Wristwatches, especially sports models, have long used highly durable technical materials because they must operate at all times no matter what. Stainless steel has long been the preferred material of choice in the realm of watches due to its toughness and dependability. However, titanium’s rise as a strong challenger is threatening stainless steel’s position as the best material for watches. Titanium outperforms stainless steel in many ways, making it a more desirable metal for watches. However, there are still some drawbacks to titanium that must be considered before fully switching to this newer metal.

A bit of history of titanium

Titanium was first used in watchmaking in 1970 by Citizen, which launched the X8 quartz watch range, which included one of the world’s first electronic mechanisms with a battery life of over a year.

Titanium has been used in Citizen watches specifically because of its ability to resist corrosion and its dependability. The famous Promaster Aqualand, a line of dive watches introduced in 1985 that included an electronic depth gauge, was also made of titanium.

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Which is better, titanium or stainless steel?

This happens because usually the metals used in industry in general, and in our case, in watchmaking, are not pure but are alloys made up of various metals in different proportions. So there is no single standard – there are many. To cite a relatively well-known example, most steel watches are made from an alloy called 316L. At the same time, Rolex has for some years now been using a different alloy, 904L, which has superior corrosion resistance and polish but scratches more easily.

Same with titanium. Titanium cases and bracelets are made from an alloy made up of titanium and other metals, so it is mixed with them to improve its physical properties. As a result, the question cannot be answered simply. Every metal has its own set of features that make it more or less suitable for one use over another.

We’ll go through the characteristics of each alloy one by one in the sections below. However, on average, titanium has similar strength properties to stainless steel but weighs about 40% less, is non-magnetic, and is more heat-resistant. Its cold working expenses are significantly greater than those of stainless steel, and is also more prone to scratches.

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1. Price: Is steel or titanium more expensive?

Titanium and steel are not expensive alloys, with titanium costing more to process and repair than steel because of its higher processing costs, especially when worked cold. This is due to titanium’s greater hardness when compared to traditional steel. As a result, it destroys the equipment such as drills and cutters used to machine it, necessitating their replacement more often.

The price gap between steel and titanium versions of the same timepieces is testament to this: titanium versions cost roughly 50% more than comparable steel versions. So, if you’re curious as to why watches are so pricey, this is one of the reasons.

2 . Weight & Comfort: Is titanium lighter than stainless steel?

Titanium is 40% lighter than stainless steel, but it has similar technical and physical qualities, particularly in terms of hardness and durability, making it an ideal material for indestructible tool watches. It’s also a fantastic option for dressier automatic timepieces thanks to its visual appeal and comfort on the skin. As a note, titanium is one of the materials of choice for the aerospace and mechanical industries, especially for applications where the structure needs to be very strong relative to its weight. 

3. Durability: Is titanium more corrosion-resistant than stainless steel?

Titanium has a greater resistance to external factors than stainless steel due to its unique physical qualities. Steel rusting is accelerated by oxidation, whereas titanium oxide creates a protective layer on the metal’s surface that prevents corrosion. Furthermore, because of this natural “coating,” it is immune from its surroundings, making it hypoallergenic.

Titanium is also used to create the skeletal prosthetics implanted in people’s bodies, such as screws for fixing bones or heads of bones with complex shapes like the femur. This information is crucial for understanding titanium’s role in watches: its cases and bracelets do not cause allergy.

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4. Scratch Resistance: Is titanium more resistant to scratches than stainless steel?

In general, scratches on titanium appear more obviously than comparable steel marks. This is due in part to the fact that a scratch initially affects the uppermost titanium oxide layer before spreading to the underlying metal, which appears deeper and more apparent than it really is.

However, titanium scratch repair is simpler than steel scratch repair, where the process is more difficult. The issue may be with the surface finish, which has a satin sheen on titanium and is polished to a mirror shine in ordinary steel.

5. Thermal resistance: Is titanium less subject to temperature than steel?

Titanium has a much higher melting point than steel, with a maximum of 1650 degrees Celsius, as well as exceptional stability. This indicates that titanium does not get misshapen under the same conditions as steel. As a result, it remains one of the finest options for mechanical parts subjected to substantial stresses.

Furthermore, because it is very stable and solid, it’s an excellent material for watch cases and backs since even a minor deformation would allow the liquid to get inside the case and harm the movement.

Stainless Steel vs. Titanium Watches – Pros & Cons

Stainless Steel

PROS

  • very common
  • economical
  • good resistance

CONS

  • heavy
  • prone to rust

Titanium

PROS

  • light
  • resistant
  • hypoallergenic
  • antimagnetic

CONS

  • expensive
  • difficult to work
  • prone to scratches
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Main Takeaways

Titanium, despite its contemporary status and impressive technical features, has yet to bridge the gap that separates it from steel. It is still largely a specialist material utilized in technical watches with features of dependability and durability superior to those available through “simple” steel.

It is certain, however, that it has distinct features and makes an outstanding material. It’s ideal for hefty-duty watches since it can increase the duration/lifespan of quartz or automatic timepieces. Furthermore, its lightness and smooth finish give it a warmer and more organic feel than steel, making it a great option for all those who are dissatisfied with steel for different reasons, but do not like the look of plastic and polymers. In short, titanium is a great choice if you’re looking for a watch that is both durable and comfortable. Which material you choose will ultimately depend on your personal preferences, budget, and lifestyle needs. So do your research to find the best option for you!