Singing the Praises of Niobium

Fluorite and Niobium Necklace
Have you looked around for niobium chain? Really? The thing that impresses me about handmade niobium chain is that IT'S JUST NOT OUT THERE! except . . . at my little shop.

If you are nickel-allergic, niobium might just be your next best friend. It is a pure metal, nickel-free, and beautiful.

Generally speaking when I point out my handmade chain, customers are amazed!  I've had a customer ask if I have a "machine" that makes them (no!) and another who made it clear she saw no special difference between my handmade chain and some commercially made chain used in some pieces right next to it. (Yes!)

Now that I have worked with a basic chain for a while, I'm enjoying trying some patterns and inventing some ideas that are a little more unique looking.  By the way, Niobium metal does not take solder (and the solder introduces yet another metal alloy to the jewelry) so I rely on a combination of chainmaille techniques and wire-wrapping in creating my jewelry. I also create all my own earwires and clasps.

Niobium is very closely related to another metal, Tantalum. For many years Niobium and Tantalum were thought to be the same stone, and were known as Columbium. In 1864, a chemist finally discovered there were two elements present, and a while later, someone devised a way to separate them.

Poetically, they were named for two characters of Greek literature, Tantalus and Niobe.  These two were  grandfather and granddaughter to each other. (If you want to see a Greek play you have to wait at least a couple generations for it to end. Bring peanuts. ) Their character flaws and therefore their fates were very similar and deeply intertwined. (It has something to with the Greeks' uncanny knack irritating the gods by killing their children and stuff like that.)  Anyway I love it when they put a little poetry and mythology into naming things.

As for the metal, it's awesome.  The wire used for jewelry is a pure metal, not an alloy. It does not require additional hardeners which is often the reason nickel is added in small quantities to softer metals. (The other reason is that it is an extra-shiny silver, attractive to customers, and is very cheap to produce.)

Niobium is an ideal metal for nickel allergy sufferers. It is almost completely non-reactive. It does not tarnish or corrode. It will not react with virtually any skin chemistry, and it is absolutely guaranteed not to contain nickel.

Niobium Horseshoe Claw Bracelet
The natural color of niobium is a medium grey color with blue highlights.  It is similar in color to surgical stainless steel or pewter.   I have read about (but have not seen) niobium darkening or getting a bluish tinge over time.  If this happens and you don't like it, simply rinse it with a mild soap solution and a soft cloth, and it should be fine.

Anodizing is just another thing that makes Niobium fun to use.  It is fascinating because it introduces the possibility of a rainbow of colors.  The colored outer coating has been chemically changed by being introduced to an electrical current.  The result is that the color of the outer layer changes, but not the metal itself. Anodized niobium is not plated, and is still pure.  By the way, I don't anodize my own niobium - I order the wire pre-colored, but maybe someday I will be able to - (sigh) but that's for another day.

Like any process that humans invent, anodizing has wonderful qualities, and limitations.  The colored wire can begin to lose its outer coating over time. This is most likely to occur in places where the wire has been bent the most, and where the jewelry rubs agains skin the most. Losing the outer color does not make it any more likely to cause a nickel allergy rash, but people tend to like their jewelry to stay the same color it started. I have limited my color choices to "bronze" (which complements my brass designs) so that I can more fully learn how it behaves.  I have also become more adventurous about putting it to full use as I learn its possibilities.

As much as I may begin to play with colors, I will always gravitate back to the soft gray color of the basic metal. I trust its simplicity, and love its possibilities.  And as much as I love silver, I learned to distrust its shiny veneer years ago. In fact it still takes a conscious effort for me to remember that some silver is nickel-free. But niobium is nothing but niobium. It is what it is, and has nothing to hide. I may embellish it with beads, and twist it into shapes, but to me, it is the wire itself that is most fascinating of all.

www.naturallynickelfree.com

Comments

  1. Very nice article...enjoyed reading all about niobium and learned a few things. Thanks!

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