Color Titanium Jewelry: 5 Tips from Noël Yovovich

If titanium were an animal, it would be a chameleon. Contrary to popular belief, the famously transformative reptile does not change colors to blend in with its surroundings. The real reason is far more interesting: it’s communicating with fellow chameleons. Whether aggressive or calm, pregnant or ready to mate, the animal uses color to convey a message.

What does all this have to do with titanium? This strong, lightweight metal can also change color. And while the reason for titanium’s display has nothing to do with emotion (or mating, for that matter), it does have something in common with chameleons on a scientific level.

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It’s All About Wavelengths

There are remarkable structures called guanine nanocrystals inside a chameleon’s cells. They spread out or crowd together to reflect different wavelengths of light. The result is that the chameleon changes color, though the actual pigments in the skin remain the same. Amazing, right? (I’m sensing a new superhero series here.)

Wavelengths also come into play with titanium. This metal reacts to heat and electric current by forming oxide layers. As the oxide layers build up, they change the way that light reflects, thus changing the colors we see – though no pigment has been added to the metal.

The magical quality of color-changing titanium never gets old.

The magical quality of color-changing titanium never gets old.

Are you dying to try this out yet? In Noël Yovovich’s online workshop, How to Color Titanium for Jewelry, you’ll learn how to create a rainbow of iridescent colors on titanium – and also niobium – by controlling heat or current. Based on her informative video, this workshop will also teach you techniques like texturizing and masking to create intriguing surface designs. For a sneak peak into Noël’s instruction, let’s look at five great tips for coloring titanium.

Wire wrapping is a good choice for finishing titanium projects. color titanium preservation

Wire wrapping is a good choice for finishing titanium projects.

Color Titanium Tip #1: Plan for cold joins.

The oxide layers that form in response to heat and current prevent titanium from being soldered like silver and copper. Knowing this fact from the start will help you design a functional piece. Note how Noël designed her fish to have notches near the head and tail, conducive to wire wrapping. Other suitable cold connections include riveting, hanging, or setting your piece like a stone.

A golden sheen appears first when heat coloring titanium, followed by purples and blues.

A golden sheen appears first when heat coloring titanium, followed by purples and blues.

Color Titanium Tip #2: Improve your torch technique.

Train yourself to use your non-dominant hand to use the torch. Noël says, “As a metalsmith, it’s a good idea to learn to do the torch with your left hand, so that you have your right hand for tools that require more fine motor skills.” That’s something that I never thought of before!

Another torch tip is to know the predictable order that colors appear in when heating titanium. Gold appears first, then purple, dark blue, and light blue, and finally yellow, green, and pink. Even heat results in a uniform color, while uneven heat produces a beautiful gradient.

Use this wisdom to aim for the colors you want, but stay flexible if your piece turns out somewhat differently than you expect.

A micro anodizer pumps electric current through titanium (center) and niobium (right) to color it in a process called anodizing.

A micro anodizer pumps electric current through titanium (center) and niobium (right) to color it in a process called anodizing.

Color Titanium Tip #3: Be safe with voltage.

Coloring titanium with voltage is called anodizing. For this method, Noël tells us that we’ll need a specialized power supply that produces high, variable voltage with low, fixed amperage. Remember safety first when dealing with high voltage. Never touch the liquid when the power supply is on, and don’t touch the electrodes to each other.

To familiarize yourself with what voltages produce which colors, Noël recommends making a test strip, starting with a voltage of 15 and working your way up. Label the test strip so you remember the voltage that created each color. But keep in mind that the colors become more difficult to predict at higher voltages.

When anodizing, the colors appear in the same order as they did for heat coloring. You’ll see your piece become gold first and work its way through the spectrum as you increase the voltage. In fact, once you make it to pink, you’ll see the spectrum start over in what are called second-order colors. In theory, Noël tells us, there are even third-order colors, though they are difficult to achieve.

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One last trick with voltage is to use anodizing tape for masking effects. Not only does using tape reduce the surface area and thus increase the coloration effects on the exposed metal, but you’ll also be able to preserve a color that you want for your final piece while continuing to anodize other areas.

A quick side note before we move on: Niobium is another metal that changes color through anodizing (though not with heat coloring).

You’ll notice that the colors appear brighter on niobium, giving it a different feel. Noël actually prefers the coloration of titanium, and as an additional plus, it’s far cheaper than niobium.

Noël demonstrates using a flex shaft with a ball bur to create surface designs.

Noël demonstrates using a flex shaft with a ball bur to create surface designs.

Color Titanium Tip #4: Delight in texture.

A flex shaft with a ball bur is a wonderful tool for creating surface design. This texture creates a pleasing pattern and causes the light to reflect differently. The flex shaft is also effective if you need to remove unwanted color; in fact, it’s the only way to remove unwanted color. (Titanium can’t change back the way a chameleon can!)

Noël uses a ball bur to create scales on the fish body and lines on the fins. In her anodized landscape, she “draws” mountains, rivers, and foliage in the same way.

As shown in her leaf design, Noël often uses silver overlays in her work. Not only does the overlay add another design element, but it also serves to protect the titanium from scratches.

As shown in her leaf design, Noël often uses silver overlays in her work. Not only does the overlay add another design element, but it also serves to protect the titanium from scratches.

Color Titanium Tip #5: Protect your design.

Titanium is vulnerable to being scratched, so it’s best for pieces that will be subjected to limited wear and tear. A silver overlay or a high bezel can help protect it. A look at some of Noël’s work shows us her expertise with beautiful silver overlays. In addition to the protection it affords, the overlay adds another design element to the piece.

Get started learning with Noël today!

Go Play With Color and Light

Now that you’ve seen what fun you can have with the reflective properties of oxide layers, be sure to check out Noël’s workshop How to Color Titanium for Jewelry. Purchase it individually, or subscribe to Interweave’s Online Workshops to access dozens of jewelry-making courses for just $9.99 a month. Either way, I think we all have a new-found appreciation for titanium – and chameleons.

Bead artist Kinga Nichols created Marty the Chameleon with bead embroidery.

Go be creative!
Tamara Kula
Producer, Bead & Jewelry Group


Go Crazy for Color: Titanium and Other Metals, with Interweave

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