Tungsten and tungsten carbide have become increasingly popular options for jewelry, especially when it comes to rings. Let’s take a look at the characteristics of these two materials, and see what you should know about them when shopping for jewelry.
What Is Tungsten?
Tungsten is a metal that is extremely hard and melts at a very high temperature. It is also very dense, and the jewelry made of it feels surprisingly heavy.
Because of its durability, tungsten is a preferred material for buyers looking for jewelry that will last a very long time. However, the physical properties that make this metal so robust are also the reason jewelers find tungsten relatively hard to work with.
What Is Tungsten Carbide?
When tungsten is mixed with carbon, the resulting compound is called tungsten carbide. This material is even more durable than tungsten. The tungsten carbide used in jewelry making is usually mixed with a small amount of nickel.
Not only is tungsten carbide harder than tungsten, but it is also even tougher to fashion into a ring or another jewelry piece.
What You Should Know About Tungsten Carbide
Let’s look at the most important characteristics of tungsten carbide that you should be aware of when shopping:
Hypoallergenic: Tungsten carbide doesn’t cause allergic reactions when worn. Although the tungsten carbide used in jewelry usually does contain some nickel, this metal usually constitutes a small part of the final mixture. That’s why you shouldn’t worry about skin irritation if you are allergic to nickel and plan on wearing tungsten carbide jewelry.
Do make sure, however, that the vendor guarantees that the tungsten carbide jewelry offered is hypoallergenic. Different manufacturers have different standards for what their products contain, so it never hurts to check.
No scratches: One of the biggest selling points of tungsten carbide is that it is scratch resistant. It is very hard to make a dent or nick in a tungsten carbide ring under normal circumstances.
Tungsten carbide’s extreme durability means that if you have jewelry made of this material, it will stay polished for very long and won’t lose its luster with time, unlike gold or silver. Many companies selling tungsten carbide jewelry guarantee that their products won’t scratch and offer to replace them if you notice any scratches.
Cannot be resized: Tungsten carbide’s durability comes at a price: Rings made of this material cannot be resized. That’s why you should choose your size carefully to make sure your new ring is not too snug or loose. If, however, you finger size changes with time, you may be able to exchange your tungsten carbide ring for another of a different size: Some vendors offer such an option, so make sure to check when shopping.
Tungsten Carbide vs. Tungsten
People often use the terms tungsten and tungsten carbide interchangeably. However, there are differences in the properties of these two materials.
First, tungsten scratches more easily than tungsten carbide. Rings made only of tungsten are not really scratch resistant, so you shouldn’t expect them to stay as shiny as the ones made of tungsten carbide.
Second, tungsten jewelry often contains cobalt, whereas pieces made of tungsten carbide are usually mixed with nickel. The problem is that when cobalt comes in contact with your skin, the metal can cause irritation. Furthermore, cobalt can also oxidize and cause your tungsten jewelry to change in color.
Buying Tungsten and Tungsten Carbide Jewelry
The first thing you should do when shopping for tungsten jewelry is to make sure you know whether the piece you are offered is tungsten or tungsten carbide. As we already saw, these two materials differ in durability and chemical content. If you are after durability, make sure that the jewelry you are buying is made of tungsten carbide, not just tungsten.
You should also ask about all other metals that a particular tungsten piece contains. There is some tungsten jewelry that is cheap, and often the reason is that it is made with cobalt instead of nickel (we already discussed why cobalt is not preferable). Even if the jewelry is labeled as “tungsten carbide,” you should still check what it contains as some pieces may be made with cobalt: The unusually low price is one sign that this might be the case.
In general, avoid buying tungsten and tungsten carbide jewelry if there is no disclosure as to what it contains. By the way, this rule applies to any jewelry you buy.