Named only for its appearance, which very much resembles sterling silver, the alloy is often used as a cheaper version of the precious metal in the manufacture of cutlery, decorative items and musical instruments.
Containing between 7 and 20% nickel, and between 14 and 46% zinc, such alloys can be categorized as a type of brass.
Nickel silver was originally produced during the early Qing dynasty in China (c. 1700), and despite a ban on exports of baitong (or paktong) as it is known in Chinese, the metal found its way to Europe by the early 18th century.
Perhaps ironically, in hindsight, at that time German metallurgists were so impressed by the quality of the Chinese alloy that they began working on ways to recreate the metal. By the late 18th century, types of nickel silver were also being produced in Germany, resulting in the alloy also being referred to as "German silver".
Image: A Qing dynasty baitong (白铜) teapot.