Black Rhodium: Welcome to the Dark Side

While bright white silver finishes have long been staples in fine jewelry, up and coming trends are taking a darker turn and favoring materials like black rhodium that offer an edgier, more dramatic look.

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Our Jeep Tire Ring looks dashing in Black Rhodium

Black rhodium is a well kept secret among jewelers, many of whom will not disclose the exact proportions of ingredients in the plating baths that produce the various hues of gray-black silver. These secrets are so well guarded that when asked about the specifics of the process, industry professionals often give a quasi-joking response along the lines of, “if I told you, I’d have to kill you.” Without earning a spot on our jeweler’s hitlist, we can tell you that black rhodium is an alloy of the same rhodium used in white gold. A certain, inky chemical is added to the rhodium and bonds with the metal and the resulting solution is used in an electroplating bath.

Because black rhodium is plated, you’ll never find a piece of jewelry made entirely of black rhodium. Given its rarity as a mineral (it is the rarest metal in the world), as well as its durability, rhodium is a natural selection as a plating material; it provides resistance to abrasions and tarnish while using a relatively small amount.

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Loose and pressed rhodium metal. Image Credit:  Alchemist-hp, CC BY-SA 3.0 de

The deep, gunmetal grey gives traditional jewelry a more dramatic flair and it perfect for pieces with designs or engraving, as these tend to stand out more with time, even when the plating begins to fade. Like most metal plating, with significant wear and use, plating will eventually begin to rub away and need to be re-plated every few years. Thankfully, many jewelers are capable of replating a piece for less than $100, a small investment in keeping your jewelry looking like new.

Rhodium is found naturally in trace amounts within platinum and nickel ores, making it exceptionally difficult to collect. Its rarity, along with its desirable properties, has at times driven the price of rhodium to eight times higher than the price of gold. However, recent changes in the supply of car manufacturers, which use rhodium for catalytic converters, have increased the use of recycled rhodium and boosted above ground supplies of the precious metal. Out of the world’s supply of rhodium, only a small amount is used in jewelry. Its recent use in high end retailers like Tiffany and David Yurman, however, have driven its popularity and demand significantly over the last 10-20 years.

Whether you prefer the traditional bright silver rhodium or it’s deeper black alternative, there’s a jewelry style out there for everyone. Let us know in the comments what YOU think of black rhodium!

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