Titanium vs Tungsten Rings - All You Need to Know

Titanium vs Tungsten Rings - All You Need to Know

Tungsten carbide (sometimes shortened to just tungsten) and titanium are both popular materials to make contemporary jewelry, particularly rings for both men and women. In terms of appearance, they can look like each other but the two metallic compositions are vastly different in their properties. We’re going to break it down and compare the two, looking at the advantages and disadvantages of rings made out of each material, but before digging into details, you may also like to check our tungsten rings or wood tungstens ring collections.

Composition

Titanium is one of the elements of the periodic table (it has the symbol Ti) and is a silver-colored metal with fantastic properties. When used in jewelry, titanium is alloyed slightly with other metals, such as vanadium and aluminum. This, in turn, dictates the grading of the titanium. The most frequently used grades of titanium used in jewelry are commercial pure, extra-hard and aircraft grade titanium. All of these are at least 85% pure, with the commercially pure titanium being closer to 99%. One of titanium’s key properties is its hardness and therefore durability. It ranges from 8-9 in terms of its Mohs rating. A Mohs rating or scale compares different materials ability to ‘scratch’ others, thus placing their hardness on a measurable scale. I will discuss this in more depth shortly.

Tungsten Carbide is made as a compound of the rarer metal tungsten (chemical symbol W) with carbon atoms in an equal number, hence its name ‘tungsten carbide’. It is impossible to use tungsten in a 100% pure form to make jewelry because it is very difficult to work with as well as being extremely brittle. When tungsten is mixed with other elements, such as cobalt, carbon or nickel, it becomes more durable and workable as a metal. The proportions of tungsten to other elements vary but by using roughly equal parts tungsten to carbon will produce the most desirable tungsten carbide alloyed metal.

It isn’t just these metals that are mainly used in an alloyed form. Even platinum, silver and gold are mixed with other elements to ensure that they are more durable as well as look good.

Let’s sum up the two compositions in a table:

 

Tungsten

Titanium

Atomic Number &

Chemical Symbol

74

W

22

Ti

Color

Gunmetal gray

Metallic

Melting Point

6192°F

3034°F

Mohs Rating

8-9

6


Hardness and the Mohs Scale
National Park Service
Source: National Park Service

As mentioned above, the Mohs scale compares the hardness of different elements and materials by which materials can scratch others. Both tungsten carbide and titanium are much harder than other precious metals such as platinum, silver and gold. Titanium is just as strong as steel and even has twice the strength of aluminum. Despite this, it is much lighter than steel (by approximately 45%). Having said that, tungsten carbide is the harder of the two. In fact, it is one of the hardest materials that exist and is significantly harder than its rival, titanium.

Tungsten can be scratched only by a substance that scores higher on the Mohs scale. The only other harder material that tungsten jewelry will likely have contact with is the hardest material known to man: diamonds, which scores 10 on the Mohs scale. Tungsten has a little nickname: ‘forever polished’. This is due to the fact that the surface of the metal remains pretty much free from marks and scuffs, despite what it made be subjected to.

This does not mean that tungsten is completely indestructible though. It is actually very brittle. If you drop a ring made from tungsten, it can easily shatter. It’s more like glass, in this respect, than it is gold. Its rival titanium is softer, as we mentioned, which means the damage it sustains is likely to be from pressure upon which it will become deformed or bend.

Weight Comparison

In terms of their weight, tungsten carbide and titanium rings couldn’t be further apart! They feel completely different on your finger. Even given its durable nature, titanium is an extremely lightweight substance, so this makes it ideal for those who aren’t that keen on jewelry but want to wear it anyway. Indeed, titanium rings have a strength-to-weight ratio that can’t be beaten by any other crystalline metal. As we mentioned above, it has just 45% of the weight of steel for the same quantity. Alternatively, rings made from tungsten carbide are much heavier and denser, with a pleasant weighty feel on your finger.

Properties

Titanium also has other properties that make it so popular amongst jewelers. It is what is called biocompatible. This means that it is non-toxic and hypoallergenic to the human body and so is a suitable ring material for those who have allergies – even allergies to other metals. This is why it is used in surgical implants and why piercing technicians use it for brand new body piercings.

Titanium is also highly resistant to corrosion in many forms. This includes corrosion from chlorine and salt as well as aqua regia. Aqua regia (meaning ‘royal water’) is a compound liquid substance that is known to dissolve many metals, including gold. For these reasons, titanium is suitable for those who swim a lot whether in a chlorinated pool or in the sea. It is, therefore, the choice of many jewelry makers as it will not tarnish like other metals such as brass, silver and gold.

As for tungsten carbide, if it is of good quality, it is largely hypoallergenic. It can contain nickel, but this is usually in very small amounts and tends not to cause allergic reactions in people, even if they usually do have an allergy to nickel. Having said that, tungsten that contains cobalt is known to cause reactions on the skin for some wearers. It is always worth bearing in mind for those looking to purchase jewelry to check with the vendor as to the alloy content if it is something that may affect the wearer.

Cost

Both tungsten and titanium are classed as affordable metals. In the financial sense, they are considered not that valuable and are quite cheap. It is the craftsmanship quality and design that defines their prices. Titanium rings can cost a fair bit of money. This is mainly due to the extraction process of titanium from ores is costly and laborious. It is expensive when used in engineering but in jewelry, it is actually less than other precious metals that are frequently found in a jeweler’s such as silver, gold and most definitely platinum. Indeed, if we look at US prices for titanium, commonly used commercial alloys and pure titanium did not exceed $10/lb. five years ago. However, processing the titanium into rings can be expensive. The metal is very difficult to craft by soldiering or rolling in the same way as other precious metals are formed. Despite this, titanium is often cheaper than tungsten as it is much easier to work with. Titanium rings can cost anything from $10 up to $1000.

Who started it?

No one really knows who decided to make titanium or tungsten rings for the first time. Titanium wasn’t discovered until 1791 by an English pastor in Cornwall called William Gregor. Its name was coined by another scientist who presumed he was the first to discover it, Martin Heinrich Klaproth, and he names it after the Titans, supreme beings that were known for their super-human strength.

Tungsten was discovered around the same time by the De Elhuyar brothers, Fausto and Juan Jose, in 1781. It was isolated in 1783 as a metal. Its name comes from the words ‘tung’ and ‘sten’ which, in Swedish, mean ‘heavy stone’. Tungsten is found naturally but it is almost always combined in a chemical compound with other elements rather than on its own, hence why it took some time to isolate it initially. Its ores include scheelite and wolframite.

One of the first known examples of a titanium ring featuring in pop culture was an appearance of one as a small plot point in a 1989 sci-fi book and film, The Abyss. Both metals first appeared on the jewelry market in the 1990s and the demand for them has increased massively since then. There are whole stores dedicated to rings made from these two elements.

 Making rings from these metals is not that easy. Given that titanium is not very malleable in comparison with other jewelry metals, makers must use the same production techniques used in the making of stainless steel to get the end result. The shape is cut from a sheet of titanium and a pilot hole is drilled. The sharper edges are machines and then the ring is hammered with a mandrel which expands the inside wall. The ring is then rounded with a lathe followed by being polished.

Tungsten carbide rings are made in a different way. Pure tungsten and carbon are made into a powder which is then put into a mold in the ring shape. This mixture is then compressed and heated to a very high temperature of 1400°C inside a vacuum furnace. This allows the tungsten to bond with the carbon, forming the structure of tungsten carbide. This process is patented and usually called “sintering”.

The Colors of Titanium and Tungsten Carbide Rings

As with other metals, titanium and tungsten carbide rings can come in many different colors. Traditionally polished tungsten rings are a shade of darker gray, rather like gunmetal gray. Titanium rings are naturally a silver color. However, both titanium and tungsten carbide can be made in a huge spectrum of colors. Titanium has even been nicknamed “rainbow metal” by some jewelers as it can be made into a variety of colors when it is anodized in a special electrolyte solution. This happens by passing an electric current through the metal which produces oxide that’s light-refractive on the surface of the metal. There are many cool videos you can watch online to see this happen.

Tungsten rings can come in a variety of colors too, but this is largely achieved by ion plating (IP). Ion plating happens where the ring’s surface is blitzed with tiny energetic particles. In comparison with coloring, it can make the ring more durable. IP has a relatively short life span and usually wears off after a couple of years. To prolong ion plating, the wearer should remove the jewelry in water or when dealing with chemicals such as soaps, hairspray or chlorine. It should also be removed when it is likely to get hit as the plating is not as strong as the tungsten itself.

Styles of Titanium and Tungsten Carbide Rings

Both types of ring can come in a variety of styles, for example, polished or brushed metal appearances. As well as this, they can be a variety of shapes such as classic dome-shaped, pipe-cut, faceted rings, inlay rings, Celtic, rings with stones in addition to rings of different widths and thicknesses.

Classic Dome: This is the go-to style that’s been around for years and is most commonly used as a wedding band style. It is simple and ever so slightly raised in the center which gives it its dome-like appearance. This is the best option for those who are looking for a traditional ring.

Pipe-Cut: Similar to the dome shape above, this is a classic design but without the domed appearance. It fits flatly against the finger. It is more contemporary in its design but without being too out there either.

Faceted Design: This style is a little less traditional, giving a more 3D look to rings by using things such as patterned grooves or beveling.

Inlay Rings: These inlay rings are common in tungsten carbide rings. They can allow you to add different metals in an inlay running through the center to give a contrast. Some inlays even use wood for an added twist.

Celtic Rings: These are increasingly popular today with having a Celtic pattern on the surface.

Stones: Stones can be added to tungsten and titanium rings. Diamonds are an obvious choice as they are the hardest material known to man and will look great against the shiny metals of tungsten and titanium.

Busting the Myths

A common myth about both titanium and tungsten carbide is related to their strength. The fact that both metals are extremely hard and durable has led people to believe that it’s impossible to remove them should an emergency occur. In fact, some sites state that if the ring can’t be removed when it needs to be in an emergency situation then the whole finger might need amputating! Thankfully, this is a common misconception that medical experts have debunked.

It is absolutely possible to remove tungsten and titanium rings by cutting or sawing through the metal. Tungsten rings can shatter on impact, and as a result, can have some properties that actually prevent more serious injuries. For example, if you were to catch your finger in a car door and the ring catches, the impact would shatter or break the ring rather than your finger.

Engraving:  This is another misconception: that tungsten rings cannot be engraved as the material is too hard. This is also false information and, as I’m sure you would be able to find online, there exist many possibilities for engraving tungsten and titanium rings.

Resizing Rings

Unfortunately, this one isn’t a myth. It is true that titanium and tungsten rings cannot be resized. If it does not fit, it will have to be changed altogether. Some vendors actually offer lifetime warranties where if your ring no longer fits, due to you losing weight for example, you can change it. Some jewelers do offer resizing of titanium rings. They cannot be soldered but there are some more complex techniques available. However, their results are variable and cannot be guaranteed at all.

The easiest way to alter the ring if your fingers change size is to replace it. Given the fact that these types of rings are cheaper than other precious metals, this can be a viable option or many. However, if it is a wedding ring, then for some the life-long symbolism of a ring is undermined by exchanging it for another.

Caring for your rings

For a ring made from tungsten carbide, there is very little maintenance needed to keep it shiny and new thanks to its hardy properties. There are no special polishes needed just a few general rules and precautions. Tungsten rings’ surfaces are scratch-resistant however, they are more brittle than other rings and are more likely to shatter if dropped or hit. If they are struck with something heavy, they will not bend like other metals but can shatter completely. This is why you should avoid situations where this may occur.

For titanium rings, they are very unlikely to suffer tarnishing at room temperature. They can pick up dirt on the surface, but this can be rinsed off in mildly soapy water. It isn’t completely infallible and can pick up scratches from harder materials further up the Mohs scale. If your ring does suffer from deep scratches, these can be removed by refinishing the ring at a jeweler.

The Pros and the Cons of Titanium Rings vs. Tungsten Carbide Rings

We have mentioned many of the pros and cons of rings made with titanium and tungsten carbide. To make things easier, I have put all of this information together in a summary table.

Titanium Rings

Tungsten Carbide Rings

Pros

Cons

Pros

Cons

Biocompatible (i.e. hypoallergenic)

Aircraft grade titanium cannot be repaired or resized

Extremely Scratch Resistant

Cannot be resized

Softer grade titanium can be engraved or resized

Some grades cannot be engraved

No bending or buckling

Can shatter on impact

Lightweight on the finger

Aircraft grade titanium rings cannot be easily removed in an emergency situation with cutters

Many color options

 

Strong

Due to manufacturing processes, they cannot be made into intricate designs.

Finish is kept for its lifetime

 

Won’t get hot as it is a poor heat conducting metal

 

Very affordable

 

Resistant to tarnishing and corrosion.

 

Heavyweight

 

 

 

Hypoallergenic

Can affect those with Nickel allergies

 

 

Can be engraved

 

 

 

The same brightness as platinum

 

 

Conclusion

Both tungsten rings and titanium rings are relative newcomers in the fashion and jewelry markets. As with everything, trends and fads come and go. However, these rings have had such a surge in popularity from the 1990s onwards that we are sure that they will certainly continue to dominate certain areas of the market due to both their properties and price. Their properties make them an excellent choice of ring for a wedding ring as they are durable and hardwearing and therefore will stand the test of time. The different colors available can also make them a great fashion item that won’t break the bank either.

But, which should you choose? It really depends on your characteristics and what you are wanting in a ring. If you want an extremely durable ring that won’t tarnish or scratch at all, looking as shiny and polished after thirty years as it did on day one, then a tungsten carbide ring is your best bet. However, if you want something lighter weight, completely hypoallergenic, and potentially adjustable then titanium is your best bet.

In terms of their price, they are both extremely affordable, especially when you compare them to other precious metals. The cost will depend on their manufacturer, the quality of the metal as well as the style.

There is a whole world of titanium and tungsten carbide rings out there to choose from. The market explosion is not set to slow any time soon. So, what are you waiting for? Grab yourself one of these cool, trendy, and durable rings! You certainly will not be disappointed. You just have to decide which material and style will suit you best. Tungsten carbide versus titanium: the choice is yours!


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