Naturally nickel free, commercially pure niobium (Nb) is an excellent metal for all kinds of jewelry. It makes a great alternative for people who haven’t been able to wear metal jewelry in their piercings because of nickel allergies or metal sensitivities. Another huge perk is that it has virtually no susceptibility to tarnish, which makes maintaining your jewelry easy. The downside to niobium is that there is a small selection of jewelry available because it’s difficult to work with. Most jewelry has to be machined out of one piece or built using cold connections because it cannot be soldered and it is a specialized metal to weld.
Is niobium safe for piercings?
Yes, niobium makes an excellent metal for body jewelry. Unalloyed niobium is highly biocompatible just like titanium. In fact, it’s included as a metal on the Initial Jewelry Standards published by the Association of Professional Piercers (APP).
There are niobium alloys out there. When you’re buying body jewelry, make sure it’s made from an unalloyed, pure form of niobium like the jewelry found here: Captive Bead Rings
Is niobium safe for long-term wear? Will it turn my skin green?
Niobium jewelry is suitable to leave in for long periods of time because it does not react with bodily fluids. You won't have to worry about the metal changing your skin colors, and the metal itself will not turn colors either. It is very easy to keep niobium pieces clean with just an occasional soapy rinse and a quick buff with a soft cloth.
Is niobium better than titanium?
Pure niobium jewelry is on par with good quality titanium jewelry. Both metals are unlikely to elicit a reaction from the wearer, resistant to corrosion, and are nickel free. There are a few differences that may matter to you as a consumer.
- Titanium is lighter in weight than niobium, but you most likely won’t notice the difference much if you’re buying a small pieces of jewelry, like a nose hoop. The heaviness of niobium may be something to consider if you’re buying large gauge earrings, though.
- Niobium jewelry is typically more expensive than titanium because the raw materials cost more, are harder to source, and are difficult to work with as a jeweler. It requires the jeweler to have very specialized tools if they want to go further than cold connections in their design work.
- And finally, the niobium typically used for body jewelry is not an alloy, whereas the titanium used (Ti6Al4V ELI) is an alloy. Because the niobium used for body jewelry isn’t alloyed with any other metals you won’t find an ASTM rating for it.
Does niobium look like silver?
No, niobium jewelry won’t have a bright white color like silver. Aesthetically, niobium is a lustrous silvery-grey metal which polishes to a beautiful, shiny finish extremely readily. I love how well the grey color pairs with silver, copper and gold accents. The resulting contrast makes very eye catching jewelry. If you aren’t a fan of the natural grey color, niobium piercing jewelry can also be anodized to create many colorful options, like purple, lime green, and peacock blue.
Sometimes, niobium is also heat treated so that it becomes a rich black color. Unlike black steel piercing jewelry, the black color on niobium does not come from a PVD coating. This means that black niobium jewelry is safe to put in your piercing because there is no coating that will peel or flake off.
It’s important to note that anodizing is not the same as plating metal. Anodized niobium is safe for body piercings because the color actually comes from a colorless, inert oxide layer that forms a transparent layer on the surface of the metal when an electrical current is passed through the niobium. The end color is influenced by the strength and duration of this electrical current, which determines the thickness of the oxide layer.
The resulting oxide layer is capable of creating a rainbow of vibrant colors when light rays are passed through it. Although the color may fade over time, it cannot be peeled or flaked off. Opening and closing endless nose hoops repeatedly, or scratching your jewelry, can affect the anodized color.
On the other hand, the color of plated and PVD coated jewelry can flake off, which makes it an unsuitable piercing jewelry material especially for long-term wear.
Does niobium have nickel in it? Is it better than surgical steel?
Jewelry that is made from unalloyed niobium (grade 2 and grade 4) is nickel free. Because of it’s nickel-free status and highly biocompatible nature, niobium does make better body jewelry over “surgical steel”. Body jewelry made out of 316L steel will contain nickel, even though it is sometimes falsely advertised as being nickel-free. The nickel is bound in the steel alloy in a way that doesn’t present a problem for most people, but it is still something to be aware of if you are sensitive to nickel since most surgical steel jewelry is called “hypoallergenic”.
Is niobium good for sensitive ears?
Niobium is highly regarded as a safe option for sensitive ears. Although it’s possible to be sensitive to any metal, it is uncommon to have a reaction to wearing pure niobium. If your favorite dangle earrings are giving you trouble, just look for some niobium ear wires to switch the charms over to!
It’s important to make sure the niobium piercing jewelry you’re buying is an unalloyed, high-quality grade because lesser grades of niobium can cause a reaction in some individuals. I use Type-2 niobium wire in my jewelry work, which is an unalloyed, high quality, commercially pure material.
What else is niobium used for?
If you look at the Wikipedia page for niobium, you’ll find that there are many applications for it outside of jewelry in both its pure form and as an alloy. It’s alloyed with steel to lend durability and corrosion resistance to the alloy. Niobium is used in components for jet engines, gas turbines, and rockets. There are niobium-titanium alloys that are used as part of superconducting magnets. Because niobium is an inert material and so biocompatible it’s even used in prosthetics and implants.
Want to try out niobium body jewelry? Check out some of these pieces: Niobium Captive Bead Rings