If you are allergic to nickel, it means that you are quite careful about what kind of jewelry you wear and the materials they are made of. And in the case of medical implants, you’d want to make sure that the titanium implants used will not result in any kind of reaction.
Generally, titanium is regarded as the safest metal option, and its biocompatible hence its use in most applications, especially in the medical world. The high safety levels of titanium is also the reason why titanium jewelry is often recommended for people looking for the best non-allergenic and skin-safe jewelry. But when it’s all said and done, is titanium really that good? Is it free of the troublesome allergen, nickel?
In this article, we’re exploring the world of titanium jewelry and whether titanium jewelry is the safest option for you or not.
What is titanium jewelry made of?
Rated a 6 on the hardness scale along with other hard metals and minerals like germanium, niobium, and manganese, titanium is a highly desirable metal in the jewelry world, where it has been used to create some of the best hypoallergenic jewelry options for people struggling with metal allergies or hypersensitivity reactions. But to determine the suitability of titanium jewelry for you, a look at what the metal is actually made of is crucial.
Here is what you should know about titanium – the purity levels and the concentration of titanium varies depending on what it’s used for. With alloyed and non-alloyed options, commercially pure, and the aircraft-grade versions of titanium, knowing the exact components of your titanium jewelry is important.
Notably, what is known as ‘commercial pure titanium is titanium that is made of 99.2% titanium, while the aircraft-grade titanium is made of 90% titanium, 6% aluminum, and 4% vanadium. Then you have the titanium that is used in jewelry making – this version of titanium comes about through the crafting of pure titanium in combination with other metals like iron and aluminum, as well as other metals that are often used in jewelry making like copper and molybdenum.
Thanks to the quality of titanium and the metals that are added to this already hard metal, titanium is lightweight, hypoallergenic, and it makes high-quality and ultra-comfortable rings and other kinds of jewelry. It’s also quite strong and resistant to not just scratching but also corrosion and rusting. Titanium gets its hypoallergenic nature from the fact that it is free of nickel and most other metals that would cause metal allergies.
The titanium making process
A transition metal on the periodic table, titanium is a silver-gray metal that is lightweight and hypoallergenic. It is denser than aluminum but not as dense as stainless steel. Interestingly, titanium behaves in the same manner as silicon and zirconium, boasts an excellent level of corrosion resistance, as well as a high strength-to-weight ratio. But how is it made, or rather, how does titanium come to be?
Well, titanium is mined from different ores that exist naturally in the earth’s core. The primary cores that are used in titanium production are rutile, ilmenite, and leucoxene. The other potential/ notable sources of titanium include sphene, anatase, and perovskite ores.
To create the titanium that is then used in jewelry making and involving a process known as the Kroll process is involved. This titanium production process is named after Dr. Kroll, who discovered and developed the process. This is the commercial process that is used in commercial titanium production today. In the Kroll Process, the main ore that titanium is extracted from, for example, rutile, is treated with a burst of chlorine gas, resulting in the production of titanium tetrachloride. This is the most important intermediate byproduct that is released from the Kroll Process. The titanium tetrachloride then undergoes a purification process that results in the reduction of this chloride into a metallic titanium sponge. The purification is done using sodium or magnesium. The resultant titanium sponge is then alloyed and melted – these two processes are quite labor-intensive and expensive.
The manufacturing process or the Kroll process is, therefore, a 4-step process that features the following basic steps:
- Extraction of the titanium ore,
- Purification of titanium tetrachloride and the removal of carbon monoxide through fractional distillation plus precipitation, which results in the removal of the metal chlorides.
- Sponge production where the chlorides from titanium tetrachloride are removed following the transfer of the chloride into a large stainless steel reactor, where magnesium or sodium is added and the container heated up, producing magnesium chloride and pure titanium.
- Alloy creation. This happens in the last step of the process, where the pure titanium sponge created above is converted into a usable form of the alloy through the use of a consumable-electrode arc furnace. Here, the titanium sponge is mixed with scrap metal and other metal alloys. The ratio of the sponge to alloy metal is, however, formulated in the lab before the alloy production kicks off. Once the alloy is created, the mass is pressed into compact titanium alloy pieces that are welded together to form the sponge electrode, which is then melted in a vacuum to create ingots that can be used for different uses.
For the production of titanium-based alloy powders, titanium dioxide and aluminum are used alongside other materials that are consequently mixed in specific chemical and physical processes. This process that results in the production of titanium alloy powders is cheaper, and it’s today the largely preferred process, and it has been scaled and commercialized. Unfortunately, the alloying process is also where nickel could be introduced to the titanium alloy that is then used in jewelry or medical implants.
Is titanium nickel-free?
Titanium jewelry is mostly free of nickel, and if you are looking for the best of nickel-free jewelry, you will be happy to know that alongside metals like surgical-grade stainless steel and 18k yellow gold, titanium is also safe for you because it’s often free of nickel.
There’s one catch, though – that although titanium is hypoallergenic, there is a risk of allergies to not just titanium jewelry but also implants. This often happens during the alloying process, where nickel might be present in the metals that are mixed with titanium to create usable titanium alloys. In such cases, allergies present as titanium hypersensitivity reactions/ allergies.
If it contains nickel? How much nickel does it contain?
Titanium contains only trace amounts of nickel, which is why not everyone with a metal sensitivity issue will have a reaction to titanium jewelry.
The pros and cons of titanium jewelry
- It’s rust and corrosion-resistant
- Lightweight and a great alternative to heavier metals like gold
- It doesn’t really bend out of shape, and it’s safe to wear titanium jewelry to the gym.
- The minimal thermal conductivity of titanium makes it highly durable
- Quite affordable compared to the precious metals used in jewelry making
- Titanium jewelry can be made into different colors with ease
- Titanium rings blend well with jewelry made of other metals
- It cannot be prong-set
- The matte finish is not everyone’s go-to finish
- Resizing is quite difficult
Should you buy titanium jewelry?
If you are looking for great quality jewelry that is reasonably priced, then you might want to think about buying titanium jewelry. Even with the slim risk of allergies in titanium implants, the jewelry made of titanium is often very safe and worth the trouble.
Titanium might contain trace amounts of nickel, meaning that it might not be the safest option for persons with extreme metal hypersensitivity.