What's the Fuss about Tungsten Carbide Jewelry?

Posted by Sharyn See on

What's So Special About Tungsten Carbide Jewelry?

Have you started to notice rings made from Tungsten Carbide eking into the mainstream jewelry arena lately? So precisely what is it, what is it made of and how does it wear and tear? Well, thanks to some research, you can learn just what's so special about jewelry made from Tungsten Carbide. Once reserved for industrial use, such as armour-piercing rounds, cutting tools, abrasives and industrial machinery; Tungsten is forging a new path into more glamorous items--such as rings--while retaining all the strength and character of its industrial applications. And did you know that "Tungsten" is Swedish for "heavy stone"?

Tungsten is a metal found in several ores and has robust physical properties, being a chemical compound containing equal parts carbon and tungsten atoms. It has the highest melting point of all the non-alloyed metals and is second only to carbon on the elements table. Tungsten starts its journey as a fine gray powder, which is then pressed and formed into shapes for further creations.

Tungsten carbide makes the most durable and scratch resistant jewelry available. Tungsten is the only metal that can be permanently polished. Rings, for example, are polished to a perfect mirror finish, but only with abrasives of superior hardness such as diamond powder combined with boron nitride. Once done, the polish remains because tungsten rings are simply too hard to scratch. 


Tungsten Black Rose Gold Ring

What Gives Tungsten Carbide its Hard, Scratch Resistant Property?

The way tungsten carbide is made is so interesting. Tungsten, carbon and other elements like cobalt or nickel are ground into a powder. They are compressed with high-pressure dyes to form a round blank for rings. The blank is then fired in an oxygen-free furnace at 2400 degrees Fahrenheit to form an extraordinarily hard ring. Rings are then cut and shaped using diamond tools with approximately 30 steps required for completion. The cutting and shaping of a tungsten carbide ring is similar in many ways to the cutting and polishing of a rough diamond. The rings can then be inlaid with gold, silver, platinum, Mokume, or Shakudo. The inlay is created by grinding a channel in the center of the ring and compressing the metal into it under extreme pressure. The ring is then polished with diamond polishing tools and wheels. This creates a permanent luster and polish that is not possible with other metals.

Tungsten carbide can be changed significantly within the carbide manufacturers sphere of influence, determined by grain size, and cobalt and carbon content. Some people have shown an allergy to cobalt. Thus, many of the tungsten carbide jewelry manufacturers have cobalt free jewelry, replacing the cobalt with nickel.

So Why Tungsten Carbide?

Tungsten Carbide is the only rare and exotic metal that can promise a permanence in polish and finish that will endure as long a the wearer bears it. Rings made from gold, platinum, and even titanium all become significantly less attractive over time. The patterns and design in many gold rings will all but disappear after several years.

Tungsten Carbide jewelers are able to guarantee their ring's shine for life. The reason why? The chance of it ever getting scratched or dulled is extremely low. Tungsten Carbide rings will and do maintain a lasting, beautiful, shiny finish. To the wearer, Tungsten Carbide jewelry speaks of commitment and security. Couples are starting to choose Tungsten Carbide for their wedding bands due to its everlasting nature.

What is Mokume Gane and Shakudo?

A few inlays commonly used in Tungsten Carbide rings are Mokume Gane and Shakudo. These two inlays are really the same thing, just with different metals used in the manufacturing process. Mokume Gane (Moh-ku-may Gah-nay) is an ancient Japanese metalworking process, developed in feudal Japan by master swordsmiths; it is a technically difficult and time-consuming process. The process begins by stacking layers of different colored metals and heating them to 1400 degrees under extreme pressure for 10 hours. This allows the atoms from gold and other metals to fuse together, forming distinctive patterns. The metal is then forged and rolled to set the crystal structure. Finally. the gold and other metals are manipulated by twisting and curving to expose the multiple layers, thereby forming unique ring patterns. No two Mokume Gane or Shakudo rings will look alike!

Mokume is usually made with white Palladium and either silver or 18k green gold. Shakudo usually has 90-95% copper and 5-10% pure gold, layered with either sterling silver or 14k yellow Gold. Shakudo tends to have a darker and more deliberate pattern than Mokume. However, both of them are equally gorgeous!  

Silver Tungsten Wedding rings, his and hers, with Blue Opal inlay

Other inlays include wood of various varieties, which is treated and repeatedly lacquered so that it will maintain longevity. Gold, opal, semi-precious stones and gems, turquoise and even meteorite are also being inlaid into Tungsten Carbide rings. They can be bezel set with stones and laser engraved, and the results are spectacular. 

I, for one, am glad to see a new use for Tungsten Carbide; my only memory of it, until recently, was tools! I now have a whole new appreciation for the compound. Which just goes to prove, something starting as the dullest of grays can be transformed into a thing of magnificent beauty; what a nice thought for life in general. 

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