Breaking Tungsten Carbide

October 29, 2009 Cheryl Kremkow Jewelry Design Tags: , , , , , ,

Designer Scott Kay breaks some tungsten carbide wedding bands to show why men should choose a new cobalt alloy instead.

Not so long ago, a wedding ring was a simply a “band of gold.” When platinum came on the scene in the 1980s, some high-end bands began to be made of that precious metal too.  But this last decade has seen a huge surge in what the jewelry industry calls “contemporary metals,” like titanium, steel, and tungsten carbide, which isn’t really a metal at all (more on that later.)  Recently, a relative of platinum, palladium, has also been added to the mix.

Why have hundreds of thousands of men chosen a band made out of one of these non-traditional metals? They are much more affordable, especially with the gold price now above $1,000 per ounce.

A ring made out of a high-tech material seems modern and in sync with a contemporary lifestyle.  Titanium, because of its light weight, feels more comfortable to some men. Steel has a classic industrial appeal, especially when combined with diamonds or gold. And tungsten carbide is marketed as being more durable than precious metals, with a superior hardness that resists scratching. Sales of tungsten carbide have surged in the past two years and are now estimated at 300,000 to 500,000 wedding bands a year.

But one of the country’s leading bridal jewelry designers wants men to think twice before choosing a tungsten carbide wedding band.

Scott Kay held a press conference today in New York to demonstrate that tungsten carbide is not as indestructible as a YouTube video might lead you to believe.  How did he do that?  He destroyed a lot of tungsten carbide rings. He tossed them against a marble tile and they shattered. He hit them with a hammer and they cracked. He put them in a vise and they broke in two.

Tungsten carbide, a metallurgist at the press conference explained, is not a metal but a metal matrix composite, a ceramic like material sintered from a powder of tungsten and carbon sintered with cobalt or nickel into an aggregate, which still contains tiny voids. Because it isn’t a metal, it can’t bend so a sharp shock can break it.

These tungsten carbide rings were thrown on the floor, shattering them
These tungsten carbide rings were thrown on the floor, shattering them

“When I go on the internet and read that tungsten rings are indestructible, unbreakable, durable, and strong, I have a real problem with that,” Kay says. “I have a problem with tungsten carbide for a wedding ring without 100% disclosure that it breaks when it falls on the floor.”

This jewelry mayhem had another point: Scott Kay announced a partnership with manufacturer Spectore Corporation metal alloy supplier Carpenter Technologies to launch the SK Cobalt collection of bands in a patented white metal alloy of cobalt, chromium, and molybdenum called BioBlu 27. The collection will be designed by Scott Kay and manufactured by Spectore from the high-tech alloy created by Carpenter.

The SK Cobalt Collection will retail from $125 up, with most bands in the $300 range.  They will directly compete with those not-so-indestructible tungsten carbide wedding bands.

Kay promises that the new bands will not shatter when hit by a hammer (and he of course demonstrated by doing just that.)

The bands in the new SK Cobalt Collection will also have a wider selection of styling than most bands in other contemporary metals because the BioBlu 27 alloy can be cast as well as machined, allowing more sculptural and organic designs and textures. Although stones can not yet be set in the new alloy, BioBlu 27 can be combined with precious metals, with or without gems.

SK Cobalt rings will be available in stores in the next two weeks. Helzberg Diamonds will carry an exclusive collection in the new alloy called “Brute Cobalt.”

“There is a need for a $300 wedding ring,” Kay says. “If gold was $100 an ounce, everyone would have a gold ring. BioBlu is dense, it’s solid metal matrix, it’s strong and it’s not brittle. I am excited about BioBlu 27. I want other manufacturers to use it also.”

SK Cobalt wedding rings in the BioBlu 27 alloy
SK Cobalt wedding rings in the BioBlu 27 alloy

51 Comments

  1. David 6 years

    Is the metal blueish-white?

    • Cheryl Kremkow 6 years

      Tungsten Carbide looks like other white metals, similar to the tone of white gold or platinum.

    • futuremrs 6 years

      My fiancee and I bought our rings this weekend. Mine is 18k white with stones, and for him we were wanting a simple but thick 14k white for him. Benchmark makes gorgeous men’s wedding bands in gold. But the pricetag was outrageous. We weren’t wanting to spend more than $500 on his, and for gold, $500 buys a very very thin tiny band. After looking at each metal available on the market, we decided to go with a Scott Kay cobalt ring.

      Its gorgeous. No, it doesn’t have a blue color. Its maybe just slightly darker in color than platinum, but it will go with my 18k white set beautifully. And for the same size in millimeters as Benchmark gold one we were looking at, it was $600 less.

  2. Rick 6 years

    Just what the world needs – another alternative metal to clog the market. But at least with Scott Kay, he has the advertising clout to set his alternative metal rings apart from the rest. He also addresses the need to hit a certain price point fairly well.

  3. Etienne Perret 6 years

    Would you test the durability of a diamond by hitting it with a hammer?
    It all depends on what test on runs on a product to find out how durable it is. Some materials resist abrasion very well yet are soft and scratch like platinum and palladium that will not shatter when hit with a hammer. There are other materials like zirconium ceramic or diamond that are hard and don not scratch, but can be shattered with a hammer. One must test a product by looking at what happens during normal wear and tear.

    • smarter than a 3rd grader 4 years

      “Would you test the durability of a diamond by hitting it with a hammer?” you need to go back to jr high school. dimonds would SHATTER in a billion peices if you hit them with a hammer. That is not where a dimonds strnetgh lies. ANY jewler would gladdly take a dimond to show you it will scratch ANYTHING.

      “All the people that I know that have a tungsten ring have it one purpose. The reason for this was the fact that they break. Yes, break. Most of the men that I know work in or around machinery and thus want a ring that will break if a machine catches it versus smashing and ripping there finger off. People need to keep this in mind when they are buying a wedding ring.” really?? how often do people get their fingers ripped off becusae of their wedding ring??? i would LOVE to see the number on that one!!!

      • You are a jerk 2 years

        Etienne said that a diamond will shatter with a hammer. She was pointing out that there are many kinds of strengths and weaknesses in materials. You apparently have the reading comprehension of a 3rd grader and the tact of a brick wall.

      • Andrew 1 year

        Well I have worked in industry all my working life in factories, printing presses, truck drivers and more, and wedding rings take a beating. I wear a tungsten carbide because I like it’s appearance and because it can shatter under certain abnormal circumstances. Men do get hands caught in machinery in normal operation and servicing and I have been witness to it. Let’s be honest here, there is nothing wrong with tungsten carbide it’s just being marketed against by someone who doesn’t like the product – it doesn’t make their position more correct by any means!

  4. Julie P 6 years

    I just saw a portion of the Scott Kay Cobalt line and we’re in. This stuff is white as precious metals and very, very durable. A customer came in while the rep was here to replace a tungsten band that chipped badly. I hate selling it.

  5. david M 6 years

    From the photo it looks just like platinum ring. if that is the case I am in. I have seen some tungsten rings, which does not look white but very dark metallic feel. I was wondering how scratch resistant are they compared to tungsten and platinum? my Platinum band scratch too easily for my line of work.

    • Novell wedding bands 6 years

      Sure, David. Your platinum band does appear scratched. But as you might know, you can refinish platinum without losing much mass (if any). So if it was me, I’d wear it, and then have it refurbished every year. Heck – aren’t scratches kinda manly anyway? :)

  6. Marchi 6 years

    All the people that I know that have a tungsten ring have it one purpose. The reason for this was the fact that they break. Yes, break. Most of the men that I know work in or around machinery and thus want a ring that will break if a machine catches it versus smashing and ripping there finger off. People need to keep this in mind when they are buying a wedding ring.

    • Other 1 year

      If your ring catches in rotating machinery it will pull your finger of before the ring breaks. If its crushed, the ring will break and then the machine will proceed to crush your finger. There is no benefit to having the ring shatter in these cases.

      • Evan 1 year

        Spoken by a true knob.

  7. John 6 years

    I just got a bioblu 27 wedding band and I love it. It’s as white as platinum, and very light for a 7mm wide band. I am so allergic to metals containing nickel that there are very few options but I am definitely happy with this new ring. I purchased it from Jared and then went shopping around at the other jewelry stores in town and none of them have even heard of BioBlu. Its more economical than platinum, palladium and titanium and looks just as good.

  8. Michael B 6 years

    I own Tungten Carbide wedding band. I never plan on throwing it against the hard floor. No worries. Good luck to the new guy and his line of rings – I guess.

    • Michael B 6 years

      I meant Tungsten – excuse my bad typing

    • Mike M 2 years

      even if you don’t “plan” on it.. it could happen. The day mine fell on the bathroom tile and cracked in half, I was furious.

  9. Jackie B 6 years

    Benchmark also has cobalt now. It’s their Cobalt Chrome collection. My fiance and I just picked his band last night. His band is a actually a square design w/ slightly rounded edges. very sleek and is under $300. There are a couple diff models and looked to be in and around the $200-$350 range. I imagine some are more if including diamonds.

    FYI I can’t find these on Benchmark website yet, but our Jeweler had a brochure and some samples.

  10. mike g 5 years

    i just bought a new tungston carbide wedding band and like prior ppl have said i dont plan on throwing it at the floor or directly hitting it with a hammer also if i wanted a ring that would bend to the point that the had to cut the ring off and maybe part of my digits then keep it ill keep my tungston as in my line of work (motorcycle mechanic) if i smash my hand against an engine block id rather smash the ring take the chip back and get a new one then have it contort around my finger.

  11. Lestor F 5 years

    We have sold SK Cobalt for over a month now and can’t keep it in stock. It’s the right price, solid, bright white and comes in a lot of different styles, just like Scotts’ platinum collection. Now I hear they are offering a certificate to guarantee the designs are 100% American made. Seriously, this is the perfect metal for the economy and even if we weren’t in tough times, we’d be buying it. God knows customers are!

  12. Derek 5 years

    I just got married recently in July 2010. We shopped a few places and ended up with the Brute Cobalt BioBlue 27. The key points are what you read, but when I describe it to my friends, I tell them it is comfortable like tungsten, shines like platinum, and is unmatched in terms of durability. I work in a field that involves dirt and getting dirty and the ring shines bright everyday. It hasn’t been very long, but I love my ring. I highly reccomend it to anyone looking for a ring.

    • Derek 5 years

      Correction: Comfy like Tungsten, light like titanium, shines like platinum, and uncompared in durability. And in the $300 range? I would think the choice is easy. If you have another type of ring already, that’s great too, but if you ever needed another ring, give the SK a look.

  13. Thur_007 4 years

    What a b*llsh*t, he’s just against Tungsten jewellery… Very cheap (and nasty) trick to promote himself and to disqualify the enemy…

    For normal usage, Tungsten rings are the best! scratch-free, and the shine of it…. fantastic

  14. kennys 4 years

    i love this kind of ring i really want to figure out how to make them more indestructable

  15. Bryan Costa Rica 3 years

    I am fan of tungsten for the same reason Marchi mentions, if I get it caught it will break before crushing my finger. This is not bad thing when working with heavy machinery.

  16. Steve 3 years

    Tunsten Carbide isn’t as bad as this article makes it out. Yes it can be shattered but it is more scratch resistant then gold or platinum, both of which scratch easily. I wear a gold bracelet (10k) I’ve had for more then 10 years and even though having it polished several times you can see minute scratches on its surface. It really depends on what you want out of the metal, more then likely it will be scratched vs being shattered or smashed.

  17. tim 3 years

    In terms of design, beauty strength and value, premium titanium or black zirconium are far superior materials for men’s wedding rings.

  18. Chain Me Up 3 years

    I understand that tungsten carbide is very strong, but any gold alloy would also suffer damage if subjected to the same ‘tests’. I’m having trouble figuring out why anyone needs to prove that these rings can break in such extreme tests. It doesn’t mimic everyday life in any way.

    Puzzled,

    Ross

  19. Aaron 3 years

    I, for one, am happy to learn that tungsten carbide rings are NOT indestructable. I always worried if there was a situation where my hand was injured and swelled that the only option would be to amputate the finger. Scratchless is GREAT, indesctructable not so much.

  20. Doug 3 years

    In March 2012 I bought my wedding band and we left for our wedding in Hawaii. On the first day in our Hawaiin Condo, as I was pulling off my Tungsten ring, it slipped and fell two feet onto the granite countertop and shattered. This was the worst $300 I have spent in a long time. The Jewelry sales person told us that in case I ever got my hand caught in machinery it would break but not that dropping in would cause this. Now they say that they will not cover replacement since I didn’t purchase the warranty for $75.00.

    I do not recommend Tungsten rings.

    Doug

    • Evan 1 year

      I don’t know why you spent $300 on a tungsten ring when they are like $20-30 on Ebay. Cheaper and cooler than cobalt chrome.

  21. Alexa Demara Jewelry 3 years

    This was a really informative blog. Thank you for posting it!

    Best,

    Alexa Demara Jewelry

  22. Alan 3 years

    Does a ring that resists being scratched, cause more scratching on objects it contacts?

  23. bob 3 years

    I have actually dropped my ring at least 50 times (I remove it when I shower and my cat hates rings evidently) and it actually will bounce almost as high as it fell and has never broken or chipped. If you need to sell your product line and are actually losing this much money maybe you should reconsider your ring material choices and stop over exaggerating because anyone who is upright and functioning knows you can flatten a gold or silver band with a hammer.

  24. Sean 2 years

    People are so dumb. Do they even read the article before they comment?
    He is not comparing SK Cobalt or Bioblu to silver or gold, except for price. So duh, gold will scratch, and duh, both will flatten with a hammer. He is comparing his product to Tungston, which has been labeled as “indestructible”, which it isn’t. Yes, he is doing this to promote HIS new line of rings, but hey, all he’s giving are more options, and who really hates that?

    Please – read before you comment, and stop comparing apples to oranges. We ALL should know that diamonds & gold are expensive, and the article points that out, so why are people commenting on these things? And yes, some people might like indestructible, and some may want a ring that will break if it is caught. That’s a thing called “preference”. Again, why are people going to get mad that there’s just one more option out there now? Geez.

  25. Tungsten Rings 2 years

    Ask a Jeweler: Nonmetal Bands, Gem Appraisal, and Inherited Damage

  26. Never mind 2 years

    There are a lot of mistakes in that speech. Tungsten carbide in its mechanical grade is about five times stronger than the stronger steel alloy (S-2 shock resisting). Tungsten carbide from CHINA are hard as a gemstone is, not ductile, by the way, it can break easily in the jewelry grade, wich haven’t a good fabrication method even as today. Tungsten is by far the strongest meaning of force in terms of pure metal’s world. With it, you can fabricate arms with no superior rivalry in the world. Also, is more noble than cobalt and molybdenum. In fact, you will be suprised to know that both Cr and Mo metals are of the family of W. I have a jewelry and our rings are tough, but they are more like a ceramic. Scott Kay is just another “smart” man who wanted to raise up economical by attacking tungsten’s jewelry. BioBlu is a cobalt-chromium-molybdenum alloy, there no are carbon in its content. If carbon whose added, the ring will be brittle. Tungstem CARBIDE is about 5% pure carbon, and even with that, is the hardest among all kind of carbides

  27. Daniel M 2 years

    Hello There

    So me and my girlfriend got our eternity rings today (you know, the engaged to be engaged ring?) Anyway, I learned that tungsten carbide is shatter prone instead of bendable. Kinda glad I only paid around £60 for the two of them. But then again, I’d rather it break than bend. It will never be taken off except for showering. And I’d rather it shatter and it fall off, rather than it bend and cut off my circulation! I’ll look into a more durable metal for my engagement ring choice, but for a nice promise/eternity ring, it’s perfect. One thing I would have to say though, is don’t go crazy on the price. I wouldn’t suggest it for something as special as your wedding or engagement band. Be smart, research the metal you’re looking at! If it’s not your wedding or engagement band, then go for it! Safer I’d say!

    -Daniel

  28. A Notable Source 2 years

    Hey there everyone. This article is worth the read, though may be slightly biased.. I have owned a Tungsten Carbide ring for a year and a half to two years now. I’ve worn it 98% of the time, and I must say, it’s VERY durable. It’s not scratched, broken, chipped, shattered, or ANYTHING, from the 1,000 times I dropped it from even 5 feet up. But I am here to tell you it has a flaw. I went to throw a snowball, forgot to take it off… It flung downwards, with my throwing force, 1.5 feet, onto stone. I see what I think is my ring, in the snow… but to my surprise, I lifted up HALF of the ring, EXACTLY half.. With a surprisingly clean cut… It split in two, and I do NOT have the other half, cannot find it. It’s well worth the purchase, a tungsten carbide ring, because it does GREAT for everyday use. Bump your hand into a wall pretty hard? Okay, it won’t scratch, dent, chip, or anything! It is almost perfect. It will do you well, but I don’t advise wearing it in COLD weather… In cold weather, it clearly falls more susceptible to damage, and if launched with enough force, could shatter/ split. Point is, if you can keep it ON your hand, you should be fine with Tungsten, always.

    • Other 1 year

      Your ring didn’t break because it was cold. Ceramics generally handle temperature extremes rather well. Your rinh broke because it hit stone, a hard material itself. Your ring was shock loaded. Brittle ceramics don’t handle shock loading well.

  29. Tara Christian 2 years

    Tungsten carbide is supposed to break in extreme cases. If something falls on your had and the ring gets caught on whatever the object may be, you would not be able to remove your hand. It shatters as a saftey feature.

  30. Jon Norc 1 year

    I don’t really know anyone who calls tungsten rings ‘indestructible’… nothing is indestructible, even diamonds. So that’d be a stupid thing to say right off the bat. About the shattering. Well, I don’t know if it’s a ‘feature’ per se but you DO want the ring to be able to shatter (instead of cave in and crush your finger like with other metals) in some cases.

    Also the famed durability of tungsten wedding bands is more about the scratch resistance than anything else. They will hold their polish for decades.

  31. John Sheridan 1 year

    I have had a tungsten carbide wedding band for the last three years and have been very impressed by the resistance to scratches and by its enduring luster. My wife and I bought it after listening to the sales woman’s spiel about how “utterly indestructible” it was. (My wife got a $12,000 diamond and sapphire platinum eternity band whilst I got a $350 tungsten carbide band with a similar pattern, but that’s not the point). This evening, my wife was out of town and I was trying to juggle my dinner with that of our one year old daughter. I set my dinner on the counter while microwaving my daughters meal and saw Edge, our cat, rapidly approaching my supper with clear intent to eat or befoul it. I didn’t want to hit the cat, and since cats don’t respond to verbal commands, I slapped the marble counter-top with the palm of my left hand. This impact shattered my tungsten carbide band into three pieces, one of which landed on the floor and the other lodging deep inside my ring finger. I know that tungsten carbide is used in armor-piercing ammunition that can penetrate over three inches of hardened steel at 2000 feet pet second, but I also know that my hand slapping the countertop couldn’t have generated one one-millionth of that kind of force. Either the ring I bought wasn’t tungsten carbide or the jewelry store I bought it from should stop advertising it as “utterly indestructible”.

  32. Maddison 1 year

    Strong metal for rings. Have a collection of mad tungsten silver grey rings at http://madtungsten.com/product-tag/silver-gray/

  33. mcfarlands17@gmal.com 1 year

    it broke because tungsten carbide its a different kind of metal the just pure tungsten its more brittle because its not pure

  34. Ashley Wellens 1 year

    Tungsten breaks or shatters because it is so hard. Alot of people prefer the breaking instead of bending down on the finger. Talking about the strength of Tungsten rings to other metals, this guide compares the strength, weight, and price of Tungsten to gold, platinum, silver, titanium, cobalt, and stainless steel. http://www.tungstenaffinity.com/Best-Metal-Mens-Wedding-Band-a/329.htm

  35. daniel 1 year

    Hello Sir/Madam,
    we are the leading tungsten and ceramic jewelry and watches manufacturer from China, we are specialized in producing tungsten and ceramic rings and watches for more than ten years. Our products are top quality and good price,
    Tungsten, ceramic jewelry and watches are very popular in USA and Europe now, As the Economy recession all around the world, more and more people are unwilling to pay more on wedding bands, so many jewelers are selling tungsten bands to replace the regular gold rings. We can also make components for watches and jewelry in tungsten or ceramic, we have been making a lot of tungsten watch bezel, case, links as well as jewelry inserts, ceramic pieces for many of our clients.
    Many clients from USA,Canada and Europe order the rings and watches from us.(such as Benchmark , CrownRing,chisel ,Polanti, Adajio,Renato….etc. ) So far, we are the most professional manufactory in tungsten and ceramic rings and watch field here in China. we are confident that all our products are in AAA quality

    our website is : http://www.blswatchjewellery.com/, on which you can see most of our watches and jewelry, please give me a reply, we will send you our e-catalogue for your study.
    Look forward to hearing from you!
    Daniel /Marketing Dept

  36. Christine 11 months

    Tungsten Carbide is in fact a durable, virtually scratch resistant metal that can easily crack under force. This is a known safety mechanism so someone doesn’t get their finger torn off when working with certain machinery. Tungsten rings gained popularity 10+ years ago with men in industries that worked with their hands. Tungsten gave them the chance to wear wedding bands while working without damaging their rings or their fingers.

  37. Gary 11 months

    Tungsten rings have evolved tremendously throughout the years. What once started out as a simple styles have changed to many unique style many would love to wear. We always tell out customers that although tungsten is brittle and can break it is hard to do. Most companies also offer lifetime warranties to protect customers against this.

  38. grace 4 months

    Great article however tungsten have evolved so much over the years now bringing cheaper alternatives to precious metals. Not everyone can afford a $600+ wedding band and the $100 alternative tungsten carbide is a lot more appealing. Tungsten can crack…it is a safety mechanism rather than loosing a finger in industries such as mechanics, construction, etc. Companies should offer a free replacement (or at least a low cost replacement) if it does in fact break on accident. In reference the an above comment on $20-$30 tungsten rings…I would be hesitant of such an inexpensive ring as all tungsten rings are not created equal and can turn black if a low quality.

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