Why Is Niobium Used in Jewelry Making?

Ohm Raku Earrings
Ohm Raku Earrings. Tammy Powley

Niobium is a chemical element (symbol Nb). It is a soft, grey metal that is naturally found in the minerals pyrochlore and columbite. Niobium is naturally hypoallergenic and commonly used in a number of medical devices including prosthetics and implants, such as pacemakers. Often used in jewelry making because of its hypoallergenic properties, this metal is a safe choice for anyone with metal allergies.

Niobium is highly malleable, lightweight, highly resistant to corrosion, and hard. Additionally, when it is heated and anodized, it can result in a vast array of iridescent colors. 

Using Niobium in Jewelry Making 

Niobium jewelry findings are good alternatives to precious metals. Findings made with niobium are hypoallergenic because they do not contain any nickel alloys, so they are safe for someone who is allergic to jewelry with nickel, copper, or other base metals and alloys. Niobium is relatively easy to work with and can be easily cut with a jeweler's saw or forged with ease. It cannot be soldered using standard soldering equipment. Niobium alloys, or mixtures, are used for a number of pre-made jewelry, including earrings, rings, and other piercing devices. The hypoallergenic property makes niobium jewelry a safe and popular choice. 

How Niobium Get Its Colors 

Niobium findings come in a range of wonderful anodized colors such as blue, purple, yellow, green, and brown.

Anodizing is a process that colors the metal by dipping it into an electrically charged "bath" which results in bright colors. The colored metal is not plated or painted and the colors cannot chip or peel off.  A common drawback of anodized niobium is that the iridescent colors may not match with basic silver and gold.

Can You Anodized Niobium at Home?

It is possible to create a bath anodizing process at home. There are a number of anodizing coloring techniques beyond one solid color. These include a rainbow effect, solid color blocking, or even a spot anodizing process that creates a painted design. Any cutting, forming, and finishing on homemade niobium jewelry should be completed before anodizing the metal. Once it is anodized, any additional work on the metal will negatively impact the iridescent colors

The process is somewhat complicated and requires a number of chemical tools including an SMT Micro Anodizer, distilled water, chemical solutions, safety gloves and glasses, and more. The anodized tool carries up to 120 volts of electricity and can be fatal if used incorrectly. If anodizing metal at home is something you want to pursue, consult an expert and practice all safety precautions before proceeding. 

Where to Buy Niobium

Many jewelry supply companies sell a range of niobium findings and jewelry making elements. The most common niobium components are metal sheets, ear wires, jump rings, wire, and headpins. They can be purchased either as plain niobium or purchased already anodized in a variety of iridescent colors.