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In recent years, tungsten has become one of the most popular metals for wedding bands. It is a stylish, affordable choice for modern wedding band designs, with excellent wearability. However, not many people know what tungsten is or whether it suits their purposes. Here we break down the facts, pros, cons and myths of tungsten so you can decide if this is the right metal for you.
What is Tungsten?
Tungsten, also known as wolfram, is a chemical element found on the periodic table. It gets its name from a Swedish phrase meaning ‘heavy stone’, indicative of the metal’s weight and strength. Tungsten is often described using superlatives. Here are some:
- Tungsten has the highest melting point of all metals
- It is the heaviest metal used in jewelry
- It is the hardest and most scratch resistant metal
- It is the most popular metal for men’s wedding rings in America
Tungsten vs. Tungsten Carbide
Although often used interchangeably, there are differences between these two terms. Tungsten in its pure form cannot be used in jewelry. Instead, it is formed into a metal, consisting of approximately 85% tungsten and 15% carbon, nickel or cobalt which is known as tungsten carbide.
Because tungsten is very brittle, mixing it with carbon reduces this characteristic, making the metal more durable and easier to work with. The nickel or cobalt acts as a binder, holding the metal together and making it possible to shape it.
Tungsten carbide with a nickel binder is considered top quality and ideal for wedding bands. However, tungsten carbide with cobalt as a binder is not recommended for jewelry as the cobalt, which tends to react with body oils, can cause skin irritations and staining.
As we’ve just mentioned, tungsten carbide contains carbon. Tungsten without carbon is just a steel ring, with a Mohs of 7.5. It can still get scratched and damaged. However, when carbon is added into the mix to create carbide, the resulting metal becomes extremely tough and durable.
Some vendors sell tungsten rings but call them tungsten carbide. So take care as not every tungsten carbide ring on the market is actually carbide.
Tungsten Pros – Reasons to Buy Tungsten Rings
In the modern jewelry world, industrial metals such as tungsten, titanium and stainless steel are in vogue, especially used in men’s jewelry, wedding bands and costume jewelry. Here are the benefits of tungsten:
1- Tungsten Affordability
Tungsten is a very affordable metal, and unlike the precious metals, is easy on your wallet. There are different grades of tungsten carbide used in jewelry which can impact the price. For example, high quality tungsten with carbon and nickel included can cost more than other lower grade tungsten carbide combinations.
Some people find that tungsten’s lack of monetary worth makes it cheap and therefore not a good choice for wedding bands. This comes down to personal preference and values.
2- Tungsten Durability
In the department of durability, tungsten carbide beats all other metals. This is how tungsten compares to other metals:
- Gold (3 Mohs)
- Platinum (4.5 Mohs)
- Palladium (4.5 Mohs)
- Rhodium (6 Mohs)
- Titanium (6 Mohs)
- Tungsten (9)
In fact, it is the hardest metal used in jewelry and the most scratch-resistant. As an object can only be scratched by another object that is harder than it, tungsten cannot be scratched by most materials. Some substances that can cause scratch tungsten are diamonds and moissanites. This means that regardless of the exposure your tungsten ring is subject to, it remains free of scratches.
3- Tungsten’s Luster
Tungsten rings are highly resistant to tarnishing and corrosion. Over time they do not change color or lose their shine.
Because they don’t easily acquire scratches, tungsten remains lustrous and shiny. As a result, this metal has earned itself the nickname ‘forever polished’.
4- Tungsten Color
Tungsten is found in several popular colors. Gunmetal gray is a popular color for tungsten and makes for very handsome and unique wedding bands, while white offers a sleek and contemporary choice. White tungsten carbide is very similar in appearance to the popular platinum and white gold metals, giving a modern, stylish look to the wedding band.
You may be considering a black tungsten ring as this offers a striking and nonconventional look, ideal for someone looking to be different. However, black tungsten is made by plating the metal with a coating of black material.
While plating tungsten allows for the metal to have different and attractive hues, it also means that over time the plate will flake off and require you to have the piece re-plated.
There are also options of having your tungsten ring plated in other colors such as rose gold or yellow gold.
5- Tungsten Weight
Most men like the feel of a solid ring on their fingers. Tungsten are the heaviest rings on the market, giving weight to your jewelry. It is somewhat heavier than 14K gold and much heavier than metals such as titanium and stainless steel.
Tungsten Cons – The Disadvantages of Tungsten
Although tungsten is a durable and affordable metal, there are some obvious disadvantages in having tungsten jewelry.
1- Resizing Tungsten
Your fingers do not remain the same size as the years pass by. They will change and your ring will have to change with them. Because tungsten rings cannot be resized, you will have to change the ring altogether.
While this is a practical and affordable step to take, for some it undermines the purpose of a wedding ring as a symbol of love and long-term commitment. There is an emotional tug if you have to get rid of the ring you exchanged on your wedding day, no matter the reason. If it’s any consolation, some vendors often provide a lifetime warranty where they will provide you with a ring that fits.
2- Tungsten Scratches
Hardness in metal is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, your tungsten jewelry doesn’t get scratched easily. But on the other hand, it does the scratching. Tungsten is extremely hard, ranking at about 8 to 9 on the Mohs scale.
How does this affect?
It means that your tungsten ring can scratch and scuff every object that it comes into contact with, if it is harder than it. Some people find that household objects such as fridge handles and glasses get scratched as it comes into contact with their ring.
3- Tungsten Shatters
Because tungsten carbide is so hard and brittle, it does not bend or lose shape. Instead, it can crack or shatter if dealt an extremely hard blow, much like a diamond.
If your ring is exposed to rough wear and knocks, there is the likelihood that it will crack and come apart. A reputable vendor should offer a lifetime warranty in case of breakage and replace your tungsten ring.
4- Tungsten is not Valuable
Tungsten is not a precious metal and does not have the prestige or value that gold, silver or platinum have. It is considered a cheap metal. Most people like to have their wedding bands made of precious metals to attach more value to it. Also, it is a fairly recent addition to wedding band metals and it is yet to be seen whether tungsten can stand the test of time as a metal for wedding rings or if it will go out of fashion down the track.
5- Tungsten and Allergies
Most high-quality tungsten carbide is hypoallergenic. However, sometimes tungsten carbide can cause skin reactions and irritations.
This occurs if cobalt has been included in the metal, which is a common allergen for people with metal allergies. Nickel is a common allergen for people with metal allergies but the amount of nickel used in tungsten is negligible and rarely causes reactions.
6- Tungsten Liquidity
Unlike precious metals, tungsten cannot be liquidated into cash easily as it is not valued as a tradeable commodity. Tungsten is not an investment metal. If liquidity is important to you, choose a precious metal, such as gold.
7- Limited Choices
Although tungsten is popular, tungsten jewelry on the market is very limited when it comes to design. There aren’t many wedding band styles for men and women in tungsten, with most being similar-looking contemporary, shiny designs.
This is because tungsten is not a very pliable metal and is difficult to work with. If you are after something more elaborate or full of character, you may have to choose from other metals.
Myths About Tungsten
There are certain myths about tungsten that you are bound to come across when searching for information on tungsten. Here are some common tungsten myths:
- Many people say that a tungsten ring cannot be removed during an emergency due to its extreme hardness. This is not true. A tungsten ring can be removed with common equipment used in such circumstances. Rather than being cut through, as would be the case with metals such as gold and silver, tungsten rings need to be shattered or cracked using pliers. Some people prefer that tungsten breaks rather than bends, as it can prove safer if you have to work with heavy objects or machinery. Wouldn’t you prefer a ring that shatters if a heavy object falls on your hand, rather than flatten itself sharply into your finger?
- Some consumers look for pure tungsten carbide rings, just like you would look for 24 karat gold or 99.9% silver. Unfortunately, pure tungsten is not used in jewelry as it cannot be shaped easily. This is why binder metals such as nickel or cobalt is used to make tungsten more workable.
- Some people believe that tungsten rings are forever; that they cannot be destroyed. This is simply not true. As we’ve mentioned above, tungsten carbide is very brittle and hard. Just because it is scratch-resistant doesn’t mean that it is indestructible. A good blow can shatter and crack tungsten jewelry.
When deciding on tungsten, consider your reasons for buying the metal and what your priorities and values are. Overall, tungsten is a very good metal choice if price and durability are at the forefront of your decision.
Where to Buy Tungsten Rings
If you’re wondering where to purchase high quality tungsten rings, we recommend searching on the following platforms:
- Blue Nile has an excellent collection of tungsten rings at competitive prices. Blue Nile is known for their quality, reasonable pricing and for being an online giant in the diamond industry with the largest inventory of diamonds.
- James Allen also carries an excellent range of tungsten products as well as rings made of other alternative metals. All these products are viewable in 360 HD video and images.
- Etsy is an excellent source for a range of tungsten ring designs at competitive prices. Most of these are handmade and unique in style.