|Niobium is a reactive metal – element #41. It’s called “reactive” because if you pass an electrical current through it, the surface of the metal changes color. In its raw state, it’s a shiny grey metal – very similar in appearance to stainless steel. But if you heat it or run electrical current through it, the color of the surface changes dramatically. There are no dyes involved, the colors you see on niobium are purely a natural property of the material (with a bit of a “boost” from some salt water and voltage). I use electricity to anodize my niobium rings because it gives better control and the results are cleaner.
Single Color Batches
Twenty shades of gleaming, shiny, iridescent yum. Please remember that different batches will be slightly different colors (like dye-lots for yarn) so be sure to get enough to complete your project. If you do run out and want to get the closest possible match, please send me sample rings to match. Once you actually purchase the rings they’re yours forever, so check first if you need to match a particular shade.
If you can’t make up your mind which color you want, get a mix! The mixes contain more shades of color than are available in the single-color batches. When I’m making a mix I bring the whole batch up to the bottom color and then scoop out a few rings at a time as I slowly raise the color. I scoop several times between each “official” color, so you’ll get lots of in-between shades. Mixes are great for color fades or festive confetti effects.
But how does it work?
The current flowing through the metal causes a layer of oxide to form on the surface. Metal oxide is usually something we try to avoid – rusted iron, tarnished silver, etc. But niobium oxide is clear, forming a transparent film on the surface of the metal. When white light strikes that clear film we see color because of an effect called “light interference.” Some of the light bounces off the top of the film, and some of the light bounces off the bottom of the film. When the light recombines with itself, the light waves interfere and partly cancel out or amplify. Whatever is left after the interference isn’t white light any more, it’s colored light.
You can see the exact same effect in soap bubbles or oil floating on water. The varying thickness of the film (soap or oil) is what makes the varying rainbow of colors. I love physics! *grin*
Working With Niobium
Please remember that the color on these rings is only skin deep. Although the color will never flake off, it will fade if the metal gets gouged or worn away.
Happily, this is easy to avoid. When you’re weaving the rings, pay attention to your grip. If you grip too tightly, you run the risk of gouging the surface when you slip. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but my experience is that I slip less and scratch fewer rings when I concentrate on keeping a light grip. (Besides, a lighter grip is better for your hands/shoulders/spine anyway). Just for reference, I estimate that I scratch the color on approximately one ring in five hundred that I weave with bare pliers.
If you can’t manage the lighter grip, or if it doesn’t seem to work for you, then I recommend that you try Tool Magic. I haven’t yet tested it myself, but I’ve heard great things about it from Rebeca of Blue Buddha Boutique. Rebeca recommends painting on two thin layers instead of dipping one thick layer. I’ll eventually have the time to test it myself, and if I like it I’ll start selling it.
Once your niobium is made into jewelry, keep it away from hard or abrasive objects like sand, keys, coins, etc.
And if your niobium jewelry ever gets dirty or dingy, a little Windex, rubbing alcohol, or warm soapy water will clean it right up.
How tough is the color?
It’s tough enough for calm jewelry wear, but not tough enough for making sand angels on the beach. If the surface of the metal gets scratched off, the color goes with it. So treat your niobium jewelry kindly and you’ll be just fine.
Why don’t you sell red/black/orange niobium?
Red, black and orange are colors that just don’t happen in the interference spectrum. You can get red and orange from the refraction spectrum (think rainbows or sun-catcher prisms) but not from interference. (No really – I do love physics!)
Color #55 (golden, sometimes apricot) could possibly be described as light orange. Color #20 (deep purple/blue) is the closest match that I sell for black. Color #65 (vivid pink/purple) is arguably close to red, but not really.
When you receive your color-mix rings, they’ll be jumbled together (like the sample pictures to the right) but it’s also helpful to see the color range after sorting:
And finally, one last picture to tie everything together. You can click for a closer look, but be warned, it’s a big image.
I hope you now have a better understanding of the niobium rings that I offer. If you have questions not answered here, please feel free to send me an email. Happy chainmailling!