silvery white surface makes this alloy look like silver, but it is much less expensive than the precious metal. Right after the production process was developed, nickel silver was used to make silverware.
Today, nickel silver is still used in the industrial production of silverware, sometimes as a carrier material for silver-plated utensils. In the knife industry, nickel silver is used to make fittings. The crossguard of cutting and stabbing weapons is often made from this alloy.