Even if you’ve never heard of Black Hills gold, you’ve likely seen its signature design. Alloys of rose and green gold, along with bright yellow gold, are used to form polished grapes and textured leaves. This motif adorns everything from rings, to cross pendants, to earrings. Black Hills gold is neither a brand, nor a style, but it does have a fascinating history.
The Black Hills label is rather broad. Despite being around for over a century, it wasn’t until 1980 that a judge ruled that only gold jewelry manufactured in the Black Hills region of South Dakota could be labeled “Black Hills gold”. Before this time, any jewelry using the signature tri-color grape leaf design was marketed as Black Hills gold.
The origins of this style date to the 1870’s, designed by a French goldsmith named Henri LeBeau. Although it is known that it was the South Dakota gold rush that brought LeBeau to the region, the inspiration for the grape leaf design is steeped in myth. As the legend goes, the intrepid LeBeau was seeking gold in the Black Hills wilderness when he became completely lost. After days of wandering in search of food and water, he had what he thought was a vision of grapes on a vine. The fruit was real, and so was the stream that ultimately saved him from starvation and thirst. Inspired by his life-changing experience, LeBeau designed the grape and leaf design we associate with Black Hills gold to this day.
Trained by Henri LeBeau, S.T. Butler opened the first Black Hills gold manufacturers in 1878. After dividing into two companies in 1919, both were acquired by Ivan Landstrom in 1944 and 1995. Based on this history, Landstroms claims to be the sole owner of the Black Hills design, although it is not trademarked. Other Black Hills manufacturers include Mt. Rushmore Jewelry, Gold Diggers, Coleman, and Stamper.
Although there are several manufacturers of Black Hills gold, their techniques for creating the grape leaf design are varied. The old fashioned method involves lots of hand finishing techniques, giving each piece a unique touch. This technique starts with the rolling out of colored gold alloys into thin sheets. The leaf shape is then stamped out of the sheets and soldered on to the jewelry. The classic woodgrain texture is created through a technique called “wriggling”, and then the leaf veining is hand engraved.
We love Black Hills gold for its unique look and history. Click the photos to learn more about the pieces you see here, and click here to shop our Black Hills gold collection.