Imagine jewelry that never loses its shine, fades, or scratches, remaining as beautiful as the day you bought it. Tungsten jewelry is that material!
As one of the toughest elements in nature, tungsten is a durable and long-lasting metal option that stands up to daily wear and remains a stunning accessory for years to come.
So is tungsten jewelry real? What makes it so strong? And how can you get your hands on your own tungsten ring?
From its history, characteristics, and manufacturing to all the pros and cons, get ready for a comprehensive overview of one of the toughest jewelry materials in the world in our Complete Guide to Tungsten Jewelry.
Tungsten is a rare metal found inside Earth’s crust, with deposits in half the world’s continents, though most tungsten comes from China.
On the Mohs hardness scale, pure tungsten ranks at 7.5 but 8 to 9 when mixed with carbon. It’s an incredibly dense material with a melting point of 10,220℉ (5,660℃), making tungsten one of the most difficult metals to melt.
The material is so strong and durable that it has many industrial purposes in addition to jewelry use. For instance, you’ll find tungsten in electric lamp filaments, X-rays, magnets, superalloys, and televisions. Even the military uses tungsten in penetrating projectiles (like bullets and missiles).
Exactly how tough is tungsten jewelry? To put things in perspective, tungsten is four times harder than titanium and ten times harder than 18k gold!
Ironically, pure tungsten is quite soft. It’s not until it’s alloyed with other compounds that it gets its notable strength and durability — but more on that later.
Curious about tungsten’s backstory? Let’s explore some of its history!
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The word "tungsten" derives from the Swedish words tung and sten, meaning "heavy stone” — a fitting name, considering diamonds are the only thing harder than tungsten.
Spanish chemists and brothers Juan José and Fausto Elhuyar first discovered the material in 1783. They found it within samples of the mineral wolframite. Today, most tungsten is still obtained from wolframite and scheelite.
But tungsten didn’t enter the jewelry game until the 1960s when Rado Watches used the material to create the world's first “scratch-proof” watch. It wasn’t long before other companies followed their success and began incorporating tungsten into their watches and accessories.
Within the last five to ten years, however, tungsten has gained popularity as an alternative metal for wedding bands. Today, tungsten rings are more common than ever, with an estimated 1 of 4 grooms-to-be opting for a tungsten wedding band.
Thanks to Sia’s hit about being “bulletproof like titanium,” it’s no surprise that many think titanium is the ultimate metal in terms of strength. Perhaps it's time for a head-to-head comparison against tungsten?
Pictured above: Titanium wedding bands
For starters, titanium doesn't stand a chance against bullets fired from high-powered firearms — many of which are made with tungsten.
Tungsten alloys are primarily used to create the core of penetrator shells for bullets, which are powerful enough to infiltrate armor tanks.
How’s that for bulletproof?
Regarding jewelry, tungsten doesn’t tarnish or scratch as easily as titanium.
Titanium registers at a 6 on the Mohs scale, making it more prone to scratching. It’s also much more lightweight than tungsten.
One drawback of tungsten’s hardness is its lack of malleability. It’s an extremely difficult metal to bend, making resizing nearly impossible compared to titanium. Additionally, tungsten is brittle and can shatter from a hard blow while titanium will bend instead of cracking or shattering.
But tungsten isn’t impenetrable…
While tungsten rings won’t usually break if dropped, they can crack with immense pressure.
As far as achieving a glossy, mirror-like finish, titanium also falls short compared to tungsten. Tungsten boasts a superior, longer-lasting shine and offers a wide range of finishes, from the classic high shine to a variety of muted finishes.
And unless you plan on hanging out in 1,112℉ environments, your tungsten jewelry won’t tarnish or rust. If your tungsten is plated, however, daily wear could bring the need for replating later.
At first glance, tungsten and titanium look alike, but the differences between these two metals become clear upon closer examination.
Tungsten offers shine, durability, and customization options that titanium can't always match.
They’re also fairly comparable in price.
Ultimately, it comes down to two things:
Do you prefer lightweight jewelry or something with a bit more weight to it?
Do you want jewelry material that’s resilient enough to carry you into battle?
Shifting focus, how’s such a tough metal manipulated to make tungsten jewelry?
Tungsten jewelry is born via a process called powder metallurgy and sintering.
This begins by mixing tungsten powder with a binding agent (like nickel or cobalt). The mixture is then firmly packed into the desired shape and heated in a furnace at 2,200℉ (1,200℃).
Next, an electric current runs through the mixture. As the heat and currents increase, the powders fuse, forming a solid piece of tungsten.
The finished tungsten piece is then sculpted and refined using diamond-tipped tools.
For rings or wedding bands featuring precious metal inlays (like silver, gold, palladium, platinum, etc.), the diamond tool carves a channel where the precious metal is inlaid and re-polished.
But wait… isn’t cobalt dangerous? Does that mean tungsten is a toxic metal?
Is tungsten toxic? And if so, just how toxic is tungsten?
It depends on how it’s made.
Cobalt is used in many industrial and commercial applications, including as a binder in some tungsten jewelry. This is because it’s a cheaper alloy. But that doesn’t necessarily mean tungsten rings can make you sick if they contain cobalt.
With extended wear, however, these tungsten rings will turn your finger green and brown. They can also cause allergic reactions and other skin irritations.
Fortunately, plenty of tungsten jewelry on the market doesn’t contain cobalt. Just remember to do your research!
When you’re ready to shop, what kind of tungsten pieces will you come across?
Pictured above: Black tungsten carbide ring | Image credit: Eli Christman, Flickr
There are several different types of tungsten jewelry available today. Some of the most popular varieties are:
Although used interchangeably, tungsten and tungsten carbide are entirely different.
Tungsten carbide is the most common type of tungsten jewelry. It’s made with 80-85% tungsten and 15% carbon, sometimes with nickel or cobalt added. Because pure tungsten is too brittle for jewelry use, the carbon makes it more malleable (easier to shape) and more durable.
Tungsten carbide with a nickel binder is considered top quality, and it’s actually more hypoallergenic than tungsten carbide with cobalt.
Some vendors will falsely market tungsten jewelry as tungsten carbide, so verify authenticity before buying.
With tungsten becoming more popular, jewelers have found a way to combine tungsten’s strength and weight with the bold, black color of onyx. Through a process known as physical vapor deposition (PVD), tungsten is coated with a thin layer of black.
PVD is highly durable, meaning black tungsten does stay black with proper care. It also doesn’t scratch easily, making black tungsten an ideal choice for everyday wear.
Mokume Gane is a traditional Japanese metalworking technique that involves layering different metals and fusing them together.
Mokume Gane tungsten is a modern interpretation of this historical technique.
Tungsten is used as the base and fused with other metals such as copper, gold, silver, and palladium. The different metals are layered and fused together using heat and pressure, creating a unique and beautiful pattern on tungsten’s surface.
The downside? Fusing different metals can affect the metal's hardness, making it more prone to scratches and dings. That means Mokume Gane tungsten isn’t as durable as tungsten carbide.
Understanding the different variations of tungsten jewelry will help you plan your budget accordingly.
On that note, let’s talk pricing.
Tungsten is a relatively cheap metal compared to gold or platinum. Prices vary depending on the type of tungsten, craftsmanship quality, and brand notoriety.
Tungsten Carbide: This is the most common type of tungsten jewelry and typically the most affordable. Prices start as low as $20 for a simple band to several hundred dollars for more elaborate pieces.
Black Tungsten: Creating black tungsten is more labor-intensive and requires special equipment, so it tends to be moderately pricier than regular tungsten carbide. Prices for black tungsten jewelry can range from $50 to several hundred dollars.
Mokume Gane Tungsten: This is the most expensive type of tungsten jewelry, as it’s a premium and high-end product. Cost varies widely depending on design complexity, craftsmanship, and the materials used in the layering and fusion process.
Moving on, how do you know if your tungsten ring is real?
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There are several ways to identify tungsten:
Check the weight: If your jewelry feels significantly heavier than a similar-sized piece of gold or silver, it’s likely tungsten.
Check the color: If your jewelry has a consistent grayish-white color, it may be tungsten.
Check the hallmark: Like other types of jewelry, tungsten pieces are often stamped with hallmarks indicating the metal used. Look for markings such as "Tungsten", "Tungsten Carbide'', "W," or "WC" on the jewelry.
Check the hardness: Try using a file or a diamond tester to check your metal’s hardness — if it doesn't scratch or leave a mark, it's likely tungsten carbide.
Check the authenticity: Ask for a certificate of authenticity to ensure your jewelry is indeed tungsten and not a cheaper metal with a tungsten coating.
Here are the answers to some commonly asked questions about tungsten:
Is tungsten jewelry safe to wear?
Tungsten jewelry is considered safe to wear, but there’s always a risk of potential allergic reactions if made with an alloy that irritates your skin.
How long will a tungsten ring last?
Tungsten should last a long time with proper care and use.
How do I make my tungsten ring shiny?
To clean tungsten, use a soft cloth or mild detergent and gently rub the surface of the jewelry. Store it in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight, heat, and moisture to prevent damage and maintain its shine.
Can you shower with a tungsten ring?
Yes — It’s generally safe to shower while wearing tungsten since it’s a highly durable metal resistant to corrosion and discoloration.
What does it mean when a man wears a black wedding band?
Ultimately, the decision to wear a black wedding band is personal, and the meaning behind it depends on the individual's personal beliefs and preferences.
What are the advantages of tungsten?
Highly durable and scratch-resistant
Won’t tarnish or discolor
Maintains luster for a long time
Available in a wide variety of styles
Ideal for daily wear
What are the disadvantages of tungsten?
Brittle in high temperatures
Can't be resized
Too heavy for some people
Black Tungsten may require replating
Tungsten jewelry is a fantastic option for durable and long-lasting jewelry that won't scratch or tarnish.
Whether you're looking for a sleek wedding band or a unique heirloom to pass down, tungsten guarantees timeless beauty for years to come.
Now that you know what the pros and cons of tungsten rings are, is tungsten the right choice for you?
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