What is the difference between tungsten and tungsten carbide?

Tungsten carbide


To put it simply, tungsten is the raw metal and tungsten carbide is a chemical compound containing 50% tungsten and 50% carbon atoms. Pure tungsten is difficult to work with, so is rarely used in its pure form. In jewelry, it is always tungsten carbide that is used. 


Tungsten carbide

Not so much these days, but not long ago, tungsten carbide was everywhere around us, lighting up our lives in the form of the good old incandescent lightbulb.

The filament that glows is made from tungsten carbide as it has the highest melting point of all the elements, melting at 6,192 °F / 3,422 °C, so is able to glow white-hot without melting, hence the lightbulb, which wasn't invented overnight. In Thomas Eddison's words, "I never once failed. I found a thousand ways that don't work, to find the one that does".

In its most basic form, tungsten carbide is a fine gray powder that is pressed and formed into jewelry through a process called sintering.

It is twice as dense and twice as hard as steel and 10 times harder than 18k gold. Due to its hardness, it is highly scratch resistant, so your new piece of jewelry will look brand new for years to come.

Tungsten carbide rolls in at 9 - 9.5 on the Mohs hardness scale, with only diamond being higher, at 10, which means your tungsten ring had to be polished with a diamond or cubic boron nitrate polishing machine, as they are the only two elements capable of giving it that high shine.

Tungsten carbide jewelry

However, hardness should not be confused with strength. Just like a diamond, which is the hardest element on Earth, it can be shattered with the blow of a hammer, as neither are particularly strong. But that is considered an additional benefit for jewelry, as in the case of a hand injury causing swelling, it can be shattered with pliers, rather than have to be cut off.

Some other interesting applications for tungsten carbide are armor piercing shells, the tips on those three darts you regularly score "One-hundred-and-eighty" with and the ball in your ball point pen.

One other great thing about it, it will not oxidize/rust whatever climate you live in, as it is not affected by water.

The word tungsten is a Swedish word meaning heavy stone.

Note. We frequently shorten it to just 'tungsten' for space saving reasons in our product titles, but we always state it is made from tungsten carbide where we tell you what material a product is made from.


See our tungsten carbide ring collection