Tungsten carbide, often just called tungsten, is an exciting jewelry material that is gaining in popularity. The metal was identified in the last half of the 1700’s, and has been used in industry, ammunition and medicine for over a century. Just over 20 years ago, designers recognized its jewelry potential and it became available to the general public.
Tungsten is one of the strongest metals around. It is stiffer than steel, denser than titanium, and 10 times harder than 18K gold. Only diamonds or similarly super hard substances can be used to successfully finish and polish it, which means it is exceptionally resistant to scratching. Once polished, it will remain brilliant forever, and won’t tarnish.
Its strength and durability make it particularly well suited for use as rings. Initially, tungsten rings were primarily marketed to men and sold as wedding bands because they did provided comfortable, everyday wear that also looked great. Now there are wedding sets made of tungsten, and other ring designs for women to enjoy the same features.
Another area where tungsten excels is cost. Tungsten can cost 10 times less than similar designs in platinum. They are always hundreds of dollars less than gold and can even be cheaper than silver. The outstanding wear and low cost combined with recent global financial concerns has caused the demand for these rings to skyrocket. No longer seen as an edgy alternative, tungsten is often seen as the smart choice.
Naturally, when it comes to rings and wedding bands consumers still want to compare. Advances in processing now allow tungsten to come in a multitude of colors beyond the traditional gunmetal grey. It can be a stunning black or shining silver that rivals platinum, titanium and white gold. Because it looks like these more expensive options, but costs less and lasts longer, it is often a clear winner. One additional area of comparison that is increasing important to consumers is biocompatibility, or whether or not a ring will cause a reaction in wearers with allergies or sensitivities.
Most metals used in rings are alloys, or combinations of various materials. Pure, or 24K, gold is one exception. Combining metals allows jewelers to craft items with desired qualities like color, malleability, durability, harness or shine. Most people who have allergic reactions are reacting to one of the elements that the alloy is comprised of. For example, white gold is often crafted using nickel. It is estimated that up to 10% of the female population and 1% of the male population suffer from nickel allergies. These people would likely have some sort of reaction to white gold.
Tungsten carbide is actually 50% tungsten and 50% carbon. It can be mixed with different metals to mitigate features like brittleness. It can cause a reaction if it is mixed with cobalt. Cobalt can cause oxidation and skin reactions in some people. Anyone who suffers from cobalt sensitivity should first ensure their tungsten rings do not contain these materials.