A number of companies have begun marketing a range of “alternative metals,” including titanium and tungsten carbide, as new and inexpensive options for jewelry. We believe these to be unsuitable for this use. These metals were designed for industrial and aerospace industries, not for daily wear by people.

There are serious safety issues. In the event of accident or injury, most paramedics cannot cut off a ring. Because of the hardness of the metal, there is also a category of injury associated with these rings. It’s called “de-gloving.” (We will leave this to your imagination.)

There are health issues with these metals. They are intended for industrial purposes only (drills, airplane parts, and the link) and are not meant to be worn as ornamentation.  Many can and do leach cobalt and other materials that are toxic.

There are durability issues. Tungsten carbide can shatter or crack if dropped or hit. Virtually all of the available alternative metal rings cannot be sized. As it is common to resize a wedding band at least once in a wearer’s lifetime, this makes them a non-sustainable purchase.

There are environmental issues. Titanium, tungsten, and iron ore mining (used in steel) cause greater harm to the planet and to the people affected by its production than any mined gold or platinum. Based on this fact alone, these metals fail to meet the minimum standards to be included in the Earthwise Jewelry® Collection.

There are human rights issues associated with the mining of these minerals. In nations such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, miners work in poor conditions, while armed groups finance their violence through the illicit sale of metals, including tungsten, which, according to US law, is considered a “conflict mineral.”

Many “alternative metal” rings contain the following elements, according to the Center for Disease Control:

Chromium

  • Severe dermatitis and usually painless skin ulcers can result from contact with chromium.
  • Chromium can be a sensitizer as well as irritant.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), World Health Organization (WHO), and International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have all recognized certain forms of chromium as a human carcinogen.
  • Potential reproductive effects of chromium in humans have not been adequately investigated.

Cobalt

  • Absorption through the skin can occur.
  • Based on the laboratory animal data, IARC has determined that cobalt and cobalt compounds are possibly carcinogenic to humans.
  • Researchers do not know if exposure to cobalt will result in birth defects or other developmental effects in people. Birth defects have been observed in animals exposed to non-radioactive cobalt.

Tungsten

  • There is not enough information to determine whether inhalation, oral, or dermal exposure to tungsten or tungsten compounds can cause cancer in humans.
  • Tungsten has been recommended to the National Toxicology Program (NTP) for testing in laboratory animals, which includes a cancer assessment.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a nation struggling to emerge from a war that claimed over 5 million lives since 1998, with preventable disease and starvation aggravated by conflict being the leading killers. Despite holding democratic elections in 2006, violence still rages in the eastern part of this country. The continuing conflict has economic and political ramifications that extend worldwide.