Article By: Logan Hannen

What is up, watchfam?! Today, we’re taking a look at whether titanium or steel are the better options for your everyday watch.

Watch cases have historically been made out of any number of different materials, including gold, platinum, copper, bronze, rose gold, tantalum. When we get into the world of sportier watches, though, the two big contenders are stainless steel and titanium. There are, by far, the most durable metals on the list, making them perfectly suited for any kinds of incidental bumps, bruises, and other accidental encounters with a door jam that might occur on a daily basis. But which one is the better of the two?

STAINLESS STEEL

Rolex 16610 Submariner in Stainless Steel
Source: Bob’s Watches

First up, we have the classic, the legend among legends, the ultimate everyday watch material…or is it? Stainless steel has been used in watches for decades, but up until the 1960’s, it was considered a bit of a more rare case material. The reason was simple – given the production methods of the time, it was difficult to process steel the way it needed to be in order to make a watch case, and it was considerably heavier than many of the chrome-plated base metal watches of the time (typically brass). As such, it was reserved primarily for dive watches. It wasn’t until Gerald Genta designed the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak in 1972 (as well as its siblings, the Patek Nautilus and the IWC Ingenieur) that steel began to be looked at as something to be used outside of tool watches, (let alone seen as “luxury”).

So what makes steel so great as a watch material? Well, thanks to changes in the way watch cases are manufactured, steel has become much the standard, is also the cheapest metal to produce and, as such, to purchase. Often, steel models from brands tend to be the base level, and then the price increases as the complexity and rarity of the case metal does. Steel is also one of the easiest to plate with other colors (gold, black PVD/DLC, and so on) meaning just because the watch is made of steel, doesn’t mean it necessarily needs to look like steel. Above and beyond that, though, it is also among the most durable case materials there are, thanks to steel’s relative hardness compared to most other metals, making it an absolutely perfect choice for your everyday watch.

TITANIUM

Tudor Pelagos in Titanium
Source: HODINKEE

Now we get into the world of titanium. Relatively speaking, titanium is a younger case material, but not by nearly as many years as you might expect. The first fully titanium watch was the Citizen X8 Titanium Chronometer, built some time in the 1970s, making it only about two decades behind the introduction of steel as a more common tool watch material, and coming in about two years before the Royal Oak introduced steel as a luxury option, rather than just a sporty one.

Titanium is also stronger than steel in many ways, including being almost 100% rust-proof which steel, although certainly up there in terms of corrosion resistance, simply isn’t. On that level, titanium would really be the ideal case metal for a dive watch. However, when you scratch titanium, it’s basically stuck that way, since the titanium cases have proven to be significantly harder to polish/refinish. One of its most unexpected pros, though, has got to be the fact that it is hypoallergenic, which works wonders for those who find steel watches difficult to wear because of a Nickel allergy. And, of course, it’s strongest selling point has got to be the fact that it is, at the same strength level of a stainless steel watch, approximately half the weight.

THE VERDICT

When it comes to which case material suits you better for an everyday watch, it really does come down to what your needs for an everyday watch are. We have already delved into this topic some in our series on the best everyday watch at different price points, so be sure to take a gander through those episodes and get a sense for what we mean. But for an all purpose, multi-functional, versatile watch, we’re going to have to go with steel for one, very important reason – more options. You’re simply going to have an easier time finding a dressier watch, if that’s what everyday means to you, in steel than titanium, especially a budget friendly option, and you’re going to have just as easy a time finding a sporty model in steel as well. Personally, I also happen to prefer the silver shimmer of steel to the matte gray of titanium, with one exception:

Grand Seiko Spring Drive SBGA211 “Snowflake”
Source: HODINKEE

Believe it or not, the Grand Seiko SBGA211, nicknamed the “Snowflake” because of the unique method through which the dials are produced rendering each of them essentially one of a kind, is made of titanium. It’s polished and brushed in such unique and distinct ways, known as Zaratsu polishing, that it almost appears to be steel, but with many of the benefits in terms of strength and durability (and lightness) of titanium. It’s a masterful piece, truly, and is one that I consider to be one of the ideal ways to keep it classy, watchfam.