Eight hundred fifty-three hard metal workers were examined and patch tested with 20 substances from their environment, including nickel and cobalt. Nickel sensitivity was found in 2 men and 38 women. 88% of the nickel-sensitive individuals had developed a jewelry dermatitis prior to employment in the hard metal industry or before the appearance of hand eczema. 29% of the hard metal workers gave a history of slight irritant dermatitis. In the nickel sensitized group, 40% had had severe hand eczema which generally appeared 6-12 months after starting employment. In 25% of the cases, nickel sensitive individuals developed cobalt allergy, compared with 5% in the total population investigated. Most facts indicate that nickel sensitivity and irritant hand eczema precede cobalt sensitization. Hard metal workers with simultaneous nickel and cobalt sensitivity had a more severe hand eczema than those with isolated cobalt or nickel sensitivity or only irritant dermatitis. 64% of the female population had pierced ear lobes. Among the nickel allergic women, 95% had pierced ear lobes. The use of earrings containing nickel after piercing is strongly suspected of being the major cause of nickel sensitivity. Piercing at an early age seems to increase the risk of incurring nickel sensitivity.