One new and nine explanted zirconia femoral heads were studied using glancing angle X-ray diffraction, scanning electron microscopy, and nanoindentation hardness techniques. All starting zirconia implants consisted only of tetragonal zirconia polycrystals (TZP). For comparison, one explanted alumina femoral head was also studied. Evidence for a surface tetragonal-to-monoclinic zirconia phase transformation was observed in some implants, the extent of which was varied for different in-service conditions. A strong correlation was found between increasing transformation to the monoclinic phase and decreasing surface hardness. Microscopic investigations of some of the explanted femoral heads revealed ultra high molecular weight polyethylene and metallic transfer wear debris. © 2003 Kluwer Academic Publishers.