Tungsten Carbide | Ultimate Guide
For those who are shopping around for rings, including wedding rings, there are many different considerations. This is especially true when it comes to the type of metal used to create the ring. While gold and platinum are still quite popular, another metal has come to the forefront in terms of jewelry, tungsten carbide.
Until relatively recently, tungsten carbide was mostly used for industrial purposes thanks to its hardness and durability. However, in recent years it has become a popular choice for wedding bands and rings. The reasons why are varied as to its surge in popularity. But for those who are curious about tungsten carbide it pays to know about its origins, substance, and what makes it so desired for jewelry and other applications.
What is Tungsten Carbide?
Put simply, this is a combination of tungsten and carbon, cobalt, or nickel which has been pressed together under extreme heat. Although pure tungsten is quite hard, it is also somewhat brittle. This combination reduces the brittleness of tungsten and makes the metal easier to shape along with being far more durable.
The basic form of tungsten carbide is a fine powder, but thanks to a process known as sintering it can be used to create a wide variety of parts and products for the following.
- Armor-Piercing Shells
- Cutting Tools
- Industrial Machinery
- Jewelry and More
Approximately twice as hard and dense as steel, tungsten carbide is extremely durable and resistant to scratches and impacts. The density of tungsten carbide is about halfway between gold and lead. Plus, it can only be properly polished and finished with tools using diamond powder and cubic boron nitride.
It is its use in jewelry which makes tungsten carbide so interesting. It should be known that most tungsten carbide used for jewelry is fashioned with carbon and not nickel or cobalt which might cause a skin reaction in some people. With more people looking for alternatives to precious metals for jewelry, tungsten carbide has become quite popular for several different reasons.
Interesting Facts about Tungsten
Tungsten is a metal that many people have heard about, but not as many understand its origins. Of the many interesting facts about tungsten, the fact that it was discovered by brothers Fausto and Juan Jose Elhuyar in 1783 may be the most illuminating. This is because tungsten has only become popular in terms of rings over the past couple of decades, yet the metal itself was discovered hundreds of years ago.
Despite being discovered by brothers from Spain, the name “tungsten” comes from two Swedish words that mean “heavy” and “stone”. However, if you are in Sweden or the other Scandinavian countries, the metal is not called tungsten. It is called “wolfram”.
Because of its high melting point, tungsten is almost never seen in its liquid form. In fact, it is nearly impossible to melt tungsten. Also, when pure tungsten is made into a fine powder it can be combustible. However, this does not happen when it remains in its metal form, so do not worry about your tungsten ring suddenly igniting.
Another interesting fact is that tungsten and tungsten carbide are not interchangeable names. This is because tungsten carbide includes cobalt that changes the properties of the tungsten considerably. For one thing, tungsten carbide is much harder compared to pure tungsten. So hard is tungsten carbide that it can only be cut by diamond-tipped tools.
So, if you are ordering a ring, there are significant differences between tungsten carbide and pure tungsten. Tungsten carbide is denser and harder which makes it much more difficult to scratch.
Tungsten Carbide Hardness
Tungsten carbide is an extremely hard metal, ranging on the Mohs scale from 9 to 9.5. To put this into perspective, diamonds are the hardest known substance which ranks as a 10 on the Mohs scale. This means that tungsten carbide is one of the hardest substances used for rings.
- 10x harder than 18k gold
- 5x harder than tool steel
- 4x harder than titanium
This means that for rings, tungsten carbide is the hardest metal that you can purchase. This means that the metal is difficult to scratch, dent, or ding. It is also why rings made from tungsten carbide are known as “permanently polished rings” since they can only dull over a long period. Rings made of tungsten carbide will not bend and will hold their shine longer than virtually any other metal without the need for polishing.
Pure tungsten is still one of the hardest substances as it registers between 8 and 9 on the Mohs scale. However, it is far more brittle compared to tungsten carbide and is hardly ever used for jewelry purposes because it might shatter with a strong enough impact. Plus, pure tungsten is difficult to work with which is why tungsten carbide is preferred. All tungsten carbide rings are shaped using tools and abrasives with a diamond edge.
However, while the hardness of the ring does have advantages, it should be known that in case of an emergency a medical professional can remove the ring. This is because they have the diamond-tipped tools to do so.
How is Tungsten Carbide Made?
The substance is made when pure tungsten in its powder form is pressed with carbon, nickel, or cobalt in high temperatures which causes the materials to bond together. Most tungsten carbide is mixed with carbon, but it can also be mixed with nickel or cobalt. Once the materials have formed together, they can be shaped into rings and other products.
How heavy is Tungsten?
In its pure form, tungsten has relatively the same weight as precious metals such as 18k gold. It is not quite as heavy compared to platinum, but it heavier compared to sterling platinum or 14k gold. Mixing it with carbon, nickel, or cobalt does as something to the weight, but not a significant amount. So, while tungsten carbide is considerably harder compared to most metals used for rings, it is not as heavy as platinum.
However, it should be noted that tungsten carbide is not nearly as expensive compared to platinum. Plus, it is more scratch resistant.
Tungsten Carbide Rings Pros & Cons
There are advantages and disadvantages to choosing tungsten carbide as the metal for your rings. It is considered an industrial metal in the same family as titanium and stainless steel which are quite popular today. This means that tungsten carbide is not the same as precious metals such as gold or platinum. Still then have some powerful advantages if you are considering them for your ring.
Color Selection: Although gunmetal gray is the most recognizable color for the tungsten carbide, you can choose from a wide variety of other colors as well. This means that you can have wedding bands in colors which are similar to white gold or platinum in appearance. The ability to choose different colors to provide a modern, stylish appearance is one of the greatest strengths in selecting tungsten carbide.
Durable: Arguably the greatest benefit of tungsten carbide rings is their durability. They are the hardest metal used for jewelry and the most scratch resistant. This means that most materials will not scratch the tungsten carbide. Plus, it is highly resilient to impacts and scrapes. So, unless you press diamonds or moissanites against the tungsten carbide, it is going to hold up quite well over time.
Luster: Because of their inherent hardness, tungsten carbide does not lose its shine over time. It is a substance which is highly resistant to corrosion and tarnishing. This means that you only need a little care to keep them looking brand new. This usually means wiping them off with a cloth to remove any oils, dirt, or debris that might build up on the surface. But the shine will remain for a long time to come.
Price: Despite the fact that tungsten is highly prized for a wide variety of uses, it is quite affordable compared to precious metals. Although there are differences in the prices between high-grade and low-grade combinations of tungsten and carbon or nickel, the price is just a fraction compared to gold or platinum. You will have to shop around to find the right price for your wallet, but you can save a considerable amount when choosing tungsten carbide as the metal for your ring.
Weight: Being one of the densest metals used, tungsten carbide weighs more than most other materials. This can be seen as an advantage or disadvantage, but most men seem to prefer rings that have a solid weight to them. This may be why tungsten carbide is a popular choice for many men who want something heavier compared to stainless steel or titanium.
Even with all the advantages that tungsten carbide offers, there are a few disadvantages as well. What follows are the cons of choosing a tungsten carbide ring.
Allergic Reaction: This is usually not an issue when the tungsten carbide is a mixture of tungsten and carbon. However, when it is mixed with cobalt then it is more likely the skin will have an allergic reaction. While it is usually just a small percentage of people who have such a reaction to nickel or cobalt, you never know who until it is worn for a while.
Cracking: Even tungsten carbide is vulnerable to cracking and breaking if the metal is struck hard enough. This is not common, but it can happen if you wear it while doing heavy work that impacts your hands. Just keep in mind that tungsten carbide is highly durable, but is far more likely to crack, break, or shatter compared to softer precious metals such as gold or platinum.
Scratching: It’s not that tungsten carbide is vulnerable to scratching, it’s that virtually everything that comes into contact with the tungsten carbide may be scratched. Because it is such a hard metal, it can scratch glasses, handles of doors, and practically anything else the ring comes into contact. Keep in mind that the metal of the ring is smooth, so scratches are not likely. But it can still happen depending on the impact.
Resizing: Arguably the biggest disadvantage is that if you need the ring to be resized, you will have to get a new ring instead. This is because unlike softer metals such as gold or platinum, tungsten is so hard that it cannot be resized in a cost-effective manner. So, you’ll have to keep in mind that you may have to replace your tungsten carbide ring. Although given its low price point that may not be such a bad option.
Value: The downside of paying only a fraction compared to gold or platinum is that the rings made from tungsten carbide are simply not as expensive. While gold or platinum rings hold their value and then some depending on the market, the resale value of tungsten carbide is not as high. Plus, since melting tungsten carbide is quite difficult, it means that it will stay a ring and cannot be used for other purposes which also lessens its resale value.
This means that if you want to sell your ring in the future, do not expect to get any more than what you paid for it under most circumstances.
Tungsten Carbide Pricing
The price of tungsten carbide rings depends in large part on their use. This means that rings for everyday purposes will cost considerably less compared to wedding bands made from the same material. Tungsten rings that are given as gifts can be found in the $50 to $100 price range. Wedding bands made from tungsten carbide are the most expensive and generally range from $100 all the way up to $600+. The reasons why they are considerably higher is that they are usually encrusted or decorated with precious stones. It also essentially depend on where you bought it form. Normally top quality tungsten rings can be found online from $100-$200. Same exact ring may cost double or triple from local department store, downtown, or fancy places like Beverly Hills.
Still, a $600 wedding band made from tungsten is considerably lower compared to wedding bands made from precious metals such as gold or platinum, and most men prefer tungsten due to their toughness and solid weight.
Difference between Brushed (Matte) and High Polish (Shiny) Finish
The major difference between a brushed and high polish finish is the finish itself. A brushed or matte finish will not be nearly as shiny compared to a high polished finish. With a brushed finish, the scratches will still be seen just like on a high polish finish, but the difference is that over time a matte finish will even out.
A high polish finish causes the ring to look quite shiny. It is the type of finish that you mostly see on wedding rings. Just like a matte finish, a high polish finish will scratch as well. But it will gain a patina over time and even out similar to a brushed version.
Keep in mind that tungsten is far harder compared to precious metals such as gold or platinum. So, it is not as likely to scratch, but you can still order either a brushed or high polish finish for your tungsten rings.
How to Clean Tungsten Carbide Rings
This is probably the easiest aspect of owning a tungsten carbide ring. Because the metal is so hard and dense, it will not lose its shine over time. However, it is vulnerable to the oils, dirt, and debris building up on the surface. So, to clean the ring what you will need is a small bowl, some soapy water, and a soft cloth.
Mix water and soap into a small bowl and put the ring inside. Let the ring soak for up to 15 minutes to loosen any dirt or debris that might have attached itself to the surface. Then lift the ring from the bowl, wipe it off with the cloth, and rinse under the faucet. If the ring still needs cleaning, use a toothbrush to get rid of any stubborn debris
How to Polish Tungsten Carbide Rings
If for some reason regular cleaning does not restore the shine to your tungsten carbide ring. You will need to polish it using the following materials.
- Diamond Polish Compound
- Cotton Polishing Wheel
- Eye Protection
You’ll need to mount the ring so it can be polished by the rotating wheel. This means wearing the eye protection and gloves to keep you protected from any of the compound coming off the ring. The diamond polish compound contains micro amounts of diamonds which is hard enough to polish the ring properly.
Apply the compound, spin the ring, and buff it with the cotton wheel. This will restore the shine to the ring in a short time. You can also restore the shine by hand if you use the right materials. Be sure to consult with the jeweler to obtain the right combination of products to buff and polish your tungsten carbide ring.
Wearing Tungsten Rings as Wedding Bands or Fashion Rings?
You can wear them as both. Tungsten carbide is one of the most durable, beautiful, and affordable metals used for rings. Whether for wedding bands, fashion, or just ordinary rings tungsten carbide is a highly versatile metal that makes for the perfect material to use in rings.