What is a word or phrase for the kind of metallic colouring shown in the photo, which shows a sculpture in Hong Kong? This colouring is not uniform. It has a sort of dark gold base and in places, where you might imagine it has been rubbed or stressed, it has shiny blue and purple.

I believe the site rules require me to post an example sentence. Here is one:

"Have you seen the sculpture by the harbour, the one that is ***?"

enter image description here

  • 3
    Does the color change depending on the angle you look at it (like a film of oil on water), or is it just painted/dyed with different colors in different parts?
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 25 at 11:24
  • 2
    It changes a little. There could well be the same kind of physical thing going on as with a film of oil on water.
    – tell
    Commented Mar 25 at 11:51

5 Answers 5


These colours have to do with iridescence;

(Wikipedia) Iridescence (also known as goniochromism) is the phenomenon of certain surfaces that appear gradually to change colour as the angle of view or the angle of illumination changes. Iridescence is caused by wave interference of light in microstructures or thin films. Examples of iridescence include soap bubbles, feathers, butterfly wings and seashell nacre, and minerals such as opal.

                                                             enter image description here

The colours characterized by this phenomenon can be called iridescent colours.

Animal Biochromes and Structural Colours: Physical, ... - Denis Llewellyn Fox · 1976 IRIDESCENT COLOURS The finely colour'd Feathers of some Birds , and particularly those of Peacocks Tails , do , in the very same part of the Feather , appear of several Colours in several Positions of the Eye , after the same manner ...

  • 2
    It reminds me of the iridescence you get on bismuth crystals upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/1f/…
    – PM 2Ring
    Commented Mar 25 at 21:30
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    @PM2Ring The variety and vividness of the colours on bismuth crystals are startling.
    – LPH
    Commented Mar 25 at 21:49
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    @MetaEd I think there is no change in the colours of the spectrum as the angle of vision changes, and so the two terms are probably not synonymous. Where do you get this equivalence?
    – LPH
    Commented Mar 25 at 22:20
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    Agreed, the picture shows iridescence. Just want to throw out the related "opalescent" and "pearlescent" in case it helps anyone in the future. Commented Mar 26 at 1:08
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    @LPH changing as angle changes is not a necessary part of what iridescent means. I know search results from some online abridged dictionaries can give that impression. But the primary sense is "displaying colours like those of the rainbow, or those reflected from soap-bubbles and the like". A secondary sense is "glittering or flashing with colours which change according to the position from which they are viewed". This was a natural development from the fact that the colors of some iridescent objects (sense 1) do change according to angle (sense 2).
    – MetaEd
    Commented Mar 27 at 20:11

If I were attempting to create such a piece, I would describe the process of coloring it as anodizing, or the end product as anodized metal.

While most anodizing is done only for the protection it offers and doesn't create colors, the use of coloration with it is common.

Although dyes can be uses with anodization, this particular piece looks to me like it is mostly likely not dyed, but using interference coloring.

(Wikipedia) Interference-colored anodized aluminum parts exhibit a distinctive quality: their color varies when viewed from different angles.

Youtube video of a more technical description for coloring by anodizing: Anodizing (Or the beauty of corrosion).


The colours are likely created by heat treating or anodizing, depending on the metal. That refers to the process, however, not the colour itself. I would use iridescense myself, but I've also heard the term "Oilslick"

  • +1. I would use “iridescent”/“iridescence” for describing the visual effect, and “oilslick” for specifying the finish: “Items with an oilslick anodization are iridescent.”
    – RLH
    Commented Mar 27 at 3:35

Pearlescent and nacreous are two more synonyms of iridescent that could be used to describe such an effect.


Opalesque, having the same irridesent quality of a opal

  • You should include a source (e.g. dictionary) definition or other citation/evidence that demonstrates to the OP the use of the word and that it is applicable.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Mar 27 at 11:02
  • What a great answer from a new contributor. the only thing of value on the page as an alternate to iridescence.
    – Fattie
    Commented Mar 27 at 12:44
  • 5
    Opalescent is far more common than opalesque and would be a better choice.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Mar 27 at 13:23

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