Black Gold — Fact vs. Fiction
Clients frequently ask me if I can design jewelry for them made in black gold. When I try to explain that black gold jewelry just isn’t a thing, they often send me advertisements from websites that offer it.
When a jewelry company advertises “black gold,” this should raise a red flag.
What Some Manufacturers Don’t Want You to Know
What many buyers don’t realize is that the “black gold” rings and pendants they see online are either CAD images or pictures of gold rings plated with black rhodium. Sellers attract buyers with these eye-catching images and leave the “black rhodium plated” part in the fine print.
Other sellers may be more transparent about their use of black rhodium, but they often do not mention how quickly the plating will wear off.
Does this mean you should not buy black rhodium plated “black gold” jewelry? Not necessarily – but there are a few things you should keep in mind.
Rhodium Plating – The Process and its Duration
Rhodium plating is similar to coloring your hair. The original hair color is not changed; the hair is simply covered with a fine layer of a different color material. In the same way, rhodium plating does not change the color of the base metal; it simply covers it with a different colored metal. Normal rhodium is white.
While a good pink temporary hair dye and a good rhodium plating alike wish to be long-lasting, neither is permanent. Both will fade and will need to be recolored in order to maintain the desired look. In the case of rhodium plating, you also have scratches and scuffs to worry about, which will expose the gold underneath.
Depending on several factors – such as how often a jewelry piece is worn, the quality of the plating, and how fresh you want the plating to look – re-plating will be necessary after anywhere from 6 months to 2 years.
How Much Does it Cost to Black Rhodium Plate my Ring? Partially or Fully?
A black rhodium plating will generally cost between $75.00 to $120.00. If you want to just black rhodium plate a portion of your ring it may actually cost more than plating it in its entirety. This is because we have more prep time to mask off the portion of your ring to be left in its original natural color.
The ring above, is a rose gold hand engraved wedding band with black rhodium on the center. It is an excellent example of why a little black goes a long way. By leaving part of the ring in the original rose gold the black area is much more interesting.
Another reason this partial black rhodium is better than total ring black rhodium plating is because it can nestle nicely in the detailed recesses giving a longer lasting black detail. If this ring had a total black plating all over it, the shiny edges would have worn off much more quickly and not in a pleasing way.
Black Rhodium, Yes or No?
A well-done black rhodium plating can really make your jewelry “pop.”
If you see a “black gold” style online that you just love, find out if they can email you a picture or two of an actual finished ring. This will let you see the real thing and not just the idealized CAD Computer Aided Design image. Their description should explain how they achieve the black look; check to see if it mentions black rhodium.
If you love the look of black rhodium and understand its limitations, I say go ahead and get it! If you plan to order a black rhodium plated ring online, you should first make sure that there is a jeweler in your area who can re-plate it. That way you’ll be able to maintain its unique and rockin’ look!
What Else is it if They Say it Isn’t Black Rhodium Plated?
I recently saw this used bracelet with various chips and dings in the black links. We were unable to do anything to the black links except steam them as they were PVD coated. I discuss PVD coating in the post, Plating vs PVD Coating. It describes the differences and may help you make a choice if you are searching for a black or partly black look for your jewelry.
Other black details on jewelry besides black rhodium are oxidation and black enamel. See my blog:Using Oxidation, Black Rhodium and Black Enamel for Black Jewelry.
“So Black Gold Isn’t Real?”
Scientists have recently discovered a method for turning nearly any metal black, making black gold a reality! By using a high-power laser to focus huge amounts of energy on a tiny spot of metal, researchers are able to create microstructures that capture nearly all light that falls on the metal, turning it pitch black.
Unfortunately, the process requires a very expensive femtosecond laser and access to huge amounts of electricity. As such, don’t expect to see this technology used in jewelry making any time soon!
When femtosecond laser technology comes down in price, we’ll have black gold. But for now we have black rhodium and a couple other non-permanent techniques. If someone tries to sell you black gold, it’s a fiction. If they try to sell you black rhodium plated gold or platinum, it’s a fact!
Black Rhodium Jeweler,
As usual, very well done Calla! I would also point out that depending on the process used, the “black” may look more like a “gunmetal gray” rather than a true black. True black can be accomplished, however, by oxidation, but only on a flat surface. I have a wonderful ring by a Turkish designer (during the Ottoman empire, much of the gold jewelry was oxidized to make the stone “pop” — to use your word) that is made in 24 karat gold. It has a very wide shank leading to the flattened top; the top is oxidized to create a… Read more »
Hello Antoinette, Thanks for your addition to the conversation about blackening oxidation. In my years as a jeweler I have re-applied oxidation on rings. The secret to having it work is to have a recessed flat area that it is applied to. Oxidation is not applied to flat areas that are not protected by being recessed as it’d wear off quickly that way. Oxidation does give a deeper black than black rhodium. I write about oxidation, black rhodium and black enamel in this post: https://www.callagold.com/custom-jewelry-design/the-kiss-of-night-for-your-jewelry-using-oxidation-black-rhodium-and-black-enamel/ I love that look you describe of the rose cut diamonds popping out of the… Read more »
Calla, thank you for your post. I would fall into the category of duped black-gold buyers if you hadn’t shared this!
Are there any other metals that we should be aware of in regards to trickery? I want to make sure to always be buying, “the real thing”!
If you stick with gold and platinum the noble metals that have been with us for so long you’ll be safe. The colors gold can be alloyed in are green, rose, white and yellow.
I’m pleased that you’d like to stick to the real thing. Me too!
Your Personal Jeweler,
Most people don’t know that there IS Black Gold and it is found only in one area along the Eastern Sierra in a few gulches. I will not point out a more specific location due to private property owners privacy request.
It is very rare and is GOLD not Rhodium. It has very unusual properties.
Dear Lance, Your High Sierra black gold is a fun unicorn of a thing to want to see. I look forward to seeing it someday or see a picture or reading an article about it. But for now, real or not it is not available in the marketplace. So I do not want business people who sell jewelry to mislead the public buy calling something black gold which suggests that it will remain black, when in fact it is plated or whatever they do to it and not permanent and in many places people can’t put the finish back on.… Read more »
My friend bought a piece of black gold jewelry in Italy, is that also a black rhodium? She was told that Italy has the best black gold.
As far as I know it’d be black rhodium over yellow or white gold. Alternate ways to get a black look is in my blog post here:
The Italians are fantastic designers for jewelry and often quite leading edge on jewelry design techniques. At this time however black gold is not available as a permanent finish. They may guarantee it and have you send it back for re-finishing when it gets funny looking, but black gold is skin deep, and therefore not a permanent thing. And not true black gold.
Your Personal Jeweler,
Thank you Calla, I really like the way black jewellery looks. What permanent black metal do you recomend to mount a precious stone on?
You might try black ceramic. It cannot be sized, but holds its black nicely.
Your Personal Jeweler,
What about gold-chromium-cobalt alloys? After extensive research I’ve found that the oxide produced with the variant gold-cobalt alloy after heat treatment is better than just a plating because it penetrates the surface more. Granted, my ability to produce said alloy is limited, however I could share my detailed findings if you’re interested in experimenting.
I am not expert on this alloy as I focus on gold and platinum. Thank you for informing me of this possibility. Anything that’s penetrate the surface would last longer. If any of my experimental jeweler friends expresses an interest in your experimental work I’ll pass your contact info to them. Thank you for writing.
Your Personal Jeweler,
HI! My engagement ring is black gold how do I find someone to plate it? I’m in Kentucky and pickings are slim here.
It sounds like your ring is black rhodium plated. You’ll probably need to mail it to be plated. We do that.
Your Personal Jeweler,
How much would that cost for me to mail it in and have it plated?
It depends on your ring, but an average is $90.00. I’ll email you with my shipping info.
Your Personal Jeweler,
Thanks for all of the info! If I were to want a different look could I allow the black rhodium to wear off to reveal the underlying (white) gold? Is there a process necessary to remove the plating? Does the plating do damage to the underlying gold?
Dear Erica, Since plating is a topical treatment it doesn’t hurt the underlying gold. You can allow the black rhodium to wear off over time or ask a jeweler to polish your piece. Polishing will remove all the top surface plating. Only parts in recessed areas may stay. My favorite technique with black rhodium is to plate a piece that has engraving on it or some three dimensional texturing, and then lightly polish it to pull the plating off the top surface, leaving the recessed part dark. The light and dark play well together and add depth to the piece.… Read more »
wow Calla Gold i can make blackgold how can you call your self a jeweller if you can not do this easy alloy of gold and it dose not have rhodium in or on it this is the funny’s thing i have read for a long time and it has to be cast you can not roller press it is to hard and i am not going to tell you what the alloy you should know
Hello Samuel, I love my commenting community on my blog. You seem to suggest that you personally use an alloy to create black gold. Yet it is this big secret. I don’t know how my community will like your tease here that black gold is a real and castable thing. In my jewelry community we have discussed the rise in sales pitches for black gold online. These poor jewelers get people coming in who bought rings online and they arrived black and months later do not look black and they want the local jeweler to make it black again. These… Read more »
ok so you need a hand well do you know what cobalt is and what colour it is yes its blue similar to platinum but a bit darker now what happens if you first melt the cobalt and add carbon to it what colour do you get then thats all i a willing to tell you but i have made 6 wedding bands which are 14k black gold and only one has come back because it snapped (p.s) there are a lot of different types of carbon have fun you may need help from a ex foundry worker to get… Read more »
Can these rings be sized? I’ve seen black cobalt, but they aren’t a ring I can work on. Having not seen this type of ring the jury is out for me.
no you can not resize a ring it will micro crack or microfracture or if you get unlucky it will explode in to multple pieces if you try it has to be recast to size and you will have to add some more carbon for some will be lost in the melting process how do you not know this you will have to make more blackgold for the casting process so you can account for contraction
What you are proposing is not a true “Black Gold”. It has serious limitations as a jewelry item. Sizing is an important benefit to a gold or platinum ring and using cobalt eliminates that option.
I would suggest to you that if you have actually created a viable and usable black gold that you present a paper at the Santa Fe Symposium in New Mexico. The remainder of the industry would be very interested in your findings
Hello Michael, Thank you for your reply to Samuel. Truly the Sante Fe Symposium is an excellent place to present Samuel’s experiments. Other jewelers experiment with colored gold, for example purple gold which was used as an inlay and Steven Kretchmer’s blue gold. I completely agree that the minute you take sizability away from gold you’ve removed a basic and necessary part of what makes gold jewelry gold. Thus rendering it not legitimate gold, but a hybrid of sorts. I am reminded of Tiffany’s foray into less expensive red ‘gold’ with their Rubedo line. It had so much copper in… Read more »
I recently had to answer a question with regard to a client’s request for Black Gold. I found your blog about Black Gold extremely helpful in explaining to this client that there is no black gold , but rather it is gold which is plated. Thank you for providing your customers with so much educational material on all aspects of jewelry. By making your customer’s wiser, you have insured their loyalty and respect. Great Job Calla.
Michael, You have made my day. The idea that my blog helped answer a client question you had is wonderful. I actually wrote it after giving this answer to about five people. It’s time consuming to repeat oneself, so I now say. I’ll send you my blog to answer that question then we’ll discuss your project. It works well for me and saves time. The real culprit in the public’s misunderstanding are corporations that decide to market ‘black gold’ jewelry as a thing, with the full strength of an uninformed marketing department behind it. Of course people would like a… Read more »