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Cobalt, often called cobalt chrome, has become a very popular alternative metal used in jewelry today. It is especially popular for men’s wedding bands, as a great alternative for white gold or platinum. There are so many advantages to this metal that its popularity continues to grow.
However, it is still a relatively new metal and buyers often don’t know much about it. Here we outline all you need to know before you buy a cobalt ring, including the pros and cons of cobalt.
Where Did Cobalt Get its Name?
Cobalt is a relatively rare element and is often found in veins underground. The name cobalt comes from the German word ‘kobald’ which means goblin or evil spirit. This name was given by miners who were superstitious about mining cobalt ore.
In 1735, it was discovered that cobalt was a metal in its own right and was added to the periodic table afterwards. The name ‘kobald’ was altered to ‘cobalt’. Today, cobalt does not have any superstitious associations but is instead valued as a highly useful and versatile metal.
Cobalt and Its Alloys
Cobalt is a transition metal, similar to metals such as tungsten, platinum or silver. Cobalt, in its pure form, cannot be used in jewelry. As a result, cobalt is alloyed with other metals to make it stronger, more malleable and more wearable.
Cobalt used in jewelry is often alloyed with metals such as chromium, tungsten and iron. Because the chromium content can be quite high, cobalt is also known as cobalt chrome. This is just another name for the same metal.
Sometimes cobalt can be alloyed with nickel, which can be a problem for those with nickel allergies. Always check whether the cobalt you’re buying has nickel in it. It’s best to go for a nickel-free cobalt alloy to avoid any reactions if you are sensitive to metal allergies. Another issue to note is that cobalt alloyed with tungsten often causes skin irritations and itching, but this is only an issue in tungsten carbide rings. Cobalt chrome does not cause these issues and is regarded as hypoallergenic.
What are the Pros of Cobalt Ring?
Cobalt, like many other industrial metals, is fast becoming a top choice for many types of jewelry, especially wedding bands and men’s jewelry. There are a number of reasons that make cobalt a good choice:
1- Cobalt Appearance and Luster
Cobalt chrome looks very similar to white gold, more so than any other metal used in jewelry. Cobalt rings, like this one, are highly reflective, with a gleam that is identical to white gold. This makes it an excellent alternative to white gold, giving you the look without the cost. What’s more, because this reflective quality is natural in cobalt, cobalt jewelry does not require regular re-plating like white gold. Because cobalt does not tarnish or corrode easily, this appearance of cobalt jewelry can last for a long time.
While silver-hued cobalt is very popular, black cobalt rings are just as sought after. Black cobalt rings have a striking, unique appearance and is ideal for someone who wants something modern and different.
2- Cobalt Affordability
Cobalt is a relatively affordable metal and compared to the precious metals, it’s easy on your pocket. It is more expensive than metals such as titanium or tungsten, but is less expensive than gold or platinum.
Of course other factors such as quality of workmanship and branding definitely impact on the overall price of cobalt jewelry. But in general, it is a very affordable option.
To put this into perspective, compare this white gold comfort fit wedding band and this similar comfort fit cobalt band. The two rings are nearly identical in appearance but the white gold ring costs about $500 more.
Some people might find that this inexpensiveness of the metal makes it cheap and therefore not a good choice for wedding bands. This comes down to personal preferences and values.
3- Cobalt Durability
Cobalt is extremely scratch resistant, corrosion-resistant and highly durable. Cobalt rings do not easily scratch, break or loose form.
It is not as durable as titanium or tungsten but is much harder than platinum, gold or palladium, making cobalt an excellent choice for daily wear. Even under pressure, these rings don’t tend to bend or warp. Having said that, in an emergency, cobalt rings can be safely cut.
4- Cobalt Maintenance
With cobalt rings, there is minimal maintenance required. Unlike rings made of metals such as white gold or platinum which easily get scratched and require repolishing, cobalt rings are able to maintain their appearance even with rough wear. As a result, this is a metal that is highly suited for people who lead active lives and use their hands a lot.
Note that cobalt is scratch resistant but not scratch proof. So you will still need to take reasonable care to ensure that it is not scratched by other objects.
5- Cobalt Weight
When jewelry is too light or too heavy, it tends to feel uncomfortable and unnatural, especially when worn in rings. Cobalt has comfortable weight that is very similar to white gold. Wearing a cobalt ring will feel pretty much the same as wearing a white gold ring.
6- Hypoallergenic Nature of Cobalt
Cobalt is a hypoallergenic metal and is very safe to wear. Cobalt chrome has been used to make surgical instruments and in dental and joint implants for a long time due to this hypoallergenic nature and the jewelry made from cobalt chrome is equally hypoallergenic. This is a bio-compatible metal so there is no worry about the safety of wearing cobalt rings.
As I mentioned above, take care not to buy cobalt with nickel as this is what can cause a reaction.
What are the Cons of Cobalt?
The cons of cobalt are few compared to the many disadvantages. Here are the main disadvantages of cobalt rings.
1- Difficult to Resize
Cobalt rings can be very difficult to resize due to the strength of the metal. While it is not impossible to go a size up or down, many jewelers may not wish to undertake this job due to the effort required. In most cases, you may be asked to replace the ring. Over time, finger sizes tend to change, and this is something to keep in mind when purchasing your ring. Some people balk at the idea of replacing a beloved ring, preferring to resize.
2- Limited Designs
Cobalt is generally used to make standard men’s wedding bands. Common designs and styles include:
Satin-finished, matte-finished, inlay, hammered-finished, wood grain and other patterned rings.
There are also wedding bands that pair cobalt with materials such as wood, inlay gemstones and so on.
While there are a good number of styles and designs for men’s cobalt rings, it can be quite difficult to find cobalt rings for women. This can be because of the difficulty of working with cobalt, which can limit the design choices of jewelers. However, in the future, this may change as cobalt continues to increase in popularity. If you are after an elaborate design, it is best to opt for a different metal.
3- Engraving is Difficult
Cobalt rings can be engraved but it’s recommended to do this via laser machine. Traditional methods of engraving rings don’t generally work well on cobalt due to its scratch resistant nature.
4- Cobalt is Not Valuable
Cobalt is not a precious metal. It does not have the prestige, romance and history of metals such as gold, silver or platinum. Most people look for precious metals for their wedding bands as they believe this attaches more value to it. They are more likely to appreciate and look after something which cost them a lot. Having said that, I just have to reiterate what I said above. This is a matter of choice, personal preference and values.
5- Cobalt and Liquidity
Unlike precious metals, cobalt cannot be liquidated into cash as it is not valued as a tradeable commodity. Cobalt is not an investment metal. If liquidity is important to you, choose a precious metal, such as gold.
Should I Buy a Cobalt Wedding Band?
If you aren’t sure whether to opt for cobalt or not, consider your reasons for buying the metal and what your priorities and values are. Overall, cobalt is a great choice if durability, affordability and appearance is at the forefront of your decision. It’s a practical ring choice and one that is becoming increasingly popular.
If you’re wondering where to purchase high quality cobalt rings, we recommend searching on Etsy for a range of cobalt ring designs at great prices.
Blue Nile has got a very good collection with an array of designs at competitive prices. You can see them here.
James Allen also has a good range of high quality cobalt rings as well as rings made of other alternative metals.