The history of Black Hills Gold Jewelry

RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA TV) - Black Hills Gold pieces are timeless and one-of-a-kind, staying in families for generations. It's named after the mountain range of the North American Great Plains that were once inhabited by Native American tribes.

Wriggling is just one of many steps to create the unique Black Hills Gold Jewelry. (KOTA TV)

Back in 1874, the rush for gold was on after a scout for General George Armstrong Custer discovered it in the Black Hills.

"Legend has it that in 1876, there was a French goldsmith named Henri LeBeau, he came to the Black Hills in search of his gold fortune. When he got here, he was unfamiliar with the terrain. He became hopelessly lost and then he eventually stumbled onto a patch of wild grapes that saved his life. So when he went back to the camp, he honored the life-saving grapes and started designing good luck jewelry, which also became known as Black Hills Gold Jewelry," said Mount Rushmore Gold Outlet Store Manager Jesse Riddle.

One of the original companies was called Thorpe, which Landstrom's bought out. A partnership then came to be with Mount Rushmore Gold.

All of the gold is found here in the Black Hills and all of the jewelry is handmade in Rapid City.

There's one spot in the factory where all the designs happen. It used to be done by hand, but now, employees use a computer program called "Matrix." It's a high tech jewelry design software program that employees can use and send a file quickly to the 3D printer.

Then, the wax is carved out and a silver master copy is made.

"So if they ever need to recreate it, we can just go back to the silver master," said Riddle.

It's put in between thin layers of rubber mold and heated together, then the imprint of the master copy is injected with plastic. The designs are put onto a wax tree.

"We can put anywhere from 60 to 100 rings onto a wax tree. They can be all different shapes and styles, earrings, pendants, bracelet links, so we're just using a wax pen to put each one of the pieces of jewelry onto the tree," said Riddle.

Casting is the next step. The wax tree is put inside a metal flask, tape is put around it and then a plastic material, called investment, goes inside. It's put inside an oven around 2,000 degrees overnight and then comes to lost-wax process.

"The wax disappears and then gold is injected where the wax tree used to be," said Riddle.

Once that cools and hardens, it's put into sinks of water that dissolves the investment. All that's left are gold trees.

Each design is intricate, with more than 1,000 shapes and styles of leaves to choose from.

"Different alloys are added to get the different colored gold. So, to get the green leaves, they're a mixture of 50% gold and 40% silver and 10% zinc. Our pink leaves are 50% gold and 50% copper, so those different colored alloys are added to get different colored golds."

The leaves are punched out and tacked on to a piece of jewelry. It's a temporary hold before the soldering process.

"In this tube here, we have a mixture of crushed up golden blocks and a mixture of our solder. It goes in this oven here for about 20 minutes, so 14-15,000 degrees depending on if its gold or silver. After 20 minutes, the leaves are firmly soldered on the jewelry," said Riddle. "The Black Hills Gold product we manufacture here, we have a lifetime warranty for leaves ever falling off, so it's important to not put too much solder on, it's too costly and put too little the leaves could fall off."

The last step is called wriggling where a flat engraver is used to cut the veins into the leaves.

Something unique to the company is diamond cutting.

"We do our own diamond cutting. We take a standard round brilliant faceted diamond. We turn it into a 90-faceted diamond called our Noventa diamond. The extra facets add more brillance more sparkle to the diamond."

Not many companies do diamond cutting in the United States, so taking a tour gives anyone a real look at how this works. A steel plate is used, covered in diamond dust, and an employee makes tiny little cuts to make it into the signature cut.

All of the products, designs, and a tour can found at the Mount Rushmore Gold Outlet Store on Mount Rushmore Road. Jewelry can be found in any Riddle's Jewelry stores nationwide, with over 500 to pick from.

"Not only will we sell you the piece of jewelry, but we're able to service it for you through our lifetime premium warranty that we sell with all of our purchases."

The holiday season is basically the Super Bowl for the jewelry store, whether you need a last-minute gift or engagement ring. Make sure to stop by locations in the Black Hills to find some great holiday deals.