nickel metals in a warehouse

Can Using Nickel Alloys for Jewelry Cause Problems?

When Baron Cronstedt originally extracted nickel in 1751, he intended to produce copper. That’s why he called this newly discovered metal kupfernickel, a German word that roughly translates in English to “devil’s copper.” 

Even though nickel’s a very useful and popular metal, the name might almost appear ironic to some people in modern times. Though commonly used in all kinds of things, from rings to zippers, some people develop sensitivities to nickel alloys after prolonged skin contact. Find out more about the pros and cons of using nickel alloys in jewelry and other products. 

What Kind of Metal is Nickel? 

Most Americans gain familiarity with this metal because the government makes five-cent coins, or nickels, out of a nickel-copper alloy. The nickel hardens the coins and gives them a silvery color. Properties of this natural, abundant metal include hardness and ductility, so it’s often used in alloys to add strength. 

According to Dartmouth University, nickel also gained favor for use in alloys for coins, jewelry, and other items for several reasons. The metal combines into alloys with such other metals as copper, zinc, chromium, and iron. It’s lightweight, resists oxidation, appears bright, and polishes or textures nicely. 

Also, while nickel’s currently more valuable than copper, it’s still much cheaper and more abundant than silver. Jewelry makers also add nickel to some precious metals to make them more durable and reduce the cost. They also use a base-metal alloy called “nickel silver” as a cheaper alternative to silver. 

What’s Behind the Nickel-Free Jewelry Trend? 

Some people need to avoid contact with nickel. According to the US CDC, as many as 10 to 20 percent of the population suffer from some degree of sensitivity to this metal. Typically, this sensitivity causes a reaction when the metal rests in contact with the skin for more than a few hours. 

Most commonly, sensitive people suffer from a rash. It’s usually at the spot of contact, but sometimes, the rash may erupt on other parts of the body. Less often, nickel-sensitive individuals experience an asthma attack. Besides jewelry, nickel-sensitive people might develop an adverse reaction to nickel alloys in zippers, eyeglasses, coins, or even smartphones. 

Naturally, anybody who has suffered an allergic reaction will want to avoid nickel in the future. Likewise, jewelry makers can explore various metals and alloys to add nickel-free alternative jewelry to their lines. The Mayo Clinic suggests nickel-free or surgical-grade stainless steel, sterling silver, titanium, and 18-karot or nickel-free yellow gold. 

Where to Buy Nickel-Free and Nickel Jewelry Alloys 

Here at Belmont Metals, we offer a wide selection of nonprecious jewelry alloys, plus products specifically engineered to alloy with precious metals. Find both nickel and nickel-free choices on the Jewelry Alloys page. In addition, in-house metallurgists will help you develop the perfect product for your unique application.