Black Rhodium: What Is It?

It’s a gothic trend, but people are loving the gunmetal look of certain pieces of jewelry from high-end designers. The black background color of the metal seems to make diamonds sparkle even stronger, and there’s an aesthetic punch when paired with colored stones. But what exactly is this stuff? Read on to learn more about black rhodium and how to get it done.

Black Finishing On Jewelry

Before we get into black rhodium, it’s important to note that there are a lot of ways to change the color of jewelry. For instance, the following antiquing techniques have been used in jewelry production:

  • Enameling: An application of a substance, historically powdered glass, onto the top of the jewelry. A baking process solidifies the substance and adheres it to the surface, forming a hard colored covering.
    enameling-jewelry

    A black antique ring with enamel re-applied to missing areas

  • Antiquing/Oxidation: This process dips the piece into a solution that creates a chemical reaction. This chemical reaction darkens the metal to mimic old jewelry that has been left out for a long time, a desirable aesthetic for some designers and consumers.
    black-rhodium-antiquing

    This little antique bulldog pin is heavily oxidized.

  • E-coating: A very new finishing technique on the market that combines both gold electroplating and enameling. Instead of gold, acrylic or ceramic is deposited onto the surface, and then baked to harden the coloration.

While all of these techniques can darken the surface of your jewelry, black rhodium is different. Here’s how.

What is Black Rhodium?

black-rhodium-opal-ring

This opal ring is coated with black rhodium.

Rhodium is a strong, precious metal that doesn’t tarnish and is quite resilient. In its natural form, rhodium takes on a beautiful silvery color, and it’s commonly used in the jewelry industry to enhance the appearance of other metals such as silver and white gold.

Black rhodium, on the other hand, is not a naturally occurring metal. It’s a proprietary alloy that combines rhodium with other metals to create a signature gunmetal look. Because it’s a closely guarded commercial secret, it’s hard to determine what exactly goes into the mixture to darken the metal, but a few guesses include ruthenium, tin sulfate, tellurium oxide and arsenic trioxide. Think of it as a recipe that Grandma refuses to hand over. 

One common misnomer for black rhodium is “black gold.” This is not an alloy that exists, but because it sounds unique and interesting, many jewelry retailers will erroneously use this term to market black rhodium plated jewelry.

How does the plating work?

The process of rhodium plating works similarly to most plating processes in jewelry- it takes a lot of cleaning, a lot of polishing, and a lot of science. First, the item is polished so that the surface is smooth and ready for plating. Any blemishes on the item will be visible under the plating, so it’s important to prepare the jewelry properly.

After the polishing, the piece is rinsed in several variations of distilled water to chemically prepare it for the plating process. To save you from the technical jargon, any impurities on the item will negatively impact the plating.

Once it’s been properly rinsed, the jewelry is submerged in a tank that contains a solution with rhodium particles in it. An electrical current runs through the tank, causing a chemical reaction that bonds the rhodium particles to the surface of the jewelry. 

It should be noted that black rhodium is less commonly used to plate an entire piece of jewelry (especially rings), as opposed to its silvery natural version. This is because black-rhodium plated items will show wear more quickly, as its sharp color contrasts with the base metal. It’s more often used for detailing work such as contrasting with colored gemstones, or drawing attention to a pattern in the design. For this kind of plating, the jeweler doesn’t submerge the whole item into a plating tank. Instead, they’ll use a jewelry plating pen, which directs the plating solution into a small utensil that can get at the tiny details in the jewelry. 

Taking care of black rhodium jewelry

black-rhodium-earrings

These earrings have been coated with black rhodium to make the CZs pop.

As with all plated items, black rhodium-plated jewelry needs to be maintained. Rings and bracelets are the easiest to wear down, since they’re on your hands and come into contact with many surfaces on a daily basis. Earrings and necklaces are less likely to lose their plating. 

To keep your black rhodium jewelry in good condition, make sure to do the following:

  • Take your rings and bracelets off before doing anything strenuous with your hands (like going to the gym!)
  • Wipe it down with a soft cloth after wear.
  • Don’t wash your hands with black rhodium rings on.
  • Don’t shower with your jewelry on.
  • Don’t go swimming with your jewelry on.

Exposure to harsh chemicals and abrasion will wear down your jewelry, regardless if it’s black rhodium-plated or not. If you want your precious pieces to last longer, they’ll need some TLC. 

Price of Black Rhodium Plating

The price for black rhodium plating varies depending on the complexity of the work needed, and the size of the piece. An intricate ring may be on the slightly pricier end, as the jeweler will have to sit there and plate every minute detail, but it won’t exceed the price of plating a whole Cuban chain necklace. You can expect black rhodium plating prices to start at $45 and rise from there depending on the type of jewelry.

Now you’re up-to-date on black rhodium! If you’d like to have a piece plated or touched up, contact us here

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