What is Alpaca?

The concept of alpaca has different meanings depending on its etymological root. When the term comes from the Aymara all-paka, it refers to an animal originating from the American continent whose hair is highly valued for making various textile products.

Scientific name Vicugna pacos, the alpaca is a mammal that belongs to the group of artiodactyls, since they rest at least two of their fingers on the ground. Alpacas, on the other hand, are part of the family of camelids, more precisely of the Lamini tribe (like llamas, vicuñas and guanacos).

The alpaca inhabits the Andean region, especially in the puna and other high plateaus. Most of the specimens are found in Peru, although alpacas can also be found in certain regions of Chile, Bolivia, Argentina and Ecuador.

Like camels and llamas, alpacas spit when they want to defend themselves or as a mechanism of aggression. These animals can measure about a meter and weigh up to seventy kilograms. As for the textile use of her hair, it is used to make scarves, ponchos and blankets, among other products.

The characteristics that can be seen externally in its fiber make it possible to differentiate two races: the huacaya, in which the growth of the fiber occurs perpendicular to its body, with a spongy appearance and relatively short streaks; the suri, whose fiber grows parallel to the body, with curlers throughout its surface, which is shiny and silky.

Alpaca, on the other hand, is the name given to an alloy consisting of nickel, copper and zinc. Due to its brilliance and tonality, alpaca is similar to silver and is used for the production of coins, surgical instruments, elements for musical instruments and costume jewelery (bijouterie). According to its composition, it is possible to differentiate between alpacas of different qualities.

The name that this alloy was originally given is maillechort, although it has also been called German silver, allenid, argentine, new silver and white metal. The proportions of the different elements that make up the alpaca are as follows: between 8 and 45 percent zinc; 45 to 70 percent copper; between 8 and 20 percent nickel.

When the alpaca contains a percentage of copper greater than 60, it is called a single-phase alloy and stands out for being very easy to work at room temperature and for its great ductility. Furthermore, it is possible to achieve considerable resistance to corrosive media if combined with nickel; so much so that the percentage of the latter is a determining factor in the quality of alpaca, and in this context it is possible to distinguish three different grades: first quality, with 22% nickel; second quality, when it contains 11%; third quality, if it only reaches 6%.

Alpaca as an alloy is a discovery of two French chemists called Chorier and Maillot, and dates from 1819, hence its original name was a combination of these two last names. His work aimed to find a material very similar to silver for the manufacture of utensils such as cutlery and other elements of the table that are typically made of silver.

Currently, alpaca is used to make various items, including the following: tableware, zippers, keys to musical instruments (such as the oboe), religious figures, straws called bombillas (an Argentine drink called mate) uses these products in particular), coins and guitar frets (each metal strip that is located on the neck of the instrument at a certain distance so that when the strings are pressed between them a certain sound is produced).