Published on January 4, 2010
Beautiful black in jewelry Blackened silver, blackened steel, distinctive blackened alloys, and even black gold and platinum are now Couture show staples. At the recent JA New York Summer Show, blackened metal styles had migrated from the designer aisles in to the showcases of more traditional companies. Today, blackened metal has moved from a corner of the jewelry wholesale and jewelry industry to its center showcase. There's six major reasons for the trend. First, blackened silver is a way for luxury lines to layer in sterling styles without diluting brand prestige. Black says fashion, not affordability. Second, blackened metal provides a dramatic backdrop for gemstones. Third, blackened pieces mix well with white or yellow metal-even high-karat gold. Finally, since black apparel is a stylish woman's staple, it slips easily in to everyday wardrobes. "It's chic, it is affordable, it is so different and it is sexy ," says Julie Ettinger of Ylang-Ylang in St. Louis, Mo. "We have it front and center in our window display right now. The sell-through has been fabulous." Nicole Gorman of I. Gorman Jewelers in Washington, D.C., expects to add to the store's blackened steel, oxidized silver and blackened gold options thanks to their widespread appeal. "It's funny, it ranges from the young and hip to the more mature customer-it is contingent on the designer," Gorman says. "Black creates a more casual look. It can be bold, funky and playful or more refined." Methods and materials The most commonly blackened jewelry metal is silver, but different processes generate various effects. Plating silver with black rhodium can generate a high-polished black surface, although results depend on the original surface's texture. A third process involves plating with ruthenium, another platinum group metal that is more charcoal gray but takes on different colors depending on the surface texture. Designers usually craft what is commonly called "oxidized silver" by exposing silver to liver of sulfur, a mixture of potassium sulfides that lends silver a soft, gray-to-black hue. Both ruthenium and black rhodium plating can be used on any metal, including gold, platinum, even copper. Tiffany & Co. recently launched a new version of Elsa Peretti's signature "Bone Cuff" in charcoal ruthenium over copper, retailing for $395 (it is $650 in sterling). Lika Behar, a designer who often combines darkened silver with 22-karat gold, offers both black rhodium and sulfur-oxidized black pieces. Artistry, Ltd. plates its charcoal gray sterling silver links with ruthenium, which the company's Laura Klemt says "is harder than gold and more durable."
"I like the look of liver of sulfur better, it is more organic, but it is not as practical," Behar says. "Some customers prefer black rhodium." "I'm using a selenium toner from the photo industry on the steel to get the color," he says. Patricia Tschetter of Tschetter Studio, who has used the liver of sulfur process for her last several oxidized sterling collections, launched a new collection in blackened steel at the JA New York Summer Show. And Graham's oxidized cobalt chrome is not the only unusual black alloy. Yossi Harari mixes 25 percent gold and 75 percent silver then blackens it, calling it "gilver." New designer Okomido employs a centuries-old alloy of gold and copper called shakudo, which was originally used for Japanese sword fittings and is treated to generate a dark chocolate patina designed to look better with age. Tips: Wear and care "It gets burnished over time... and becomes an expression of the wearer," says designer Midori Ferris Wayne. Most blackened styles are protected with wax or lacquer, but the dark surface-only cover will finally wear away. • Black rhodium, the plating of choice for blackened silver chains, is more durable than sulfur- blackened styles but can still scratch or chip so it may need to be re-plated, like rhodium-plated white gold. Ask designers about returning pieces for resurfacing. • Most oxidized sterling styles are protected by beeswax, which is gradually dissolved by soap. Designer Page Sargisson says periodically applying Nivea hand lotion to seal in the oxidation works well. • Raised elements or texture help protect the surface and permit darkened metals to age gracefully. For pieces like Okomido's shakudo styles, wearing creates a "living finish" meant to enhance the piece's look. • To prepare collectors for burnishing, Sarah Graham uses a card that shows a photograph of a worn-in ring, detailing how the texture of the surface becomes more apparent as the top layer wears. (More information @ http://www.jewelrywholesale-cn.com/ )
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