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In an age when every watch manufacturer now produces and markets its own proprietary metals from Cerachrom (Rolex) to Zalium (Harry Winston), we would like to revisit the beginnings, in the spirit of the motto 'Back to Basics', and focus on two unique raw materials in the watch industry: steel and titanium. At first glance, these materials may appear very similar, but they are fundamentally different. Let's take a moment to explore the differences and compare the raw materials with each other.

Which type of steel is used in the watch industry?

Started more simply: what exactly is stainless steel? Stainless steel refers broadly to types of steel with a high degree of purity. In common usage, the term is also used as a synonym for rustproof steel. Alloys give stainless steels a special composition and their characteristics can be better defined.

When stainless steel sports watches such as the Rolex Submariner (Ref. 5513) or the Heuer Camaro became the new trend of the 1970s, several watch brands began to look into steel production. The steel most commonly used in the watchmaking industry today is SAE 316L, and is primarily composed of chromium (16 to 18%), nickel (10 to 12%) and molybdenum (2 to 3%). In the history of the watch industry and stainless steel, the industry giant Rolex once again has played a pioneering role. In 1985, the company used the stainless steel alloy type 904L for its watch cases for the first time, as this alloy is also permanently resistant to salt water and perspiration, unlike stainless steel type 316L originally used by many watchmakers. The material therefore quickly became the standard in the watch industry. Primarily, stainless steel type 904L consists of chromium (19 to 23%), nickel (23 to 28%) and molybdenum (4 to 5%). It is particularly the higher proportion of molybdenum that makes type 904L steel antimagnetic and more resistant to acids and corrosion.

Rolex Submariner 5513 steel watch in a watch box with paisley handkerchief

The fact that Rolex places great emphasis on high-quality and practical materials in its timepieces is also demonstrated by the Rolex-owned steel alloy type 904L, known as Oystersteel. Initially, only the cases were made of 904L stainless steel, while the Rolex bracelets continued to be made of type 316L and were later changed to type 904L.

And what is exactly the difference to titanium?

Titanium is counted among the transition and non-metals. Pure titanium has a purity of 99.5% and may contain traces of elements such as iron, oxygen, hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen. You can feel the first difference between stainless steel and titanium as soon as you wear it on your wrist, because titanium is much lighter, but does not compromise on durability. Most wearers choose titanium as an alternative to steel watches because this material is particularly suitable for people with nickel sensitivity. Those who are allergic to nickel do not have an easy time choosing a watch, as the majority of watches are made of steel, which always contains a certain amount of nickel. Titanium also has another advantage: thanks to a protective oxide layer, the material is extremely resistant to corrosion and therefore does not react with its surroundings.

Watch manufacturer Citizen introduced the first titanium watch in 1970 and developed a new generation of materials under the name Super Titanium™, which is five times stronger and 40% lighter than stainless steel. By comparison, normal titanium is "only" three times harder than stainless steel. Despite all the advantages that titanium offers, however, a look at the price tag is quite sobering, which often discourages people from purchasing a titanium watch Also, the appearance should also not go unmentioned: while smooth polished stainless steel has an unmistakable sparkle, titanium fascinates with a rather matte shine.

Breitling Chrono Avenger E13360 titanium watch next to a Breitling Chronomat 44 AB011012.A690.375A stainless steel watch in a box covered with black velvet

A direct comparison of steel and titanium watches

Let's put the two materials head to head against each other for a clearer overview. In a direct comparison of steel and titanium, one can easily see which material leads in the categories of weight, skin sensitivity, firmness, resistance to corrosion, melting point and price.

Steel Titanium
Weight 7,9 kg/dm³ 4,5 kg/dm³
Skin sensitivity not anti-allergenic; not suitable in case of nickel allergy not anti-allergenic, but can be worn in case of nickel allergy
Firmness depends on the specific alloy depends on the specific alloy
Resistance to corrosion depends on the specific alloy resistant to chloride solutions, organic acids and seawater; equivalent to V4A stainless steel
Melting point at 1.500°C at 1.660°C
Starting price of watches at Watchmaster from €730 from €1,550

In our opinion, titanium comes out on top in a direct comparison, with the price often being the deciding factor for many in the end. At this point, you have to take time to save up for a titanium watch, as the models are usually more expensive than the steel equivalents.

Titanium watches at Watchmaster

Panerai Luminor Marina 1950

One of Panerai's renowned flagships, the Luminor Marina 1950, is also available in a lighter titanium version. The reference PAM00352 appears extremely down-to-earth and understated thanks to its matte finish. The orange of the hands, however, creates a fresh touch of colour that slightly breaks up the timepiece's matte appearance. For a price of €6,000, you can buy this Luminor Marina 1950 model pre-owned at Watchmaster.

Panerai Luminor 1950 PAM00351 watch with titanium case and titanium bezel, brown dial and crocodile leather strap

Breitling Chrono Avenger

The matte grey Breitling Chrono Avenger (Ref. E13360) shows how pleasantly titanium suits the design of a military watch. True to the motto "Power in action", this model, with its entirely titanium case, pushers, bezel and bracelet, features a reliable automatic movement. This watch is available starting from just €3,070.

Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M

The depths of the sea are no match for a titanium watch. As the name implies, the Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M (Ref. ensures up to 600 metres of water resistance – and all this for a price of €3,720. The matte design of the titanium case and bracelet is clearly different from the black look of the aforementioned models and is further accentuated by the blue dial. The Omega Co-Axial calibre 8500 drives this timepiece.

Beliebte Stahl-Uhren von Watchmaster

Rolex 116710LN und Rolex 116610LN

The Rolex Submariner 116610LN and GMT-Master II 116710LN feature Rolex's proprietary type 904L alloy and confidently place the material steel in the spotlight. While the Submariner is a diving watch that is water-resistant up to a depth of 300 meters, the GMT-Master II offers you the possibility of displaying a total of three different time zones. Moreover, both Rolex classics come equipped with a robust oyster bracelet, a date window at 3 o'clock and the timeless Rolex look of a black dial. Pre-owned models of the 116610LN start at €10,140, while second-hand models of the 116710LN start at €11,200.

Breitling Chronomat 44

Competition from Breitling: With the Chronomat 44 (Ref.AB011012.F546.375A) the manufacturer with the winged B logo offers a steel chronograph. The case, bracelet and bezel of the Chronomat 44 are all made of this durable material, enabling it to withstand even the most adverse conditions. At just under €4,700, this watch is a sound investment.

TAG Heuer Carrera

If you are looking for something from the world of racing, TAG Heuer offers you the perfect alternative – the Carrera (Ref. CAR2110.BA0720). A steel bracelet and case with a 41 mm diameter make the Carrera, in addition to its other advantages, an ideal companion for all situations in life. And it only costs a low €2,350.

TAG Heuer Carrera CAR2110.BA0724