Are you a minimalist and a fan of silver-hued, modern metals used in the jewellery industry today? Then you may be familiar with these three alloys, titanium, tungsten and stainless steel. These so-called contemporary metals are highly esteemed for their durability, hypoallergenic property and minimum maintenance. However, what makes them differ from one another? In this article, we are going to break down the similarities and differences among these three base material, which is widely held mainly as men’s rings. First up, let us look into the different properties that these three beautiful alloys have in common.
Similarities Between Stainless Steel, Tungsten Carbide and Titanium Rings
- Durability, Hardness, and Toughness
Stainless steel, tungsten carbide and titanium carbide are the leading jewellery base candidates when it comes to durability, hardness and toughness as of the moment. We often encounter these three terms to describe rings made from these metals, but these properties may seem the same, but they do have some minor differences.
The property of a metal to withstand pressure and stress for a period of time. This pertains to the daily wear and tear our rings are exposed to.
The ability of a metal to absorb shock and impact without being nicked, or deformed. Toughness is inversely proportional to hardness, a great example of this, are glass and ceramic based jewellery, wherein both exhibits exceptional hardness but has a low scale when it comes to toughness.
The ability of a metal to resist abrasive forces that can produce scratching, deformation or denting. Brinell scale is the test that measures the hardness of a material. Named after its creator Johan Brinell, it was extensively used to test hardness in the world of engineering and metallurgy. HBW is a symbol for hardness, Brinell and tungsten carbide as an indenter. HBS uses steel as its indenter.
These three contemporary alloys and metals are more affordable than their counterparts—silver for stainless steel and platinum for tungsten and titanium. High-end jewellery shops and jeweller would comment that the value is directly proportional to the quality of the ring. This proves to be true for each material, whether it is made of gold or stainless steel are subcategorized into different grades, which denotes the purity of the material. Having pointed this out, if we compare rings made from the same quality, these three base material would still cost less than their precious and rare metals.
How do stainless steel, titanium alloys, and tungsten carbide compound resist corrosion? The answer would be passivation. These three are alloyed or compounded with chromium and undergoes passivation, whether it is induced with the use of chemicals or naturally achieved. Chemical passivation is made with the use of specific acids like nitric acid to intentionally corrode and clean the surface of the alloyed metal, and expose the chromium content to moisture and oxygen, which directly results to oxidation and the creation of an oxide film called chromium oxide. Passivation is an inherent property of alloys wherein it naturally heals itself when subjected to air and moisture. The role of chromium oxide is to seal off any metals that can produce rust such as iron preventing it from being exposed to any oxygen-containing compounds that promote its oxidation to ferrous oxide or rust. The wonder of science, yeah?
These three are very durable, translating to extended longevity or long life. This makes it accessible, especially for men who are busy with their everyday life. Wearing a ring made from durable and hard base material ensures corrosion, scratch and even dent resistant, thus would not need high maintenance for the undergo passivation and heals itself back to its former shine.
Nowadays, unique and personalized rings are on-trend. Nothing can make our rings more personal than having it engraved with things or instances that would remind us of something essential and uniquely us. Durable and hard metals are the most excellent base for laser engravings. Fibre laser engraving consists of a stream of light vaporizing the surface of the material producing a cone-shaped marking. Multiple passes would provide a more profound and more precise engraving that guarantees a long-lasting indented design. The frequency is adjusted depending on the material and achieves various types and coloured engravings that we commonly see on modern rings.
These three base materials are a great alternative, particularly for individuals who are allergic to precious metals such as gold and silver. The extent each hypoallergenic property would be discussed later in each featured sections.
- High polish and Brilliance
Each one is polished to a lustrous and brilliant shine of their own. Although all three may exhibit a greyish white shade, each one can produce a highly glossy and silky smooth surface that is specific and district to a stainless steel, tungsten and titanium carbide base. Moreover, these durable bases maximize other types of polish that not only gives a certain manly appeal but also brings a legit rugged and elegant personality on the table.
- Low Maintenance
Swimming, sports, working out? If you live a highly active lifestyle with a little to no time to spend worrying if your ring can withstand these activities, then you can choose among these three base materials. You would only need some polishing here and there to preserve its original shine and glory.
- Difficult to Resize
Now that we have enumerated the things that we love about these there contemporary metals, we must also tackle their weaknesses. The number one is ring resizing. With the tag “Hard and durable,” we must realize that this comes with a consequence, which is the difficulty to be altered. We must consider the hardness and melting point of each material to understand why some jewellers would not accept or are not capable of modifying your rings. In the case of stainless steel and tungsten carbide rings, we must consider the cost of the ring for the value of the repair may be equal to too high to even bother for the repair. Titanium rings, on the other hand, are very pricey in the first place, so it is vital that you have your finger sized more than once to have a perfectly fitted ring or prepare an ample sum for the repair. Be sure to read some guideline in sizing your fingers, whether by a professional jeweller or by yourself at the comfort of your home.
- Big and massive
Traditionally fashioned rings made from titanium, tungsten, and stainless tends to be bulky or have a full band. These rings were initially made with men in mind, to highlight and enhances their strong hands, comparable to how thin rings can elongate and make our hands look delicate and soft. This feature may be advantageous or disadvantageous in the same way that rings made with this design are limited only to men. It is an advantage for soft metals are not suitable to be made in this fashion for they do not have what it takes to retain its massive and circular shape. Full and comprehensive rings are also uncomfortable to wear, but this is corrected with comfort fit band that features a rounded inner shank that is more comfortable to wear than the traditionally fashioned flat internal shank.
- Low Market Value and Resell
This problem is specific to the widely offered rings in the market today, and not the custom made ones adorned with precious gemstones. The fact is, rings made from steel, tungsten and titanium are seen almost everywhere, primarily online. This makes it an everyday accessory with no value for when we follow the law of supply and demand, the rarer the piece, the higher value it fetches. Therefore, unless your ring is surmounted with a precious stone like a diamond, which the resell value would be based on the diamond itself and not the base material, the chance of it getting pawned or sold at a higher price is not plausible.
Moving forward, we go directly to our three main features and their detailed characteristics. Let us start with the very reliable stainless steel rings.
Stainless Steel Rings
Are you low on budget? Here is an affordable ring that easily matches tungsten carbide and titanium when it comes to durability and inherent hypoallergenic property. Stainless steel is an alloy, which means that the metals are chemically bonded together. Stainless steel ring designs have evolved from the customary costume or statement rings to a more elegant engagement and wedding rings.
The only acceptable stainless steel grade would be the 430, 304 and 316 from the lowest grade to the highest jewellery grade we commonly see in the market today.
The 430 steel grade is composed of 16-18 per cent chromium, 0.12 per cent carbon, 80 per cent iron, 0.5 to 0.75% nickel, and 1 per cent silicone. When you see this grade marked or tagged on a ring, please continue to browse and stay away from it. I say this in rings mainly due to the reason that even though it has the ability to form a chromium oxide film and exhibit a hypoallergenic property, it cannot heal itself as fast as the ring is exposed to stress and abrasion.
The 304 steel grade is made of 18% chromium, 8% nickel, and 80% iron. This type is non-magnetic in nature for its inverted or face-centred structure; you may use a magnet to test if your rings are made of 304 steel grade.
The 316 grade or the surgical grade steel, which is highly hypoallergenic and safe to use, it is an internationally approved class used in the manufacture of pharmaceutical and food industry. Composed of 13 per cent chromium, carbon and molybdenum or nickel. Body jewellery is the most common form of jewellery for this type of stainless steel. Surgical grade stainless steel sits second to titanium when it comes to medical-grade steel.
Advantages of Stainless Steel Rings
- Rustic Look
Stainless steel has this greyish metallic tinge, polished in four ways: mirror-like polish, brushed, hammered and matte. Mirror-like polished exhibits a highly polished surface leaving no space or even a pore for dirt to set into, this type is also called silky or sable for its highly smooth texture that may even mimic a shiny ring made of silver.
For a more rugged look, a brushed and hammered polished is best with a stainless steel base. The brushed, polished surface is characterized by a thread-like surface pattern as if buffed with a rough material. It still gives a glossy and smooth surface, but it cannot reflect light like how a mirror finish would.
For a rebellious rock star appeal, a hammered stainless steel end polish would be perfect for catering to this style of style. Characterized by a multifaceted surface that can reflect and dance with light creating an elegant vintage feel.
Steels are generally low-priced than other metals due to their abundance, and it is relatively easy to manufacture. This makes it the most economical jewellery base to cater the masses while ensuring features and characteristics those precious metals offers.
- Environmentally friendly
Stainless steel is dubbed under a green product for it is one hundred recyclable. We sometimes purchase something that we see not as a long-term investment, whether in accessories products that we use in our daily life. These disposable products are disposed of in landfills that take long years to decompose. At this day and age where we faced with the result of global warming, choosing recyclable materials is crucial in preserving our environment.
Disadvantages of Stainless Steel Rings
The only major disadvantage of stainless steel would be its aesthetics. In its original and non-plated form, stainless steel would give a greyish metallic shine even when polished to a mirror-like surface. It does not have the natural, elegant white hue that is most coveted, especially for engagement rings. However, this problem can effortlessly be amended with the use of metal plating. Plated rings made of stainless steel base are much affordable than those made with pure precious metals, thus once again, an advantage for plated stainless steel offers a more durable alternative with replicating a beautiful and brilliant surface of silver or gold.
- Nickel Content
Nickel is the most common reason that causes skin irritation. Stainless steel, even the surgical grade contains metal. However, why is it still considered as a guaranteed hypoallergenic material that is non-reactive and safe by the high standards of the pharmaceutical industry? We go back to passivation with the addition of high polish or mirror-like finish.
Highly durable and scratch-resistant, but that does not mean that it cannot be dented. The sudden and high impact may dent the surface of your stainless rings, which is somewhat of a disadvantage aesthetically. The hardness of the steel also proves to be tricky to correct but is definitely possible.
- Limited Designs
Please do not get me wrong. Yes, there are various ring designs fashioned with a stainless steel base, but these are all mass-produced, which in turn has been available for many and does not exhibit any unique features, unlike rings that can be custom made. Not much jewellery shop offers a custom-made ring made from stainless steel for it is tricky to create. It cannot be cut with the use of your regular pliers for it needs a specific tool like a stainless ring cutter, but that is equipped with a blade enclosed with annealed alloy to easily cut into the ring. This tool can be used for repairs and for emergency situations.
Tungsten Carbide Rings
Wolfram or heavy stone is a mineral that is naturally found on Earth’s crust. It is considered the hardest metal that can be found on Earth with a score of nine to nine and a half in the Mohs scale, a .05 difference from the hardest rock, diamond. It has a high tensile strength of 1960MPa to 2450 MPa and has the highest melting point of 3,422 degrees centigrade among metals. Hot right? It features a lustrous, with greyish-white hue and belongs to the group of transition metals. What does this imply? Those who belong to this group are dense and high melting and boiling point and form a stable compound. This is why it is easily alloyed or compounded with other elements. Tungsten is combined with carbon to give it strength and stability.
Tungsten carbide is actually a metal compound meaning the combinations of metals are not bonded chemically like a stainless steel alloy. It is usually compounded with a combination of chromium, molybdenum, nickel or cobalt in different percentage. The most ideal tungsten carbide content is 80 to 85 per cent to produce a high-quality tungsten carbide ring. It is roughly three times harder than titanium and is considered as one of the top base metal used in wedding band these past few years. At present, a ring made from tungsten carbide cost around 20-30 USD.
Types of Tungsten Carbide
Casted tungsten carbide is not used in the jewellery industry due to its brittleness. It is commonly used in the engineering industry as hard coatings for cutting tools such as anvils and other gears used in excavation.
Cemented tungsten carbide is used in the jewellery industry and characterized with a hint of grey to bluish metallic tint. Rings are fashioned with the use of cobalt or a nickel binder, and black carbon pressed to achieve the desired form.
Types of Tungsten Carbide Rings
Dome or Grooved
When you check for tungsten carbide rings online, one of the widely offered styles are rings fashioned with a dome top and colourful flat bands with groove accents. Dome-shaped top bands are commonly polished with a classic sable or silky polish for a modern vibe, while the groove ring accents vary from a single, up to three indented accents.
Carbon Fiber Inlay
Celtic dragon, infinity knot, wood and colourful replicated opals are also quite popular as a form of decoration or inlay. Tungsten carbide is usually available as a band. Still, due to its hardness, it is not suitable to be paved or embellished with gemstones, thus leaving a carbon fibre inlay as a suitable design to create a variety of styles that gives life to and excitement to a classically fashioned band.
The natural space grey colour of tungsten carbide creates a perfect canvas to emphasize an engraved design or feature. The design is numerous to mention, from the religious Christian cross, skulls, Egyptian patterns and other creative designs made to cater to all styles and taste.
Pros of Tungsten Carbide Rings
Iconic Black or White Plating
- White Tungsten Carbide Ring is fashioned with a tungsten carbide base, plated with a platinum coat achieving a highly lustrous white surface, which is indistinguishable by merely looking at it. In fact, high polished white tungsten rings are said to even look whiter than that of platinum-based rings.
- Black Tungsten Carbide Ring is moulded from a tungsten carbide base plated with a titanium nitride compound giving it a deep black shade. Titanium nitride is a compound with a high level of microhardness used to cast metals to provide a wear-resistant surface which may result in decorative gold or black hue. This is commonly applied with PVD or IP plating in which it is placed in a gas plasma chamber and subjected to high temperature thus spraying and depositing small particles of 10micro meter thick on the surface of the ring.
Cons of Tungsten Carbide Rings
Heavy in weight
The weight of a tungsten carbide ring is a hindrance particularly for women in general. Women would usually have a slimmer and delicate finger, and the bulkiness and the weight of tungsten prove to be uncomfortable to some. The same goes for men, in the view of a wedding or an engagement ring where these rings are worn on a daily basis. This is also the reason why titanium tops the list for its lightness, Brilliance and strength, which are ideal for a wedding or engagement bands.
Brittle / Cracking
As we have said earlier, the relationship between hardness and toughness is inversely proportional. The extreme hardness of tungsten makes it prone to chipping and shattering. This property actually sits in the middle of being an advantage and a disadvantage. Disadvantageous to resizing, as we have mentioned in earlier but advantageous when it comes to medical emergencies. Comparing it to softer metals such as silver that bends when subjected to high impact would bend and pin the finger in between causing enormous pain and may even bore into the skin. At the same time, a tungsten carbide ring would immediately crack when subjected to extreme force and not cause injury to the said finger.
Are tungsten carbide ring indestructible? How can it be removed in emergency cases?
Tungsten carbide rings are not indestructible. There have been cases where tungsten rings need to be removed in emergency cases, and this was accomplished by cutting the ring. With the right amount of force and a proper cutting tool, tungsten carbide ring can be removed particularity in emergency cases. I am talking about a rotary saw, which is made with a diamond-coated blade. This tool can easily cut a tungsten carbide ring in seconds. There are some instances that a tungsten ring was cracked and removed with a standard vice grip pliers or a hacksaw. The trick is to use a considerable amount of force to crack it when a superior cutting tool is not available.
From the root word titan of Greek mythology, which correctly describe its strength and hardness, it is one of the elements belonging to the transition group is mainly available in the form of titanium dioxide. It is one of the top ten most abundant metal found in nearly every single rock with a melting point of 1668 degree Celsius. Silver white in hue and is commonly alloyed with aluminium, vanadium molybdenum and other metals. Inert or non-magnetic and a poor electric and heat conductor. It sits on the sixth spot as one of the hardest metal that can be found in nature based on the fatigue limit. Fatigue limit is the maximum perimeters wherein the material can take endure extreme stress. This indicates the durability of the material or its tensile strength. Its hardness ranges from 716 MPa to 2770MPa.
Titanium is four times tougher than stainless steel scoring a six in the Moh scale and resistant to high temperatures. Non- reactive to natural elements like the sun and saltwater, bodily fluids like sweat and even blood. In its pure form, titanium is quite unstable; therefore; it needs to be alloyed with a carbide.
Titanium Wedding Rings
Titanium is getting more popularity as a base for wedding rings in place of platinum, which not everyone can afford. Wedding rings made of titanium are fashioned in four models. Traditional or vintage is a classic style with no décor or accent, it is just your regular glossy flat or semi-domed shaped band. Another old-fashioned wedding band model is the frosted style. This is characterized by a glittery and slightly rough surface to create a sparkling effect even without crystal embellishments. The third is sandblasted, which is a more textured and unpolished version of the frosted. Lastly, sable, a style that exhibits a silky and cloudy appearance that exudes an old-fashioned classy elegance, perfect for an engagement or a wedding band.
Types of Titanium Used on Rings
The softest of all the titanium grades but compared to other metals such as gold and silver, it is definitely superior in strength. This grade also makes it easier to mould and decorate for it is more pliable than other titanium grades.
Aircraft Grade Titanium is composed of 4 per cent vanadium, 6 per cent aluminium, and 90 per cent titanium. Known to have 1034 MPa tensile strength and scores 330 in Brinell hardness scale. This grade is harder than the commercially pure grade, which ensures enhanced wear and tear resistance and extended longevity.
Extra-Hard Titanium is composed of 86 per cent titanium, 6 per cent vanadium 6 per cent aluminium, and 2 per cent tin. If you think that the aircraft-grade is hard then be ready, for this type has a tensile strength of 1241 MPa and a 389 Brinell hardness score. This grade is known to be the hardest and most durable titanium grade as of today. It is best used in pressure rings like a tension set ring for its supreme rigidity that can resist any form of misalignment or bending that may harm the featured gemstone or worst, loosen its hold.
These three grades of titanium are all lightweight, impermeable to corrosion and robust. Jewellers recommend the used of aircraft and extra hard class in wedding and engagement bands for these two produce not only an exceptionally strong and valuable ring, but also a timeless beauty and essence that comes with an equally higher tag price.
Pros of Titanium Rings
The Paramount Hypoallergenic Material
Titanium is the best choice when it comes to individuals with ultra-sensitive skin for unlike stainless steel, titanium-based jewellery does not contain nickel. Biocompatible and hemocompatible, meaning it is non-reactive to any bodily fluids and blood.
Low Magnetic Property
Pieces of jewellery that has a low magnetic property are best for it creates no interference and are mostly non-reactive to the natural elements. As many rings now claim to be made with a titanium base, it is advisable to test your rings with the use of a magnet just to be sure that your ring is not made mainly of iron.
Easily Anodized to Create a Vibrant Colored Surface
Titanium rings do not contain any iron, and for this reason alone, titanium rings can be coated with a thick and beautifully coloured surface, adding to its resistant to corrosion and scratching. The most common type of annealing a titanium base is type 2 and type 3. Type 2 produces a matte grey hue that is tough wearing even when subjected to constant friction and resistance to saltwater and moisture. Type 3 anodizing provides a vibrantly coloured surface that needs a precise temperature and electricity to achieve a beautiful and thicker coat.
Forty-five per cent lighter than steel but more massive than aluminium. With this in mind, we can expect a comfortable weight paired with an extremely hard and scratch-resistant ring that can resist abrasion, indentation and corrosion even when subjected to high-speed movement.
Cons of Titanium Rings
Although titanium itself is considered inexpensive than precious metals, the difficulty in constructing a ring made from titanium contributes to a more expensive end product. Creating harder grades of titanium takes a significant amount of time and effort that utilizes and wear polishing tools and materials that contributes to the production cost. A good comparison is between titanium and white gold. White gold is softer but is sold globally at a higher price than titanium, but when we get to compare rings made from each base. The price is of titanium ring fetch a much higher value than white gold rings depending on the grade used.
Hard to Extract
One of the top ten most abundant element, and mineral that can be found on almost every piece of igneous rock, but is still considered a rare element—the reason behind this its difficulty to be extracted. The general process in extracting pure and unadulterated titanium starts by converting it to titanium chloride and then reduced to titanium under a high temperature of 1000 to 1200 degree centigrade for two days. It is then diluted with hydrochloric acid to further purify the titanium being extracted.
Why does most jeweller advise people not to purchase wedding rings made from titanium and tungsten?
This query has been asked numerous times, and the reason would always be based on resizing and not about the quality of tungsten and titanium carbide rings. They do have a point for even if you have purchased a well-fitted ring, there are unexpected things in life that may contribute to a change of your ring size. You may drastically gain or lose weight, or heaven forbid, get ill and have swollen fingers or joints. These situations may require you to have your ring altered, which your neighbourhood jewellery shop may not be equipped to do so.
Can titanium carbide ring be cut during emergency cases?
Yes, like any other manmade material, each has a counterpart. The tool to use to cut into a titanium ring is a manual rings cutter. This tool is equipped with a diamond-coated steel blade that is developed to cut through hard objects like titanium.
Well, that is it for now, hoping that this article has given you a deeper understanding of the similarities and differences of a ring made of stainless steel, tungsten carbide and titanium carbide. The advantages and disadvantages, specific to each base material, to serve as a guide in choosing which base material is right for you. One thing is guaranteed, you can never go wrong with any of these three as long as you choose a ring made of high-quality materials suited to your current needs and finances, you know what I mean. Toodles!