Singing The Virtues Of Black Hills Gold

I was the lucky recipient of a Black Hills Gold necklace this past Christmas from a very special person in my life. I heard through the grapevine that it was either the necklace or a leaf blower that he was debating between. A friend told him that he may want to forego the practical in favor of something more personal. Now, mind you, I do need a leaf blower. It would have been OK. The necklace is better.

This is just my way of thinking, but jewelry should mean something. I will not buy it for myself, instead it has to come from someone special and that gives meaning to any piece I wear. I would not have bought myself the Black Hills Gold. I will buy a leaf blower. The leaf blower will eventually wear out. The necklace I will cherish forever.

What adds to the charm is that this is not merely gold jewelry, but Black Hills Gold, something that has always captured my heart.

Black Hills Gold jewelry is manufactured in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Most all pieces are classic, nature-themed selections. The designs use grapes, grape leaves and grape stems and are easily recognizable for their distinctive colors. It comes in hues of green, pink and gold. The colors are created with gold alloys that tint the gold.

Pure 24 Karat gold bars and stocks of pure silver and copper are the basic materials. The different colors of gold used for leaves and other details are made when the pure 24 Karat yellow gold is alloyed (or mixed) with copper to produce the traditional 14 karat pink or red gold or the gold is combined with silver to create the 14 karat green gold. The green is generally used for leaves and vines and the pink is used for the grape clusters. After the alloys are made the resulting gold bars are readied for rolling.

The alloyed gold bars are rolled by presses to different thicknesses for different types of jewelry. Each part is carefully stamped, one at a time, out of the rolled gold sheets using patterns and dies. The solid gold leaves and other patterns are then ready to be added to a cast jewelry base.

The cast pieces are then polished by one of two methods, either traditional hand polishing using a wheel, or a process called “tumbling.” For this process many castings at one time are placed in a tub or cylinder with different sizes and shapes of metal, rubber or other materials in a liquid solution, then agitated or rotated until they have been polished smooth. These smooth, cast pieces are then ready for the stamped components, like leaves and grapes, to be mounted on them.

Some manufacturers use the traditional method to attach the pieces, where the stamped components are individually hand-soldered to the cast gold frame using torches and karat-gold solder. Other factories place the solder and components together on the cast item, leaving several such assemblies in a soldering oven where they are soldered by the heat of the oven.

The jewelry is almost finished, it only lacks being cleaned in a mild acid bath then inspected using high quality standards. A finishing technique known as “wriggling” textures the leaves, creating a textured or frosty effect. Each leaf vein is then hand-engraved for a brilliant, light-catching finish.

Each piece is polished in several different steps to bring out its brilliant luster. Many pieces of Black Hills Gold contain gemstones. If an item has these stones in its design, it is sent to the stone setting department for mounting to complete the process.

Jeweler S. T. Butler is credited as the initial creator of Black Hills Gold jewelry. In 1878 he and Charles Barclay opened a jewelry shop in the small Black Hills town of Central City, South Dakota. They used design patterns that Butler brought from Montana and relied on kerosene torches and hand-held punches to manually craft the jewelry.

Black Hills Gold generally comes from Lead, South Dakota, which was home to one of the most productive mines in the world until 2001. The mine produced 10% of the world’s gold products over a century. Sadly, today most mining in the Black Hills has ceased.

The 1970s saw many lawsuits filed against jewelers trying to mimic Black Hills Gold. Many people think the gold for Black Hills Gold must be mined from the Black Hills area. On the contrary, in 1980 U. S. District Court Judge Andrew Bogue ruled that any jewelry carrying the Black Hills Gold label must only be manufactured in the towns scattered through South Dakota.

Most of this jewelry is comprised of 10 karat yellow gold, used for ring shanks, earrings and pendant bases. The 12 karat gold is your pink and green alloys and the 14 karat are earring posts. Select wedding sets are made with 14 karat gold shanks. All pieces should have a maker’s mark to indicate who made the piece. This is usually a distinctive logo which is cast or stamped into the item, often next to the karat mark signifying the gold content.

Because Black Hills Gold is an alloy, it can tarnish. Hand lotions, cosmetics and hairsprays can damage the pieces. Regular cleaning with a soft toothbrush, warm water and a small amount of ammonia can bring back the luster. However, some people prefer the antique look that tarnishing gives the gold.

Black Hills Gold is a colorful choice for either everyday wear or a night on the town. As for me, it is a clear choice. I am keeping the Black Hills Gold necklace and foregoing the leaf blower. It just boils down to priorities!

Published on Jan 21, 2016

Grit Magazine

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