What is the Difference Between 904L and 316L Stainless Steel?

11:45 AM

Rolex is the only watchmaker that uses 904L stainless steel instead of the industry standard 316L stainless steel in their wristwatches. While many on Rolex forums claim that this is simply a way for Rolex to differentiate themselves from competitors, it should be noted that there are differences between the two. 

photo of Rolex 904L Stainless Steel
Rolex 904L Stainless Steel (photo: Rolex)
904L stainless steel is customarily used in chemical and aerospace applications. It is highly resistant to corrosion from acids, which makes it ideal for handling chemicals. However, a wristwatch would rarely be exposed to corrosive acids to such a degree. After all, if the watch on your wrist is exposed to these acids, you would likely lose your arm in the incident, making the watch's resistance to chemicals irrelevant as you will no longer have a wrist to wear it on.

In terms of chemical composition, 904L stainless steel has a lower amount of carbon and a higher concentration of nickel and chromium and copper added in comparison to 316L. Rolex melts this stainless steel alloy twice to purify it and ensure that it will polish well.

The polish and the resistance to scratching are the selling points that Rolex uses to promote 904L stainless steel alloy that they manufacture in-house. Although the process is more rigorous and expensive, the watchmaker insists that it is superior to 316L.

Some claim that higher amounts of nickel in 904L steel could lead to allergies on contact, but anyone with a nickel allergy would have a similar reaction when coming into contact with 316L as well.

For more information on 904L stainless steel, check out my post in the Tech section.

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