Titanium is a metallic element found in the earth’s crust. It occurs as a bright, lustrous metal or a silver-gray or dark gray powder. Its compounds are found in practically all igneous rocks and their sand deposits. Titanium has a number of characteristics that make it valuable for industrial and commercial use such as its strength – Titanium is 30% stronger than steel. It’s also light, nearly 50% lighter than steel. It resists corrosion better as well. When exposed to the atmosphere, titanium forms a tight, tenacious oxide film that resists a variety of materials that corrode other metals. It is especially resistant to salt water corrosion.
The first mention of titanium in scientific writing dates to 1791, when an amateur British scientist, William Gregor, analyzed some sand from Comwall and found “a reddish brown calx” he couldn’t identify. He wondered if it was a new metal. Four years later an Austrian chemist, Martin Heinrich Klaproth, confirmed that Gregor had indeed discovered a new element. Klaproth named the element “titanium” after the Titans, the first sons of the earth in Greek mythology. Their mother was Gaea (Earth). They were a race of giant deities who ultimately were overthrown by the Olympian gods. They are associated with great size and strength–hence the word “titanic.” The name is appropriate for an extremely strong element taken from the earth.
The development of titanium alloys for industrial use, however, is relatively new. Wilhelm Kroll of Luxembourg is recognized as the father of the modem titanium industry. In the 1930s, he developed a process to manufacture metallic titanium and refined the process in the 1940s. The Kroll method of manufacturing titanium metal is still in use today.
The titanium metal industry emerged in the 1950s in response to demand from the emerging aerospace industry which used titanium to build jet planes.
Until the mid-1970s, more than 85% of titanium produced was used in the aerospace industry. Titanium’s unique properties–density half that of steel, excellent strength retention to 1,000 degrees F and atmospheric corrosion immunity superior to that of other metals–made it ideal for the construction of the engines and frames of jet planes, rockets and space craft. The military uses the metal in weapons like guided missiles and recoil mechanisms in artillery.
Since the 1970s, the price of titanium mill products has decreased significantly and the metal has been used in a wide range of industries. The most popular compound is titanium dioxide, common in the production of paint pigment, paper, plastics, glass and ceramics. Jewelers might be interested to know that the “stars” in star rubies and sapphires are due to the presence of titanium dioxide. Shipbuilders appreciate titanium’s superior resistance to salt water and use it to make ship propellers, shafts and other parts. The Navy uses it on submarines.
Titanium is the ninth most abundant element in the earth’s crust. There is at least a 10,000 year supply of titanium ore. Titanium has also been found in meteorites and moon rocks and is present in the sun and other stars. The extraction of titanium from its ores is a relatively slow and costly process, which makes the metal expensive. For years the high cost of titanium limited its use to military and aerospace purposes.
Titanium’s unusual features present some distinct advantages to watch owners. Invicta Watch Co., one of the world’s largest manufacturers of titanium watches, uses it especially in sports and dive watches.
– Titanium watches are quite comfortable because they are surprisingly light on the wrist. You can feel the difference compared to a steel watch.
– Titanium is hypoallergenic. It’s nickel-free. Titanium watches can be worn comfortably even when the skin perspires.
– Because the metal is stronger than steel, titanium watches are more durable.
– The corrosion-resistance feature makes titanium particularly well suited for divers’ watches. Titanium is environmentally friendly as it comes from the earth and is recyclable.