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The Beauty of Shakudo

For some of our jeweler friends looking for inspiration, shakudō might be a good material to create new and unique pieces.

Shakudō is an ancient type of alloy used for centuries by Japanese metalworkers. It’s traditionally made with about 90% copper and 10% gold. After it’s first smelted, shakudō has a brassy hue that looks almost like rose gold (which is also a copper/gold alloy). But, no fine piece of shakudō looks like this. Shakudō’s real allure comes from its patina.

Copper alloys are well known for developing a layer of oxidation and tarnish as they age. This patina protects the metal and is often visually appealing. Shakudō patina is a particularly beautiful blue and black sheen that looks similar to lacquer, but with deeper shimmering hues. Best of all, the level of patination can be controlled. Metalworkers apply a special compound called rokushō to create the patina on shakudō without aging or weathering the metal.

Not all jewelers are aware, but shakudō is commonly confused with damascene – which inlays different metals over one another (but does not alloy them) to create patterns or designs. Usually, the base for these overlays is oxidized steel. You’ll see many places selling damascened pieces as shakudō when the two are actually very different. The confusion may come from the fact that many objects commonly made from shakudō were also popular as damascened pieces. Sometimes, shakudō was used as the base for damascening instead of steel.

Because of the gold content, shakudō was reserved for small pieces only. In the past, it was a very popular material for crafting tsuba – the decorative hand guard on samurai swords. For modern jewelry, shakudō could be an excellent material for pendants and earrings.

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