Article By: Logan Hannen

What is up, watchfam?! Today, we’re taking a look at the three major types of watch crystals, and some of the pros and cons of each.

A watch crystal is, for lack of a better description, the window of glass covering the face of your watch that keeps dust, water, dirt, or anything else from coming in direct contact with the dial and, by extension, the movement. Clearly, it serves an essential function, then. Given this, why on Earth are there three different materials that these crystals are often made from?

Well, before we can answer that question, it’s essential that we establish what these three crystal types are, and what makes each unique.

Acrylic Crystals

One of the oldest options for wristwatches comes in the form of acrylic crystals, which is essentially just another word for plastic, if we’re being honest. That being said, there are some serious benefits to using such a crystal over the other two we’re going to discuss. The first is that acrylic crystals are significantly resistant to cracks and shattering, which will come back into the discussion momentarily. As an extension of this, they are also scratch magnets; however, acrylic crystals can also be polished, and can be brought back to nearly new condition from near death, in many cases (see photo below).

Scratched Acrylic Crystal Before and After Polishing
Source: 24Hours at a Time on YouTube

Mineral Crystals

Mineral crystal has long been the go-to crystal for brands in the entry-level sector of the watch market. Brands like Seiko, with their patented Hardlex crystal (a version of a mineral that is hardened to prevent scratching), Citizen, Orient, and a number of others have implemented mineral crystals in their watches. Now, if you couldn’t tell from that list, it does seem to be more common in Japanese watches, but that seems to strictly be related to the price point when compared to Swiss pieces (and indeed, many higher end Seikos and Citizens do use a Sapphire crystal). The major benefit of mineral glass is that it is both more scratch resistant than acrylic and, more importantly, it simply chips rather than shattering. I keep talking about this shattering, so let’s get into the final crystal, and the one that is known to shatter if impacted hard enough.

Cracked/Chipped Skagen Mineral Crystal
Source: Jools Jewelry

Sapphire Crystals

Sapphire has earned a reputation of being the big crystal in town, so to speak. On the universal scale of hardness, the only thing harder than it is diamond. Suffice it to say, it’s pretty much impossible to scratch. This makes it a wonderful option for most watches, especially higher end ones, as it ensures that you won’t need to bring your timepiece to a jeweler every couple of months to have the crystal polished or replaced (if you wear your watches hard, of course). The big downfall with sapphire, of course, is that it’s prone to shattering instead of chipping or scratching like mineral and acrylic do. Because of its relative hardness, it is also incredibly brittle, so too much impact directly on it and, well, it’ll look like this…

Cracked and Splintered Rolex Submariner Sapphire Crystal
Source: Nicholas Hacko Watchmaker

Now, the above photo is definitely one of the best case scenarios when it comes to sapphire damage. It can get a whole lot worse, but it doesn’t have to be. See, really, sapphire is the ideal crystal option for most people who are relatively active, but not brutal. It doesn’t scratch, so it can handle a chance encounter with a door jam or the corner of a wall, and is by far the clearest visually of the bunch. Shattering is definitely a rare occurrence, but it does happen, so as long as you’re careful, I don’t think there’s any reason why you can’t go with a sapphire crystal to help you keep it classy, watchfam.