Black Hills gold is a jewelry type that is manufactured in South Dakota’s Black Hills. It was created during the Black Hills Gold Rush around the 1870s by a French goldsmith called Henri LeBeau, who’s said to have dreamed the design after he had passed out from starvation and thirst. The distinctive thing about this type of jewelry is that it is designed to depict grape clusters, vines, and leaves, and is made using pink gold, green gold, and alloys of gold with yellow gold.
This jewelry incorporates the use of grape stems, grape leaves and grapes in its design and can easily be recognized for its unique and rather distinctive colors. Copper is fused with yellow gold to create pink or red gold, and silver is blended with yellow gold to create green gold. In the 80’s, an injunction was passed stating that if a jeweler calls their jewelry Black Hills Gold, the jewelry must have been made in the Black Hills. The earlier versions of this jewelry were initially made using gold mined in South Dakota, but this has changed since the closure of Homestake Mine, where the gold was initially sourced.
How Black Hills Gold Jewelry Is Made
The basic materials for this jewelry include copper, pure silver and pure 24-Karat gold (does not necessarily have to have come from the Black Hills of South Dakota). While pure gold, silver, and other precious metals can be sourced from anywhere in the world, the finished product to be authentic Black Hills gold must be produced/made in the South Dakota’s Black Hills.
The different color variations of gold used to create things like leaves and other minute details are all made when 24-karat yellow gold is mixed with copper to create 14-karat red/pink gold. When combined with silver, it creates 14-karat green gold. The gold bars produced are then prepared for rolling.
These gold alloys are then rolled by powerful presses to various thicknesses for different jewelry types. The resulting parts are then stamped out using dies and patterns. When that’s done, the leaves and other patterns are then added to cast jewelry bases.
Cast pieces are polished using either one of two methods; hand polishing using a wheel or through a special process known as tumbling. Tumbling is where several gold castings are all placed in a cylinder or tub with different shapes and sizes of rubber, metal or other materials and a solution before being rotated or agitated until they have a smooth, polished finish. The smoothened cast pieces are now ready for stamped items like grapes and leaves to be mounted.
Some Black Hills gold jewelers use the more traditional approach of attaching pieces where they individually hand-solder each stamped component to the cast gold frame using karat-gold solders and torches. Others, on the other hand, place the components and solder together on the cast item before placing them in a soldering oven to be soldered by the oven’s heat.
The almost-done jewelry is then cleaned in a mildly acidic bath before its quality is inspected. If it passes inspection, a final technique called wriggling, which textures the leaves, is done to create a frosty/textured effect. Each of the leaf’s veins is then engraved by hand for a light-catching, brilliant finish. To achieve their brilliant luster, each piece goes through several polishing steps. Those items with gemstones in their design are then taken to the stone setting department for mounting. Once the stones are set, each Black Hills gold jewelry piece is given one last inspection to ensure quality.