316 Stainless is the workhorse alloy for the jewelry industry’s stainless needs. It is composed of approximately 60% Iron, 18% Chromium, and 14% Nickel with small percentages of Molybdenum, Manganese, and others. Despite the fact that 316L has 14% Nickel, it is still considered among the most biocompatible of the stainless series. It has been used in the medical industry for heart stents and spinal implants, among others. Nevertheless, it is important to be aware of the risk for nickel sensitivity when using this alloy for jewelry applications. This is particularly true for piercing designs where, ironically, it is the most popular.
Other benefits of 316L are its rust resistance and malleability—both key factors for jewelry use. Diamonds can be set with relative ease and rust is better inhibited by the specific combination of elements used in 316L versus other stainless steels.
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