What is Black Gold and What Makes it Different From Yellow Gold?
Black gold, not to be confused with oil, is real gold that's been alloyed or surface treated to turn the metal a black color. Turning gold black changes the gold to a color other than its traditional yellow/orange tone while retaining its value. There are multiple techniques used to turn gold black, and each technique results in a different shade.
The most common use for black gold is in the jewelry industry as it's a fashion statement to wear gold that's been turned black. A piece of black gold jewelry has the same value as every other color of gold due to the use of real gold in its manufacture. Most of the time, black gold jewelry is made through alloying with metals that oxidize, are plated with a dark-colored precious metal, or made with an alloying process that permanently turns the gold black.
Jewelry made with black gold is striking in appearance, especially when set with diamonds. It's made into rings, pendants, earrings, and more. The following is a look at what black gold is, how it's made, and what to expect from owning and wearing jewelry made from the metal.
What is Black Gold and How is it Made?
Black gold is created using different techniques that turn the gold a specific shade of black. The shades of black range from a deep, light-absorbing black to soft mattes and black-gray tones such as gunmetal or hematite.
Technically, black gold is a manmade material because it doesn't occur in nature. Real gold is alloyed down to a specific karat weight by using cobalt and titanium, copper, or iron. Cobalt is the most commonly used alloy as it delivers the deepest black, but other alloys are used as well. The metals are combined at a ratio of one part metal alloy to three parts gold, then melted together under high heat and poured into a mold.
Certain types of acids turn gold black when they're applied to yellow gold. This process is known as oxidization, but isn't commonly used due to the fact the acids weaken the metals.
Electroplating the jewelry with rhodium or ruthenium turns yellow gold to black. Black rhodium is the most widely used metal for giving gold a black appearance as it imparts a deep shade, is economical, and repairable. The plating wears off over time to reveal the yellow gold that lies underneath, but it can be covered up with a fresh application of black rhodium plating.
Enamel is made from a mixture of glass, potash, iron oxide, colorant, and borax. It turns into a liquid or paste that's applied to the jewelry and fired in a kiln. The enamel turns to liquid and completely coats the piece with a layer of black glass that's permanent. It gives the piece a shiny or glossy look when fully annealed, and is the hardest wearing out of all the finishes.
Placing a Value on Black Gold
Black gold has a base value the same as any other color of gold due to its position as a precious commodity metal. The factors that influence the price you pay at retail include:
The use of black gold in jewelry is considered a fashion as it's a novel effect that's not typically associated with gold. Gold's natural color is the most preferred color due to its association with luxury and wealth, and drives the base value of all jewelry made from gold. A piece of black gold may lose value because it falls out of fashion, but it will retain its precious metal value at all times.
What this means is that you shouldn't avoid black gold because of the perception that it will lose value. If you like it, you should buy it for its enjoyment and store of value. If your piece was made by a popular jewelry designer or manufacturer, it may be able to hold its retail value over time due to its desirability among collectors. Custom-made designs can also enhance the value of a piece due to their one-of-a-kind nature.
The overall value of a piece is increased when it's set with diamonds or other precious gemstones. Diamonds are the most popular gemstone used in black gold jewelry due to the visual contrast and enhancement of the colors. As a general rule, precious stones have an intrinsic value that add to the overall value of any piece of jewelry, and this is true of black gold jewelry.
Will Black Gold Lose Its Color?
The answer is "it depends." There are a number of processes to create black gold, and most of them depend on oxidation or plating to turn the metal black. However, jewelry designer Rogelio Ortega and his metalsmith formulated an alloy that turns the gold permanently black.
Black gold alloyed in the method developed by Rogelio Ortega will not lose its color over time, even if it wears down. The color is created by the metal used to alloy the gold into a particular karat weight, which means the color becomes intrinsic to the piece. That is, the black color is imbued at the molecular level and permanently turns the gold to a dusky black color.
In contrast, gold that's been alloyed with cobalt or plated with rhodium will lose its color from wear. Surface treatment with a laser is also prone to wearing off as the laser only penetrates the uppermost layer of gold. The use of a laser isn't common, which means a majority of black gold jewelry has been electroplated and is easier to restore to its original color when spots of wear show up.
A jeweler can restore a piece of black gold jewelry in an electroplating bath and return it to its original appearance. Pieces that are set with diamonds are the best candidates for restoration as diamonds aren't affected by the process. Other types of stones may need to be removed prior to electroplating, then re-set after the process has finished.
The fact that a piece of black gold jewelry requires replating to maintain its good looks can be a drawback for buyers. On the flip side, electroplating refreshes the look of the jewelry and won't damage the piece. The process can be repeated for as long as the underlying structure of the piece is in good condition.
How to Differentiate Between Real Black Gold and Fake Black Gold
The electroplating process can be applied to every kind of metal, and costume jewelry can be made to look like it's made from precious metal. The most definitive way to find out if the piece is real or not is to take it to a jeweler, but you can visually inspect a piece to look for signs that tell you the piece isn't real.
Look for signs of wear
The materials used for making fake gold jewelry are ones that don't hold up well to wear and environment. If the piece has been poorly maintained since it was made, the signs of wear are obvious and include flaking, cracks, and chips in the metal surface.
It's worth noting that rhodium plating does not flake off like other plating materials. Instead, rhodium wears away over time and reveals the underlying metal in patches. Rhodium is frequently used to plate higher quality metals such as sterling silver and copper. Check areas of wear for the color of the base metal to determine if the piece is real gold or not.
Stamps and markings
Check the inside or the back of the piece for letters or numbers. A karat weight is denoted with a K or a number that states its gold content. Karat weight is most commonly used in the U.S., while other countries use the letter C or decimal points to indicate the purity of the metal. For example, a piece of black gold jewelry that's marked 14K is 14 parts gold and 10 parts alloy, and lets you know that it's made from real gold.
Durability of Black Gold Jewelry
Black gold jewelry is as durable as real gold, but you do have to consider the fact the color wears away over time. You can expect the color to stay for anywhere between three and five years, depending on the type of jewelry you're wearing. For example, a pendant will hold its color for much longer than a bracelet or a ring.
Exposure to the elements, contact with your skin and perspiration, and movement against your body and clothing cause the black plating on a piece to wear away. The only way to avoid these issues is to not wear the jewelry at all, which goes against the reason why you buy it in the first place. Being careful with your black gold jewelry helps to keep it looking great for the long term, and you can always get the color refreshed when the underlying gold is showing through.
Caring for Your Black Gold Jewelry
Taking the time to care for your black gold jewelry helps to preserve its finish. Don't put your jewelry on until after you've done your hair, applied lotion and makeup, and put on some perfume. All of these items have oils in them that can erode the rhodium plating of your piece, and dull the appearance of any stones in the jewelry. Also take off your jewelry before swimming in a pool as chlorine also eats away at the finish.
Separate your black gold from your other jewelry pieces when you're wearing or storing them. The finish can get damaged when it comes into contact with other pieces of jewelry. Rings and bracelets should be worn alone and not placed near other rings or bracelets. That means rings should be worn with no other rings on the same or adjacent fingers, and bracelets should be worn by themselves. Pendants and earrings suffer the least amount of wear due to where and how they're worn.
Cleaning black gold jewelry
Over time, dirt builds up on your jewelry and dulls the finish of the metal and the brilliance of the stones. Your best option for cleaning your black gold jewelry is to go to a jeweler for a professional clean. The jeweler has the equipment and materials that are necessary to clean your jewelry and restore it to a brand-new condition. Taking your pieces to the jeweler also eliminates the risk of damage in the form of scratches and marks that mar the appearance of your jewelry.
In the event you decide to clean your black gold jewelry on your own, don't put your items in an ultrasonic cleaner. Instead, add a gentle dish soap into a bowl of warm water, and use a very soft toothbrush to work the liquid around your piece. Don't scrub; use a gentle pressure and let the bristles do their work. Rinse using lukewarm water and let air dry or blot dry with a towel.
Protecting black gold jewelry from damage
Always protect your black gold jewelry from damage to the best of your ability. The same goes for any type of precious metal jewelry, but black gold is particularly vulnerable due to its plating. Proper care ensures that the piece maintains its good looks for longer.
Keep your pieces separate from your other jewelry, and store as few pieces together as possible. If you have to store multiple pieces together, use jewelry bags made from felt or velvet to soften impacts and prevent direct blows. Last, but not least, consider using a jewelry box that keeps jewelry from moving around and provides separation for the pieces.