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GUIDE: Choosing Quality Stainless Steel In Watches

Stainless Steel Watch

Stainless steel watches are known for their durability. In this post, we will list the quality signs to look for when buying a new watch.

As a consumer, it can sometimes be difficult to determine the quality of the stainless steel offered – or of its even stainless steel at all. That is why it is important to look for the right indicators when you’re in the market for a quality stainless steel watch.

Stainless steel is an alloy (i.e., a mixture of metals) made up of primarily iron, carbon and at least 10.5% chromium. This composition ensures resistance against tough conditions. Unlike other metals, stainless steel doesn’t stain, rust or corrode in contact with water. This makes it a suitable and popular material for watches.

Fake stainless steel
The cheapest watches (e.g., replicas and knockoffs under $100) typically use alloys that aren’t stainless steel by definition, even though they often are sold as “stainless steel watches”. The problems with these cheaper alloys are that they easily corrode when exposed to other elements, that they easily lose their color, and that there are no processes ensuring the composition and safety of the materials used.

Stainless Steel Grades
Stainless steel used in watches are divided by different grades, and each grade has its own composition of metals – giving it unique strengths and weaknesses. Following, we will describe the pros and cons of each grade.

This is the lowest grade of stainless steel used in watches. 201 stainless steel is made up of 16-18% chromium and has low amount of nickel (3.5-5,5%). It is one of the hardest grade of them all, but holds the lowest resistance towards corrosion and rust.

The most common quality grade of stainless steel is 304L. This grade contains between 18 and 20 percent chromium and up to 12 percent nickel. Stainless steel watches with the 304L grade have a high resistance to rust, and withstands corrosion from most oxidizing acids. However, the weakness of 304L is that it is susceptible to corrosion from chloride solutions that might cause “pitting” (i.e., small holes in the metal).

The stainless steel grade chosen by most luxury watchmakers is 316L (most notably Omega, IWC and Patek Philippe). Stainless steel watches with 316L are quite similar to 304L, with the difference that they incorporate 2-3 percent molybdenum – an element that increases the corrosion resistance against chlorides. Due to its superior qualities, 316L is often referred to as surgical grade stainless steel (it is the grade preferred in biomedical applications) or marine grade stainless steel (since it’s beneficial in marine environments).

This is the stainless steel famously used by Rolex. It has superior resistance to corrosion due to its high amounts of chromium (19-23%), molybdenum (5%) and nickel (23-28%). However, the high grade of Nickel also makes it unsuitable for people with Nickel allergy.

When looking for a quality watch, we’d recommend you to look for one with a stainless steel grade of at least 304L. At KARLEX, we have chosen 316L in order to offer our customers the appreciated surgical grade stainless steel.