Many people use the terms tungsten and tungsten carbide interchangeably, but these are not the same thing. Sometimes, lower quality tungsten alloys are sold as tungsten carbide. Knowing the difference between these terms will help you to purchase wisely.
What is Tungsten?
Tungsten, also known as wolfram, refers to the chemical element, the metal itself. On the periodic table, tungsten is numbered 74 and is known for its hardness, durability, high melting point, high density and is somewhat rare. It is dark gray in color and known for being very difficult to work with. Tungsten is very brittle and not very malleable, making it hard to form into rings or other jewelry designs. As a result, it is often compounded into alloys.
What is Tungsten Carbide?
Tungsten carbide refers to the alloy, which is created by mixing tungsten with other substances. In order to make tungsten more malleable, it is mixed in equal parts with carbon to form a powder and then combined with a binder such as nickel or cobalt. The resulting metal is known as tungsten carbide and can be shaped into various items, such as wedding bands, golf clubs and saw blades.
Tungsten vs Tungsten Carbide Durability
While tungsten carbide has many of the properties of tungsten itself, including its durability, strength and high melting point, it is a much better metal.
Tungsten ranks at 7.5 on the Mohs scale. It is very hard and durable but can still get scratched and damaged over time. Tungsten carbide is extremely scratch resistant at Mohs 8 to 9, and is the hardest metal for use in jewelry. Tungsten carbide rings are highly durable and are known as the ‘forever polished rings’ because they don’t easily acquire scratches or lose their luster. Tungsten carbide rings, however, cannot be resized and must be changed if the ring becomes too tight or too loose.
Before you purchase a tungsten carbide band, check with the vendor about the metals included in the alloy. Reputable vendors should give you this information. Avoid purchasing tungsten carbide with cobalt. This is not recommended for use in jewelry as it can cause allergies and staining of skin. Tungsten carbide with nickel is considered to be of good quality and also hypoallergenic.
Most vendors will use the terms tungsten and tungsten carbide interchangeably, and some can sell inferior alloys at higher prices. This is why it is important to buy from a reputable vendor and to obtain information about the metal prior to purchase.