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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip
December 10, 2009

Question:

I have found a bracelet that calls for coiled niobium wire. What is niobium wire? Does it come coiled? And if not, is it hard to coil?

Answer:

I have seen niobium wire around for the past few years but I have never worked with it, so I did some serious research and compiled the information for you:

Niobium (also called Columbium) is metallic element Nb, the 41st element, discovered in 1801, and rare in its natural state, niobium is a shiny, gray, soft material. The first commercial use of niobium appears to have been in the manufacturing of incandescent light filaments during the early 20th century, but due to the melting point niobium was later replaced by tungsten. In the 1920’s it was discovered that small amounts of niobium greatly improved the strength of steel, which remains its predominant use today. Niobium is also used in the production of special alloys that perform superconductivity and are used to make products like powerful electromagnets that operate MRI machines and particle accelerators.

With regards to jewelry and jewelry making supplies, niobium appears to be priced about the same as sterling silver (Nov 2009) and is a hypo-allergenic, hard and lightweight material. The color choices come from the product having been anodized, which is an electrolytic passivation process used to increase the oxidation thickness on metal. This colored oxidation is a coating that will scratch easily when using tools on it as well as when the finished item is worn often or stored carelessly with other jewelry items that can scratch the colored niobium. I also found that heavier gauged niobium wire appears to change color when it is bent, due to the heat of bending it (mostly apparent with darker color choices).

Users of niobium wire say that working with it is similar to working half-hard sterling silver. As for ‘coiled’ niobium wire, I found no results and can only imagine that the author, whose pattern you are reading, means for you to coil your own.

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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