Precious Metals & Bench/News
Element of Style
Aesthetics and science pave the way for a metal's entrée into fine jewelry
Its cool silver-gray, pure and strong, but its not platinum. It can be sawed, stamped, engraved and processed in different hues, but its not gold. Prices are suitable for fine jewelry stores while still affordable to a spectrum of consumers, but its not silver.
The mystery metal that combines these characteristics and adds some of its own is titanium. A rising star in the jewelry arena, the metallic element titanium was discovered in 1791 but not used commercially until the 1940s, when industry developed a cost-effective way to extract it from ilmenite, a heavy, shiny black mineral. Today, the biggest supplies are in Russia, Ukraine and Mongolia, though there are deposits also in North America.
Science + Art
Titanium, named for the strong Titans of Greek mythology, got its commercial launch in the aerospace industry because it has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metal and is chemically inert (hypoallergenic). These same characteristics have carried titanium to great success in consumer products ranging from fishing reels to flatware, dental implant screws to eyewear, laptop computers to watches. Now its jewelrys turn.
Imagine the story you can tell customers, says Ed Rosenberg, president and chairman of Spectore Corp. The Deerfield Beach, FL, company pioneered the use of titanium in a wide range of consumer products under the Spectore name and for other companies. Titanium offers a unique combination of beauty, strength, low weight and biocompatibility.
When Rosenberg started Spectore 20 years ago, his goal was to develop the artistic properties of titanium. The industry was intrigued but wary of the widely unknown metal when he introduced high-end titanium jewelry at the JA Jewelry Show in New York City in 1982. Growth was a struggle until a few years ago. Titanium is in this odd place between the aerospace industry which doesnt understand its aesthetics and the jewelry industry which doesnt understand its science, he says.
Rosenberg wants to break through these barriers with education. He developed materials to help jewelers educate their customers. And he created a full line of wedding jewelry that focuses on the metals purity, strength and hue (the same product category and message that accompanied platinum on its ride back to popularity as a jewelry metal in the past decade).
Titanium made a big entry into the watch market a few years ago, a fact Rosenberg attributes to mens attraction to its strength and science and a dearth of jewelry designed for them. But as knowledge grows along with the product range women are becoming interested too. Men used to account for about 60% of titanium purchases, but now its evenly divided between men and women, he says.
When you think titanium, you may visualize the rainbow sheen of oil on water thats characteristic of titanium found on fashion jewelry counters. That effect is achieved by applying heat or electricity to unleash the metals refractive property and induce various oxide thicknesses that cause optical interference. But in nature, titanium is light silver-gray. The most common questions Rosenberg hears from jewelers are:
- Can titanium be sized? The 99% pure titanium used in jewelry can be. Titanium fabrication does require special expertise because of its high melting point, reactivity and rapid liquid-to-solid ratio. But the technology involved is part of the attraction, says Rosenberg.
- Doesnt it have low perceived value? Consumers likely think of it as a valuable metal because of its connection to the aerospace industry.
- Can it be engraved? The titanium alloy used in jewelry can be engraved.
Among the products Spectore manufactures for itself and other suppliers are rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets and watches. Production totals about 3 million units annually, with fine jewelry accounting for 200,000 units, double what it was two years ago, says Rosenberg. In the same time, the average per-unit price for jewelry products rose from $30-$40 wholesale to $150-$200 (more diamonds, gold and platinum accents account for some of the increase).
Consumers like the story of titanium as well as the way it looks, says Rosenberg, who also chairs the World Titanium Council, a trade organization that promotes titanium to consumers. Its lightweight and durable, and its design flexibility is phenomenal.
Spectore Corp., Deerfield Beach, FL; (954) 481-8422, fax (954) 421-2391, email@example.com, www.spectore.com.
by Ren Miller
||The light gray ring from the Tian Collection is the natural color of titanium and is inlaid with 18k gold; the black ring is from the Black Ti Collection and is inlaid with platinum. Both have a tension-set 0.25-ct. diamond.
||The black titanium rings with 18k inlays are accented (from left) with three 0.04-ct. diamonds, five 0.4-ct. diamonds and four 0.02-ct. diamonds. All rings have comfort fit bands.
|Mining & Processing
Titanium-bearing ore is mined from the ground and placed in a chemical solution. The result is sponge titanium, which is broken into pieces, compacted into a more solid form and melted into a large ingot. The ingot is processed into wire, sheet and other forms used in the manufacturing process.
Though raw titanium costs less than most other jewelry metals, the extensive processing adds to the price of finished products.