Have you ever wondered why some antique fine jewelry appears to be made in a dark tone metal? Years ago, when I first visited the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, I was thrilled to view their antique jewelry collection. While examining the pieces, I noticed that many of the settings were almost completely blackened. This was especially true in examples of diamond jewelry made in the Georgian and Victorian era. At the time, it made me wonder...after all, diamonds are typically set in white color metal or yellow gold.
I was so curious -- What was the alloy? Why did they use a black setting for the diamonds? With just a little digging, I learned that many examples of fine jewelry from that time were made in silver and lower carat gold. In the Georgian era, silver was a popular metal to use for creating the settings for diamonds. As the whitest precious metal, silver was seen to complement the “white color” of the diamond.
Gold, silver, pearl, and diamond brooch
European, c. 1880
Image credit: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
You may be thinking...what about platinum? Its strength and ability to resist oxidation or corrosion make it ideal for making jewelry today. Platinum, however, did not become widely available for jewelry making until the late Victorian era. By today’s standards, silver is rather soft and tarnishes easily over time. Decades of oxidation give most antique jewelry made in silver an almost solid black color. While some may see oxidation as something to clean, I love the mysterious look.
Many gemstone and diamond rings from the Georgian era were made in gold, but some had a thin layer of silver soldered over the gold settings. This would cover the gold color of the prongs or setting and provide a “white” frame for the diamond. Kind of interesting right? Quite different from today. The aesthetics of gold as a desired setting material means that jewelry manufacturers typically use gold plating over silver to “increase value” of the final product.
Oxidation is a natural process, but there are many ways to maintain silver jewelry and silverware by removing tarnish. While most oxidation is unwanted, in some contemporary works, it adds an interesting contrast to the design. With the use of specialized chemicals, jewelers bypass the lengthy natural process to achieve an even, saturated effect. This process is called patina.
You can see how this technical process adds a dark-toned element to the Leaf Earrings and Ring collections. This contrast highlights the signature gold and platinum wirework to its best advantage while adding extra strength to the ring design. Using the patina process, I can manipulate the sterling silver to change its color and add visual depth. This technique is an essential part of the design process.
Here is a quick video of how I apply patina to jewelry pieces. Patina might wear off after many years, but it's a simple process to reapply. We provide this maintenance service for all of our collections.