Men’s Jewelry: Alternative Jewelry Metals

Allow us to introduce you to these alternative jewelry metals; ceramic, tungsten carbide, cobalt, titanium, and stainless steel. Collectively, these alternative metals have become a big hit in men’s jewelry, especially men’s wedding bands, as well as other types of jewelry.

Precious metals like gold, platinum, and silver are still the most important metals in the jewelry world. But alternative jewelry metals have been growing in popularity for a number of reasons:

  • The price of precious metals has continued to rise since 2008, making alternative metals more affordable in comparison.
  • Some younger consumers don’t want traditional looking pieces. These rebels with a style are looking for something that is less conventional.
  • More Americans are living in cities. Many urbanites may be attracted to metals that have an edgier feel.
  • Alternative metals seem like a timely choice for an age of self-driving cars, 3D printers, and bionic prosthetics.
  • Alternative metals have a “cool” factor – they’re rugged, industrial, and tough.

Now that you know why alternative jewerly metals are hotter than ever, here are some basic facts and pointers about each that we’d like to share.

Tungsten carbide

Courtesy of Blue Nile Inc.

Brushed and polished ring in white tungsten carbide. Courtesy of Blue Nile Inc.

What it is…

Tungsten carbide, an extremely hard gray composite material has become a popular choice for men’s wedding bands. Since it’s scratch resistant and never needs polishing or reshaping, it appeals to men who work with their hands or those who want no-maintenance jewelry.

What to consider…

Tungsten carbide can be used to make tools which gives it a macho cachet with some jewelry buyers. However, because of its extreme hardness, lack of malleability, and brittleness, gemstones cannot be set directly into tungsten carbide; gems must be set in precious metal settings first and then riveted into place. Tungsten carbide can be laser engraved, but it cannot be soldered, welded, or sized.

How to wear it…

Tungsten carbide can usually be worn by those with allergies to the more traditional metals. It may, however, irritate the skin of the hyper-sensitive.

Cobalt

Courtesy of Scott Kay

Prime collection. Courtesy of Scott Kay

What it is…

When cobalt is alloyed with other metals for use in jewelry, it produces a very white, very hard, and scratch-resistant metal. It’s so hard, in fact, that jewelry designers have to use diamond-tipped tools to cut it.

What to consider…

Like the other high-tech materials, cobalt has found its way into the wedding band jewelry case. Cobalt is so durable that some jewelers say the material is a symbol for the enduring love of marriage.

When used in jewelry, cobalt is alloyed with other metal to make it whiter and harder. Put another way, cobalt jewelry is always made in conjunction with another metal. Cobalt chrome – an alloy of cobalt chromium and molybdenum – is another variation that’s sold in jewelry stores.

How to wear it…

Cobalt is hypoallergenic, which makes it suitable for anyone, and also magnetic.

Ceramics

Courtesy of Etienne Perret

Courtesy of Etienne Perret

What it is…

Ceramic jewelry is not made like glazed pottery or glass. It’s manufactured using inorganic, engineered, and non-metallic materials. It’s not technically a metal, but is often displayed with contemporary metals.

Since ceramic is one third of the weight of gold, jewelers can design bold, lightweight, and comfortable pieces. Although it’s tough and scratch-resistant, it can chip and break.

What to consider…

Affordable and colorful, ceramics are a popular choice for engagement rings and trendy rings. They also come in a rainbow of colors that include: blue, pink, green, gray, brown and black – a palette that appeals to the hip and fashion-conscious.

How to wear it…

Ceramic jewelry can be inlaid with different materials, including gold, silver, and tungsten. Gemstones have to be set into these metals, which are riveted into holes drilled in the item.

Stainless Steel

Stainless Steel Ring

This stainless steel ring by Fossil is fashionable and affordable.

What it is…

You’ll find stainless steel just about anywhere you look: in cutlery, cooking utensils, countertops, sinks, plumbing hardware, and car parts. You’ll also find  jewelry. Stainless steel is what?

What to consider…

Stainless steel is popular with men because it has a cool factor. It’s also scratch resistant, tarnish resistant, and hard. And it’s very affordable.

Stainless steel is rigid and stiff, so it can be challenging to size. It’s very difficult to set gemstones directly into it, but metal settings for holding gems can be riveted into place. Stainless steel can also be inlaid with gold, tungsten, and other materials.

How to wear it…

Sometimes stainless steel is alloyed with nickel. Those with nickel sensitivities may want to avoid jewelry with this mixture.

Titanium

Titanium Rings

Left: Titanium ring with black ion plating. Right: Titanium ring with a satin finish.

What it is…

Titanium, being hard and lightweight, has moved from wings on planes to rings on men’s fingers. Its industrial associations have certainly contributed to its popularity – men seeking a rugged material are likely to find it appealing.

Titanium is white metal that’s scratch and corrosion-resistant, hypoallergenic, lightweight, and extremely durable. It can have  a matte or high-polish finish and is very affordable.

What to consider…

Jewelry designers like titanium because it’s a lightweight material. This allows them to make larger pieces that are still comfortable to wear. Men unused to wearing jewelry are likely to be surprised by the lightness of titanium.

How to wear it…

Because of its extreme hardness and low malleability, it is extremely difficult to set gemstones in titanium. However, it can be grooved, drilled, or engraved.

Charmed by alternative jewelry metals? Learn more about the GIA programs where jewelry designers turn them into wearable works of art.

Main image courtesy of Courtesy of Craig Selimotic Danforth.

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