Over the past decade, the appearance of black gold has slowly slinked in to the world of mainstream jewelry, but its popularity has noticeably surged over the past couple of years. Black gold is increasingly a favorite medium for contemporary designers and major brands alike.
Various colors of gold have ebbed and flowed throughout jewelry’s history: white gold and platinum in the 1920s and 30s, rose gold during the Retro era, yellow gold during the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and white gold in the 1990s and 2000s. Recently, yellow and rose gold have grown back into favor, with black gold not far behind.
The aesthetic of setting gems in blackened metal is not a new concept. From the Georgian period until the late eighteenth century, jewels were set in silver-topped gold; and as the silver tarnished over time, the settings were often dark rather than silvery white. While this burnished metal fell out of favor for more than two centuries, the jewelry designs of the 21st century signify a renaissance for the darkest shade of gold. Advancements in technology and extensive experimentation led to the ‘invention’ of black gold roughly 20 to 25 years ago. The process of blackening gold with surface treatments such as electroplating with black rhodium or controlled oxidation of gold containing chromium or cobalt, for example, has made its production easier and more feasible. Today, black gold is almost as ubiquitous as gold’s more traditional hues.
One jeweler is largely responsible for black gold’s growing presence in today’s jewelry market. JAR, the renowned contemporary designer based in Paris, has championed the use of dark metal settings in his jewelry long before anyone else recognized its dramatic effect and virtuosity. Using oxidized silver and gold settings, in addition to more unconventional metals like titanium and aluminum, JAR’s artistically creative jewels were a significant departure from the fine jewelry designs of the late 1980s and 1990s, an era where white gold ruled. Selecting blackened gold settings in lieu of yellow or white allowed the vibrantly colored gems of his pieces to radiate undeterred, a novel idea in modern jewelry design at the time. Without question, JAR’s influence is not limited to his predilection for dark metal settings; ultimately, his highly imaginative creations have served as a benchmark for a new generation of designers.
Moreover, black gold owes its rise in popularity not just to the design influence of JAR but also to the public’s increased awareness of the elusive designer’s work. The intrigue began with a string of jewelry auctions over the past two decades, in which important collections of his work were sold. The exposure from sales such as Jacqueline Delubac’s in 1998 (which included six pieces by JAR), Ellen Barkin’s in 2006 (who sold a total of 17 of his creations), and most recently Lily Safra’s in 2012 (with 18 pieces) not only offered the public a glimpse at the breadth and brilliance of JAR’s talents but brought to light the unique black metal settings of his jewelry.
Since the Met’s ‘Jewels by JAR’ exhibition in 2013-2014, the presence of black gold in contemporary jewelry has proliferated. The JAR-effect has created a notable shift in jewelry design in general with black gold and other dark metal alloys emerging as clear favorites. Today, nearly every 21st century designer offers a piece of jewelry incorporating black gold in some element of design, or a few of their collections feature the dark setting entirely. What’s more, the success of black gold has opened doors to exploring every possible shade of metal in which to set gems. Titanium, iron, steel, copper, bronze and so forth have evolved from their utilitarian functions to exotic mediums of jeweled art. One thing is for certain, however, the mysterious allure of black gold is here to stay.