Daily Wire Tip Oct. 17: Nickel-Free Wire

By on October 17, 2011
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip for
October 17, 2011

Question:

I have talked to a number of people with nickel allergies, and want to make jewelry these folks can wear without having a reaction. What kinds of wires are nickel free, and how readily available are they?

-Dorothy in Prineville, Oregon

Answer:

Hi Dorothy, we have had a many good discussions on wire that should not react to people in an adverse way. However, because each human being produces and excretes varying amounts of different chemicals, including salt, it is really difficult to say exactly what will not cause an allergic reaction to everyone! I compiled this list of metal allergy discussions we’ve had for you:

In the discussion under Jewelry Wire for Earrings we find that some folks are even allergic to surgical steel and that niobium is one choice. Niobium wire isn’t generally available on the market, but findings such as ear wires can be found online.

The discussions under Purity and Sensitivity with Argentium® Silver several folks agree with me about using this special metal wire for those with nickel allergies because Argentium contains absolutely no nickel whatsoever!

Metal Beads for Ear Wraps also talks about metal allergies, and one reader recommends using fine silver.

And the Hypoallergenic Ear Wires discussion reminds us that titanium also contains no nickel.

As far as being available, Wire-Sculpture stocks Argentium wire, and there are many places on the Internet where you can find the other choices mentioned. I hope these ideas answer your question, Dorothy. Happy twisting!!

Editor’s Note: Generally speaking, gold is nickel-free, so gold filled wire (being a thick layer that won’t chip or scratch) is also safe for those with a nickel allergy. Pure silver doesn’t contain nickel; sterling (92.5% silver) is generally considered safe for those with a nickel allergy. And as you likely already know, “hypoallergenic” does not have a regulated meaning in the U.S., so “hypoallergenic” products may well still contain nickel. However, European standards prohibit more than 0.05% nickel in jewelry, so our European customers must be far more careful!

Your turn: What wires do you trust for your nickel-sensitive clients? Have you tried any “hypoallergenic” metals like fine silver or niobium, and what were your results? Let us know in the comments below!

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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18 Comments

  1. avatar

    Daniella

    October 17, 2011 at 9:53 am

    Hi Dale, my question about ear wires is: Can you use copper wire to make ear wires? I love the color of copper and want to use it in my learning curve. I have been reading up your blogs on ear wires but did not see copper listed so would like to know about it and if it can be safely u sed for ear wires. Thank you!

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      October 17, 2011 at 4:09 pm

      Hi Daniella, pure copper wire should be fine as it contains no nickel, however a lot of copper jewelry wire is made with a harder temper, meaning that the copper was mixed with either zinc or tin (forming alloys known as brass and bronze). Some folks have allergies to zinc; and please remember that copper will eventually turn most folks’ skin green or black, so you have to be sure to let people know just “what” your product is made of when you sell it. For more details about copper metals, please see: a list of copper alloys.

      • avatar

        Tom

        October 24, 2011 at 8:25 pm

        Actually, the temper of copper refers to the hardness of the metal, and not what is in it, the contents are refered to as the alloy.
        The alloy becomes important because different alloys really means different things. Surgical stainless steel refer to a group of steel alloys, including some that contain nickel. The ‘surgical’ part has nothing to do with nickel, and really just means that it’s corrosion resistant enough to be used in a surgical setting.
        As for titanium, if basically pure, it is very hypoalergenic, but again, some alloys contain nickel (such as those used in those famous eyeglass frames that could be bent out of shape and would snap back).
        As Dale said, you need to know what you are selling, and to tell people exactly what it is.

        • avatar

          Tamera

          October 26, 2011 at 1:09 pm

          Actually 4% of people who take the M.E.L.I.S.A. blood test for metal allergy, test allergic to Titanium. I’m one of the rare people who is allergic to titanium and to every other metal except gold and niobium. For a while I could wear Sterling Silver but eventually developed an allergy to that too so I recently changed all the ear wires in my jewelry box with niobium ear wires. Oddly I can still tolerate Sterling Silver in clasps and I wear titanium frame eyeglasses with no problems so I guess my earlobes are more allergic than the rest of me!
          Tamera

  2. avatar

    Penny Hammack

    October 17, 2011 at 10:43 am

    I am severely allergic to nickel. My “starter” earring posts were 14k gold and nearly made my ears fall off. Since that time I have had little difficulty with surgical stainless steel earrings. I normally use them for my customers too since an allergic reaction is not fun.

  3. avatar

    Steve Taylor

    October 17, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    Look at Argentium Silver. A little more expensive than sterling, but I believe it will surplant sterling in many applications. It contains 3% Germanium, a rare earth mineral. It forms a germanium oxide coating which is clear and will not leave any tarnish marks on ears or clothing. I have been unable to find any biological reactions to it. Not only that it is easy to fuse with a micro-torch without solder, forms no firescale, doesn’t require pickling, and can be oven hardened at 500 degrees for 4 hours. So you can use thinner stock which is easier to work with. Later you heat your finished pieces in the oven at 180 degrees for three hours and it will radically speed up the formation of the anti-tarnish coating on the exterial metal.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      October 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm

      Hi Steve, I agree with you 100% percent! I switched from sterling to Argentium in 2005 and have never looked back.

  4. avatar

    Lisa

    October 17, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    I have awful metal allergies, and have to be careful. I will get blisters on my hands if I work with some wires. Remember that surgical steel contains nickel, 8% is the industry standard I believe. And hypoallergenic does not mean nickel free. Also, steer clear of “German Silver” for earrings. If a customer experiences a bad bout of nickel dermatitis, you can be responsible and it’s notorious for it.

  5. avatar

    dalecgr

    October 17, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Really, using gold-filled wire for folks with allergies to nickel really depends on where the wire is manufactured and/or purchased. Some gold-filled wire is made with a nickel core, however all of the gold-filled wire sold by Wire-Sculpture.com has a brass core – no nickel!

  6. avatar

    Dorothy

    October 17, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    So, for those with nickel alergies who don’t wear silver colored jewelry at all, I’m guessing gold filled is the best option short of 14k? Is there any way to get an antiqued look in that? (I know, it was my question, but I have many customers who prefer copper, gold and antiqued gold colors.)

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      October 17, 2011 at 4:32 pm

      Hey Dorothy, one of the features of gold is that is will not “rust” or oxidize! It can become dull due to accumulated dirt and debris such as skin flakes, dust and skin oils. Actually the ear “wire” is such a small part of an earring, using gold or gold-filled shouldn’t pose much of a color difference, as long as it is safe for your customers to wear!

  7. avatar

    Donna

    October 17, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    The concept of my jewelry business is to cater to nickel-allergic customers. I use niobium, titanium, and argentium sterling silver. For non-piercing wires, I also use brass or bronze, and for metal beads, I use modern pewter. I’m not opposed to copper, I just haven’t started using it. One of the fun things about niobium, also titanium is that they can be anodized and be any color you want. In my dreams, I would have my own anodizer (maybe someday!)

  8. avatar

    Deitra Blackwell

    October 19, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    I have been very happy with the silver filled wire that I have been using. It oxidizes like sterling, comes in half-hard, dead soft, and most of the same shapes and gauges as sterling silver or argentium silver at about 1/4 the cost. So it is an inexpensive alternative to base metals.

  9. avatar

    Chris Tapler

    October 22, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    Hi Dale! I am very allergic to metals, sterling silver and even stainless steel. I use the Gold-filled wire and have no problems.

  10. avatar

    Kristan Johnston

    October 22, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    I have severe nickel allergies and I have always been fine wearing sterling silver, fine silver and 14 kt gold, so even though it’s a little bit pricier, that’s what I’ve made my jewelry out of to fit my customer’s needs. I think people who have nickel allergies mostly go looking for sterling silver ear-wires just because that’s a name that they know that they can trust and that won’t be too expensive. If you’re using other materials, I would highly suggest that you put on your displays and on your websites that your earrings have no nickel in them so that people know that they are safe.

  11. avatar

    Sue Berryhill

    October 24, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    My mother-in-law was sensitive to all metals, even gold, so until I came into the family the only jewelry she could wear was plastic ear-wires. I gave her some niobium ear-wires to try, and she could wear those without any problem, as well as titanium.

    My step-daughter also has metal sensitivities; the only ear-wire she can wear besides karat gold is niobium. She even has some problem with titanium.

  12. avatar

    Sarah

    April 3, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    My mother had severe metal allergies. So much so that she couldn’t wear ANY earrings short of 18K and those scratched so easily that they required extreme care. I began making her earrings with COMMERCIALLY pure Titanium (grade 1 or 2) and niobium. She loves them and has been wearing earrings for months now with no issues. If you have someone especially sensitive, niobium and commercially pure titanium are very good options! I’ve even gotten ones anodized for her in various colors and she can wear those!

  13. avatar

    Elysia

    September 2, 2014 at 6:23 pm

    Hi! I don’t know if anyone will see this, but I’m confused about what wire to purchase. With regular earrings (store-bought), I’m usually ok with surgical steel but I react (infection) to sterling, alloys (the unlabeled metals) and even my 24K gold over surgical steel starter earrings. My ears got so infected they swallowed them up! I want to make ear pins with beads/stones on the front and wire that loops through the ear piercing and climbs up the back of the ear to hold it in place. So I need a pliable but sturdy wire. Based on my history, what wire should I buy? Is surgical steel wire ok or is it different than the surgical steel they use to make earring hooks/posts? Thanks!!

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