Naturally nickel free, 99.9% pure niobium (Nb) is an excellent piercing jewelry material. It makes an especially great alternative for people who haven’t been able to wear metal jewelry in their piercings because of nickel allergies or metal sensitivities. Unalloyed niobium is highly biocompatible just like titanium is. Another huge perk is that it has virtually no susceptibility to tarnish. This makes maintaining your jewelry super easy!
Quick Note: There are niobium alloys out there – make sure the piercing jewelry that you buy is made from an unalloyed, pure form of niobium.
Aesthetically, niobium is a lustrous grey metal which polishes to a beautiful, shiny finish extremely readily. I love how well the grey color pairs with silver, copper and gold accents - the resulting contrast makes very eye catching jewelry. If you aren’t a fan of the natural grey color, niobium piercing jewelry can also be anodized to create many colorful options, like purple, lime green, and peacock blue.
Sometimes, niobium is also heat treated so that it becomes a rich black color. Unlike black steel piercing jewelry, the black color on niobium does not come from a PVD coating. This means that black niobium jewelry is safe to put in your piercing – there is no coating that will peel or flake off.
It’s important to note that anodizing is not the same as plating metal. Anodized niobium is safe for body piercings because the color actually comes from a colorless, inert oxide layer that forms a transparent layer on the surface of the metal when an electrical current is passed through the niobium. The end color is influenced by the strength and duration of this electrical current, which determine the thickness of the oxide layer.
The resulting oxide layer is capable of creating a rainbow of vibrant colors when light rays are passed through it. Although the color may fade over time, it cannot be peeled or flaked off. Opening and closing endless nose hoops repeatedly, or scratching your jewelry, can affect the anodized color.
You can learn more about the anodizing process here: Using the Properties of Reactive Metals in Jewelry-Making
On the other hand, the color of plated and PVD coated jewelry can flake off, which makes it an unsuitable piercing jewelry material – especially for long-term wear.
It’s important to make sure the niobium piercing jewelry you’re buying is pure and high quality because lesser grades of niobium can cause a reaction in some individuals. I use Type-2 niobium wire and sheet metal in my jewelry work, which is an unalloyed, high quality, commercially pure material.