Singing the Praises of Niobium
|Fluorite and Niobium Necklace|
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.
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 Horseshoe Claw Bracelet|
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.