What is niobium, you may ask? You may have seen some niobium ear wire earrings for sale in my shop, and perhaps you have glossed over my description in these listings. This blog entry will clarify what niobium is, both in composition and in usage.
Niobium is a NATURALLY-OCCURRING, gunmetal gray-hued metal: meaning it is found in the earth, and is not a composite of various metals. This also means that unlike brass and copper--which are both usually metal mixtures--there is a much lower chance of toxic metal (i.e.: lead) contamination in niobium. And like sterling silver, niobium is a hard metal, which makes it great for jewelry. According to Wikipedia, niobium has a wide variety of applications, noting that it used in jewelry, steel production, and has been tested for use in medical equipment.
Best of all, niobium is HYPOALLERGENIC. So those who are sensitive to/cannot wear traditional sterling silver, titanium, and plated ear wires (the latter of which I do NOT recommend wearing at all because the plating can rub off, exposing the base metal underneath, which usually contains lead and other toxic substances), niobium ear wires will be your best bet. Perhaps my supplier puts it best when she says that niobium is "allergy-free." Family members of mine who cannot wear sterling silver ear wires due to allergies can safely wear niobium ones without a problem--no red, stinging ear lobes, lobe itchiness or puffiness, etc. I also wear niobium ear wires on a regular basis.
To CLEAN niobium ear wires, like with sterling silver ear wires, wipe the ear wires gently with alcohol and let dry. Niobium ear wires can also be anodized into a wide array of vibrant colors--if you own a pair of these, you will have to clean the ear wires gently with mild soap and lukewarm water, as anodized colors are not permanent (think of those anodized, aluminum water bottles that scratch easily, revealing the aluminum underneath). Note: I'm currently testing out a pair of anodized ear wires to see how long the anodized color "lasts."
In sum, I RECOMMEND niobium ear wires for those with metal-sensitive ears because of its hypoallergenic properties. Niobium is also less expensive than sterling silver. So if you like the gunmetal-gray color, niobium is a practical alternative to the brighter, more expensive sterling silver. With niobium ear wires, those who enjoy wearing earrings--but have sensitive ears--can do so without a problem.