Tungsten carbide rings are a rising new trend in wedding bands, along with men's jewelry. The heavy metal matches anyone's style and it is easy to engrave for a unique look without putting a dent in your wallet. There are several design options and finishes to choose from, including a variety of stone settings or hued finishes that bring a splash of color to any wardrobe. Knowing what is tungsten carbide will save you from buying cheap, generic rings that will break and discolor easily.
Soft metals like gold and silver are known to scratch and dent over time. Many jewelers provide a warranty that covers such damage, but wouldn't it be nice to own a wedding band that requires no maintenance and its shine will last for decades to come, all the while being reasonably affordable?
What Is Tungsten Carbide?
So what is tungsten carbide? Tungsten carbide is a metal alloy composed of either carbon, nickel, or titanium that is chemically bonded with tungsten. Tungsten gets its name from a Swedish phrase that means “heavy stone,” after its characteristic weight and strength. It is the most resilient of all metal alloys used in modern jewelry. However, pure tungsten cannot be used in jewelry. Instead, jewelry makers use tungsten carbide.
It is known for its resistance to scratches and aging. However, all on its own, tungsten is very brittle. But when bonded with another element, like carbon or nickel, it becomes tungsten carbide - an excellent candidate for jewelry.
Tungsten vs Tungsten Carbide
Pure tungsten rings can be scratched, bent, and damaged easily because pure tungsten is soft and brittle. That is why jewelers and other metal workers forge tungsten with nickel, carbon, or cobalt. Although, cobalt is never used in jewelry as it can cause skin irritation.
While individuals who experience metal sensitivity try to stay away from jewelry containing nickel, tungsten carbide uses such a small amount of nickel, so customers need not fear their rings tarnishing or turning their finger green.
Buyers should be sure to ask about the secondary metal that is added to tungsten. The price is a safe way to verify its true composition. Cheaper tungsten rings are usually made with weaker material.
Generic tungsten rings will scratch, discolor, and even oxidize quickly, especially those made with cobalt (cobalt is not supposed to be used in jewelry, but that does stop some from trying). If the price is too good to be true, chances are it's a cheap ring to match the price.
When researching what is tungsten carbide, you may find that true tungsten carbide is so strong it can stand up against platinum and titanium. Some consider tungsten to be a better ring material than titanium. Since it feels so light, you don't notice that it's slipped off until it's gone.
How Is Tungsten Carbide Manufactured?
Whether with nickel, titanium, or carbon, both the tungsten and the chosen element are ground into a powder form and compressed at high pressure at temperatures around 6,800 degrees Fahrenheit (1,400 degrees Celsius) to form a ring blank. This process is typically called sintering.
After sintering, the blank ring looks like a black, rough piece of metal. It requires a 30-step polishing process to bring out that glossy shine. Because of the extreme hardness of tungsten carbide, diamond polishing paste is needed to break through those rough outer layers.
Then, a diamond-coated wheel is used to turn the matte finish into that brilliant shine you see at the jewelry store. The next step depends on whether you want an inlay, a stone set, or a design engraved.
Common choices for a setting inlay include precious metals like gold and silver, but also wood, stones, carbon fiber, or ceramic. Buyers should keep in mind, the ring itself may not get easily scratched, but the inlay (if made of a softer material) can scratch. If you decide on an inlay not of stone or other hard material, consider taking off your ring before working with your hands.
A high-powered laser machine is used to cut holes in a tungsten ring for the stone setting. Tungsten carbide is non-malleable, the dimensions of the setting have to be the exact size of the stone being set. Once the hole is cut and the stone(s) are placed, a stainless steel cover is placed on top to hold the stone in place.
When researching what is tungsten carbide, you will find that setting stones in the band of any ring will create weak points. This is due to the setting creating two thinner parts on the band on either side of the stone, instead of one thick section. These are the points on the ring that can fracture most easily upon impact.
Laser Engraved Designs
A lower-powered laser machine is used to create designs or patterns on plain rings. Designs or inscription options are endless. Engravings are permanent and stay crisp for years, also, they do not affect the integrity of the ring.
Does Tungsten Carbide Tarnish?
Tungsten and carbide powders are forged together at over 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit to create an almost scratch-proof, heavy metal. This makes it ideal for jewelry making. Years can go by, but it will still look brand new thanks to diamond-like strength and resilience against reacting to body oils. It never tarnishes! With other jewelry metal types, even titanium, over time, the owner will see scratches and maybe even some light dents.
Tungsten Carbide Polishes and Finishes
Tungsten rings are known for their “permanently polished” look. While plainly polished rings are common, there are tungsten rings for sale with a color-coated finish. These are popular and don't affect the structural integrity of the ring, but over time the coating can become scratched or even chip away. The ring can easily be re-finished, but this can be more maintenance than desired for some folks.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Tungsten Carbide?
When researching what is tungsten carbide, you may find that tungsten carbide is ideal for making heavy-duty jewelry, but it isn't perfect. As some may like to call them “indestructible,” don't buy into it. It is a marketing ploy that has fooled too many already.
Advantages of Tungsten Carbide Rings
Tungsten is almost ten times harder than 18K gold and about four times harder than titanium. Specifically, black tungsten carbide rings are so durable, they are harder than traditional tungsten carbide, measuring closer to diamonds on the Mohs scale at a hardness of 8.5.
Tungsten rings are easy to have engraved and to give as a one-of-a-kind gift to someone special. Even for those with nickel allergies have no troubles when wearing tungsten carbide rings. The ring is predominantly tungsten with only small amounts of nickel, if it's used at all. Generally speaking, tungsten rings made with nickel are on the cheaper side of the market.
When researching what is tungsten carbide, you may find that tungsten rings tend to be safer for men who work around heavy objects and machinery. Softer metals will bend and cinch down on a finger if the ring is squished by a heavy object. In tungsten's case, it will simply crack and shatter.
Some may consider the fact that you can't resize the ring a disappointment, but it can still be a real money-saver. You can buy several of the same tungsten rings in different sizes for the same price as one white gold ring while looking surprisingly similar.
Disadvantages of Tungsten Carbide Rings
Some sellers may claim tungsten carbide rings to be indestructible. In reality, these rings can crack under high pressure. Although, it is easier to have removed in case of emergency by a medical professional.
Tungsten carbide rings can't be resized, only exchanged for a whole new ring. Keep this in mind when you are shopping for wedding bands. As life goes on, people change. Whether you lose weight, or gain weight, your ring size can change. If you are shopping for a ring that you hope to attract years of sentimental value to it may be best for a pricier alternative, like white gold.
Tungsten carbide might not get scratched by other objects, but it will easily scratch and scuff other objects that are softer. On the Mohs scale at a level 8 (10 being the highest), one of the few objects that can scratch it is a diamond. Over time, the ring may leave nicks and scratches on door handles, fridge doors, and drinking glasses. It may not bend or lose its shape, but it can shatter if you drop it onto a hard surface.
When researching what is tungsten carbide, you will unfortunately discover that tungsten is not a precious metal, so it hold very little resale value. This may be a turn-off for some, as they may see the wedding band as a long term investment as liquidity.
With the recent upward price trends of precious metals, it makes sense that couples are looking for more affordable options that will actually last a long time without getting dented or scratched. The sudden trend in rings made from tungsten carbide is from people wanting to break free of tradition.
Tungsten carbide rings may not have much monetary value, but many couples feel the heavy duty, strong material is a perfect symbol for their marriage - forging together two different beings to form a new life together with strength and stability.