Did You Know?
Tungsten carbide rings are the hardest rings ever made, being 10 times harder than 18 carat gold, 5 times harder than tool steel, and 4 times as hard as titanium.
When selecting a wedding band, couples today are spoiled for choice for the kind of metal they would like to choose from. Jewelry has come a long way since the days when precious metals like gold, silver, and platinum were the only three options available. Such metals have become unaffordable with their skyrocketing prices. Moreover, they are weak and can be easily damaged under certain conditions. As a result, newer metals like titanium, tungsten, and stainless steel are playing an increasing role in the jewelry trade. These metals are known as alternative or contemporary metals; names which almost seem out of place, especially with their recent rise in popularity.
Of all the alternative metals, titanium and tungsten seem to be the most promising. These are some of the hardest metals ever discovered, and are even used in missiles, aircraft, and warships. They are bio-compatible for most people, which means that they do not cause adverse skin reactions, which is an advantage when compared to precious metals. In fact, titanium is so well-suited to the human body, that it is used in surgical tools, and is the only known metal with which human tissues are known to form links. In wedding bands, the most common alloy of titanium used is 'aircraft grade' titanium, while tungsten is composited with carbon, and called tungsten carbide. A more descriptive comparison of tungsten vs. titanium rings is given here.
Criteria for Comparison
Titanium is soft gray to silver in color, and resembles steel in appearance, while tungsten carbide is generally dark gray. Titanium can be treated with different chemicals while alloying, which imparts different colors. Jewelers use a method called anodizing, which produces attractive patterns on the ring. While the gray look of tungsten makes it popular, white tungsten is another option for those who want their ring to resemble white gold or platinum. Owing to its durability, the color of a tungsten carbide ring lasts much longer than that of titanium.
Both materials allow for a variety of designs, with titanium rings being sleeker. For example, when a certain number of diamonds are added to a tungsten ring, the weight of the stones, coupled with the higher weight of the alloy itself, will give the ring a massive appearance. When a similar modification is carried out on a titanium ring, the final product will be lighter, with a more sophisticated appearance.
While both tungsten and titanium are much harder than precious metals, between them, tungsten is the harder of the two. On the Mohs Hardness Scale, in which harder materials receive higher ratings, tungsten carbide is rated between 8 to 9, while titanium gets only 6. Tungsten, by itself, is very brittle. Addition of carbon atoms to the metal, forming its carbide, is what gives it this enormous hardness.
Titanium rings are much lighter than tungsten carbide rings, though the exact weight of a ring will depend on its size, composition, and/or the diamond. The light weight of titanium offers an advantage of stability; the ring stays in one place without rotating, which keeps the stone setting in sight. Whether the lightweight of titanium makes it preferable or not depends on one's personal preferences; some opt for the tungsten ring because its heavy weight makes it a constant reminder of one's wedding vows. This weight difference is because of titanium's low density. In fact, titanium alloys are about half the weight of stainless steel, while tungsten carbide is twice as heavy.
Titanium and tungsten carbide are both relatively hypoallergenic, meaning that they don't trigger an allergic reaction. Titanium is slightly better in this aspect, as a titanium ring can be worn safely even by a person with hypersensitive skin. Most tungsten carbide rings are safe, but some contain a small amount of the metal cobalt, which is known to cause allergic reactions, like making skin at the site of contact turn green. Interestingly, when tungsten carbide rings are alloyed with the metal nickel, it is hypoallergenic, even to those in whom cobalt causes an allergic reaction.
Tungsten carbide is much more resilient than titanium, though both offer a good degree of durability. The former's higher hardness makes it more scratch-resistant, due to which tungsten carbide rings retain their sheen for many years. In fact, tungsten carbide is one of the hardest materials known, and only a diamond-tipped blade can scratch its surface. On the contrary, titanium is softer, and susceptible to scratches. However, tungsten carbide's lower softness makes its brittle, due to which it is not crack-resistant, and can shatter into several pieces after falling on a hard surface. Titanium is more crack-resistant in comparison. Tungsten carbide rings have more overall durability, which makes them ideal for people who perform some degree of physical work.
Titanium, being ductile and less hard, is well-suited for having a name or message engraved on the inside of the ring. Such rings can be etched by using traditional tools and techniques. On the other hand, the hardness of tungsten carbide makes engraving difficult, and specialized tools like lasers have to be used. Even if engraving is done, it is less visible. However, off late, laser engraving has become popular, because its smoothness makes dirt hard to get inside the engraving. It can also be performed on titanium rings, though the softness of the metal makes engraving only small words and patterns possible.
It is hard to resize titanium rings, though it is possible, and most jewelers refuse to do so, because it ends up spoiling the design. Tungsten carbide rings cannot be resized because of the material's high strength, making replacement necessary. The hardness of tungsten carbide and titanium are the main reason why resizing these rings is problematic.
Titanium and tungsten carbide rings, both, can be easily removed in case of emergencies, contrary to popular perception. The technique of removing them varies. Titanium, being more ductile, has to be cut open using a jeweler's saw, while tungsten carbide is harder, and has to be cracked into pieces, using a vice-grip. However, this ductility creates new problems for titanium. When the ring is subjected to a great force, like getting trapped in a car door, titanium will bend out of shape, and may cut the finger, while tungsten carbide will shatter into several pieces, which makes it safer.
The prices of both are neck-to-neck, with titanium being slightly cheaper than tungsten. This minor difference is because, tungsten requires a unique manufacturing setup, with a temperature of 6,000º F, and a vacuum or hydrogen-rich environment. Both, titanium and tungsten are an affordable alternative to precious metals like gold, silver, and platinum. The high value and rarity of these metals, coupled with their high demand, drives their costs higher, while the production costs of both are lesser, which is reflected in their ultimate pricing. The exact pricing depends on the design, manufacturer, and quality of the material.
Deciding whether tungsten or titanium is better for you depends on your own priorities. For those who want a lighter wedding band, titanium is the obvious choice. It also offers the added advantage of a lower price, compared to a tungsten carbide ring. However, such rings require regular polishing to maintain their shine. The higher durability of tungsten carbide rings, which can withstand a serious amount of force without suffering a single scratch, and never need to be polished, makes their slightly-higher prices seem justified. Hope this comparison of titanium and tungsten wedding bands has helped you make an informed choice for yourself.