904L Stainless Steel Superalloy Used by Rolex Since 1985

March 04, 2016

If you've been on the market for a stainless steel Rolex, you may have seen that the company advertises their use of 904L grade stainless steel superalloy in their wristwatches as superior to the 316L grade stainless steel that the rest of the industry uses. 

More commonly used in the tech, chemical and aerospace industries, 904L grade stainless steel was developed for chemical processing, seawater cooling, wiring and gas washing. These industrial applications make sense as the alloy has a higher resistance to corrosion in extreme conditions, however some question the reasoning behind using this grade of metal for wristwatches.

photo of rolex 904l stainless steel
Rolex 904l Stainless Steel
Rolex started using 904L steel in 1985 because it polishes well and is more resistant to scratches in comparison to 316L. It also resists corrosion due to possible salt water or acid buildup that may get trapped in the watch case for years between cleanings.

904L stainless steel has a different chemical composition than 316L. It has a lower amount of carbon and a higher concentration of nickel and chromium, with copper added to make it less corrosive and more resistant to stress cracking.

It has been reported in forums that higher nickel content in 904L steel can lead to rashes in people with allergies to the metal, however, this is disputed as 316L stainless steel would create a similar allergic reaction, thus making the point moot in comparing the use of 316L over 904L in the wristwatch industry.

Though the average person wearing a Rolex may not be battling the elements on a daily basis, the quality of sheen and higher tolerance for scratching may be a good enough reason to choose a watch made with 904L grade stainless steel over a model using 316L.


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