Chromium is a steely-grey, lustrous and hard metal with a high melting point.
It resists tarnishing and can be highly polished to achieve a mirror-like finish. In fact, polished Chromium reflects almost 70% of the visible spectrum of light.
When left exposed to air, Chromium metal is passivated by oxidation, forming a thin and protective oxide as a surface coating. This insoluble layer, while only a few molecules thick, is very dense and prevents the diffusion of oxygen into the underlying metal, making the material inherently resistant to corrosion. These resilient qualities of the metal pave the way for its applications.
What is Chromium used to make?
Chromium is essential to the discovery and production of Stainless Steel–where the addition of 10 to 30% of Chromium (typically a minimum of 10.5%) makes the steel highly lustrous, and resistant to both corrosion and discoloration. The making of this alloy, stainless steel, is one of the two most significant uses of Chromium. The other is Chrome Plating–a technique where a mirror-like coating of the metal is applied to another surface through electroplating. This can be done for both decorative or functional purposes – the latter being done to increase the strength and corrosion resistance of a substrate material. Chrome plating is most commonly seen on our cars and bicycles and increasingly in furniture and interior design as well.
Chromium metal is also widely used as a catalyst and its compounds are sought after as pigments, for their bright green, yellow, red, purple, black and orange hues. Other applications of the material include the tanning of leather, the making of dyes and wood preservatives.
Chromium in Art and Design
Many artists and designers have relied on Chromium to achieve a signature aesthetic and style in their work. The material, as mirror-finish stainless steel or when chrome-plated onto other metals helps create highly reflective surfaces. Stainless Steel offers longevity, resistance and lasting aesthetic qualities, especially for artworks which will be in the public realm, witnessing high traffic, contact and even be placed outdoors.
Of the two significant ways in which makers, designers and engineers can employ Chromium, Chrome-plating offers a more lightweight and cost-effective solution, as compared to stainless steel. Here, one can capitalise on Chromium to transform a lightweight and less costly substrate material (ranging from other metals to plastic) into objects that appear to be made of solid metal. This can add to the appeal and experience of an artwork, while also paving the way for efficiency in material use.