Tungsten is a metal that’s typically used for men’s wedding bands. While women’s wedding bands and engagement rings are most often made from metals such as gold or platinum, the most popular metal for men’s wedding bands is tungsten.
So, what is tungsten?
It’s a hard, highly durable, and scratch-resistant alloy that comes in a range of designs and styles. Let’s take a look at what tungsten is and what are the pros and cons of buying a tungsten ring.
What is Tungsten and Tungsten Carbide?
As with most other metals used in jewelry, tungsten is an alloy of pure tungsten and other metals but commonly carbon. The standard mixture is 80% tungsten plus 20% carbon although 85 to 15 ratio is also common. There are many tungsten alloys that also use cobalt and/or nickel with carbon, but carbon is the most common addition to the tungsten alloy.
White tungsten carbide ring. See it here.
It’s important to note here that the resulting alloy between tungsten and carbon is actually called tungsten carbide and not just tungsten. It is tungsten carbide that’s used in tungsten wedding bands. However, as it often happens, people just shorten the alloy’s name to the name of its main component.
The reason why tungsten needs to be mixed with carbon, nickel, and/or cobalt is that pure tungsten is very brittle and not suitable for jewelry use.
When mixed with carbon in a 4:1 ratio, however, the result is a very hard, exceptionally durable, and scratch resisting alloy that’s also malleable enough for jewelry use. It has a stylish look – exactly what jewelers need for a men’s wedding band.
Brushed tungsten carbide ring. See it here.
Tungsten carbide is also the heaviest metal of the ones used in jewelry which is one reason why it’s less popular with women, most men don’t seem to mind this property of the alloy as it gives the ring a substantial feel.
The other two possible additions to the alloy – nickel and cobalt – are not necessary but typically serve the function of making the alloy extra malleable and durable. Keep in mind, however, that cobalt can cause skin irritations and allergic reactions for some people so always make sure to check for cobalt in the alloy if you know you have an allergy to metals.
We mentioned that the tungsten carbide alloy is extremely durable but it’s worth pointing out just how durable it is. Tungsten used in jewelry and wedding bands is the hardest and most durable metal of all other jewelry metals, including some of the heavyweights such as titanium. To illustrate that, let’s take a look at the Mohs Scale of Mineral Hardness which goes from 1 to 10:
- Gold – 3
- Platinum – 4.5
- Titanium – 6
- Tungsten carbide – 8.5-9
- Diamond – 10
This easily showcases one of the main reasons why tungsten is so popular for men’s wedding bands. Men traditionally prefer harder and more durable metals, often because of the manual or physical labor they engage in. While a men’s gold wedding band will need to be taken off every time he is about to engage in some physical activity, a tungsten wedding band can stay on and survive most situations unscathed.
This also explains where tungsten gets its name. It comes from a Swedish term which means heavy stone. Interestingly enough, an earlier name for tungsten was “Wolfram” which came from the mineral “Wolframite”.
Tungsten Ring Color and Designs
Tungsten wedding bands can come in multiple colors depending on how the metal is polished. The basic color of the alloy, however, is best described as a steel gray shade. Essentially, it’s about 2 shades darker than platinum and white gold so it’s still quite light.
That’s the traditional color of tungsten – it falls in the “silver range” and can look lighter or darker depending on the lighting. There are other options too, however:
Rose gold tungsten ring by Lazer Boyz Designs. See it here.
Brushed black tungsten ring by Bellyssa Jewelry. See it here.
Yellow gold tungsten wedding band. See it here.
- Brushed tungsten – this variant is darker than the standard polished steel gray tungsten. It has a satin finish and a very minimal light reflection. Such a ring will have brushed streaks going around it and will get darker over time. However, it will still remain in the silver range of colors.
- Black tungsten – to get a black color out of tungsten wedding bands, jewelers coat the metal in a black zirconium finish. Like most coatings, this one can get scratched but it’s more durable than most black plated metals. Black tungsten rings are a favorite with their beautiful jet-black color even though their coating requires a bit of extra care.
- Gold tungsten – a cheaper and more durable alternative to golden wedding bands, gold tungsten is what you get when the tungsten carbide is coated with gold zirconium. You can also get rose gold tungsten bands, which has a rose gold plating over the tungsten. As with black tungsten coatings, here too the coating can get scratched and will require periodic care.
Tungsten isn’t workable enough to be made into intricate designs like gold or platinum is. This is why it’s typically used for wedding bands and not for engagement rings. However, designers can add all the popular finishes to tungsten bands including satin, matte, brushed, polished, hammered and swirls.
Tungsten Pros and Cons
Hammered tungsten ring design. See it here.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s sprint through the main pros and cons of tungsten carbide wedding bands:
- Scratch resistance – tungsten carbide is the most scratch-resistant metal used in jewelry which is ideal for people who are physically active or have physically demanding jobs.
- Affordability – tungsten is also very budget-friendly and is cheaper than many of its alternatives which is also something a lot of people look for in a ring.
- Weight – tungsten has a nice weight to it which a lot of people like as it allows them to more easily feel the ring on their finger. This could also count as a “con” for some people but most seem to view it as a positive.
- Durability – tungsten is the most durable metal used in jewelry. It doesn’t bend easily and is an ideal choice for people who don’t want to frequently have to take off their ring to preserve it.
- Hypoallergenic – tungsten and carbon are largely hypoallergenic metals so most tungsten alloys won’t cause allergic reactions and skin irritations in people. The exceptions are nickel and cobalt which are also sometimes present in tungsten carbide so check for it if you’re worried about allergic reactions.
- Colors – the standard color of tungsten carbide is light “gun metal” gray but the alloy can also come in darker, black or gold variants with the right polish or coating.
Tungsten with ceramic inlay wedding rings for couple. See it here.
- Breakage – similar to diamonds and other hard materials, tungsten can’t be bent easily but it can be broken if it’s hit with enough power or pressure. This con is somewhat mediated by the fact that reputable vendors will offer lifetime warranty and free replacements for broken tungsten rings.
- No resizing – like other hard metals, tungsten basically can’t be resized
because of how hard it is. Even titanium, which is 3 whole points softer than
tungsten on the Mohs scale is a nightmare to resize, and that goes double for
Note: There is a myth that because of their hardness tungsten rings and wedding bands are difficult to take off. That’s incorrect – as long as the ring fits your finger well enough, it will be easy to take off – easier, in fact, than other metals such as gold because of tungsten’s smooth surface. And if your finger has grown too wide for the ring then it will be hard to take off regardless of the material it’s made out of.
- No pawning/selling – tungsten is not as monetarily liquid as other metals such as gold, silver or platinum. This, essentially, means that as a less valuable metal, tungsten is not traded that often and you likely won’t be able to pawn or sell your ring if you ever need to do so. Still, that’s rarely the intended purpose of a wedding band anyway, so we wouldn’t count it for a significant “con”.
- Limited designs for women – tungsten is popular for men’s designs and if you’re looking for feminine styles you’ll find that these are very limited. Etsy features a range of handcrafted, stylish women’s tungsten wedding bands but we have yet to see this on popular jewelry retail stores.
Should you get a tungsten wedding band?
As with any other jewelry metal and material, it all comes down to personal preferences. We’d say that the advantages of tungsten greatly outweigh its disadvantages which is further supported by the metal’s popularity.
In short – if you want a ring that’s scratch-resistant, budget-friendly, sports a sleek and clean design, and also has a nice weight to it – tungsten is likely your best choice.
Alternatively – if you’re worried about breaking, you want a ring that’s easy to resize, and/or you’re looking for a more “prestigious” ring that has a higher monetary value – there are other more suitable options.