Watch Materials Guide
In this guide
Gold has been the traditional material for watch casings and straps for years. Now, watches of the world are made out of a wide range of materials which have been favoured due to their lightweight and durable properties. You might think that watch materials don’t matter too much but, actually they are important because material determines the longevity, care, corrosion resistance, scratch resistance and overall aesthetics of a watch.
For example, the difference between a rubber watch with acrylic glass and a gold watch with sapphire glass is vast, including price, clarity, toughness, resistance and looks. In this guide we’ll describe popular watch case & strap materials as well as talking you through watch glass materials so you can get a good understanding of the type of watch that is best suited to you.
Watch Casing & Strap Materials
Watch Casing & Strap Materials
Stainless steel has been a revolution in the watch industry, it is made of an iron-carbon alloy mixed with chromium and nickel and is the most popular choice of watch material due to its appearance, tarnish resistance and availability for manufacturers.
- Isn’t easy to scratch
- Durable for the price
- Mildly Corrosion resistant
- Different finishes such as ‘polished’ or ‘brush’
- Great option for sports watches
- Nickel can cause allergies
- Not completely scratch proof
- Heavier on the wrist than other materials
- Varying degrees of quality - 316L is the most pure
Ceramic watches are made of zirconium oxide and chemicals like silica which is a non-metallic material that is created by heating, cooling and milling the material into shape. Some brands combine chemicals and powders with alloys to create unique ceramic variations with differing properties.
- Much harder than traditional watch metals
- Considered scratch proof and is very hard wearing
- Unaffected by UV from the sun so colour won’t fade
- Very light weight - similar to aluminium on the wrist
- The glossy finish gives it a very luxurious feel
- Has the potential to chip and shatter
- Can be expensive to buy and repair due to the complexity of manufacture
- Doesn’t age, so possibly unsuitable for vintage watch lovers who appreciate wear over time such as patina
Titanium is often alloyed with iron, aluminum, vanadium, molybdenum, or other metals. It has become a popular watch material in recent years due it being twice a strong as stainless steel but weighing half as much. This makes chunky watch designs less bearing on the wrist.
- Light strong & durable - more so than stainless steel
- The lightness makes it ideal for sports watches
- Strongly corrosion resistance - Ideal for swimming & diving
- Favoured by those who favour a more subtle look as is slightly darker in tone than stainless steel.
- Can be more expensive than stainless steel
- Easily scratched and buffing out scratches is not easy
- Can be cracked more readily and very difficult to repair
Carbon fibre is made of thin woven polymer resin fibres which are heated and oxidized to form tightly bound carbon crystals. Carbon fibre is three times stronger than titanium and weighs half the weight of titanium giving it an impressive strength to weight ratio. Carbon fibre is favoured and often combined with plastics & rubber for sports & outdoor watches due to it’s strength.
- Super lightweight & comfortable
- Very shock resistant
- Warm to the touch unlike metals
- Ideal for utility/tool watches
- Not prone to surface scratches
- Not possible to ‘refinish’ any damage
- Black colour isn’t to everyone’s taste
Rubber and resin watches gained popularity in the 70’s & 80’s being part of cheap & luxury watches. Today, rubber and resin watch materials are used prevalently in diving, sports and even some smartwatches like the apple watch. Both materials are extremely versatile and are recognised for their cheaper production and durability.
- Ideal for active lifestyle
- Durable and lightweight
- Very affordable
- Variety of colors and styles
- Not very breathable and can cause wrist to sweat
- Prone to perishing or cracking with wear
- Not ideal for a dress watch
Gold watches are traditionally one of the most desirable watch materials in the world of wrist watches. It’s the rarest of the materials and is still stylish and highly sought after today. Gold alone is considered soft and too malleable for a wrist watch so; silver, copper & palladium are added to give gold watches a hardness and resistance to wrist wear. This alloy also enables gold to be yellow, white or rose in colour.
- A good investment with excellent resale value
- Stylish and complimentary to any outfit
- Can be polished and restored easily
- Provides a timeless look as gold watches will always be sought after.
- Beautifully luxurious
- High price tag
- Easily scratched
- Considered a softer metal - prone to dents
- Can be heavy on the wrist
Watch Glass/Crystal Materials
Watch Glass/Crystal Materials
Sapphire watch glass is a synthetic material made by superheating aluminium oxide powder. It is considered the highest quality glass as it’s the clearest and most durable. Sapphire is incredibly strong and extremely resistant to scratches. As sapphire is so tough, it makes the material very difficult to work with and polish meaning it’s the most expensive watch crystal on the market.
- Most aesthetically pleasing
- Highest level of durability & scratch resistance
- Anti-reflective coatings can make the crystal extremely clear
- No flex in material making an excellent waterproof seal
- Due to its hardness it is brittle and can shatter, crack or chip under pressure
- Difficult to repair or remove scratches/chips
Acrylic watch glass is regarded as the weakest of the the watch crystals but, this doesn’t make it undesirable. It’s more often associated with cheaper watch brands because thermoplastics are much easier to manufacture. However, acrylic, plexiglass or hesalite as it’s sometimes known, can be found in more luxurious watch brands such as Jungens who favour the material’s lightness.
- Most affordable option
- Easy to replace, repair & polish
- Extremely lightweight
- Easy to manufacture and mould into shapes
- Can withstand high impacts and keep watch components safe
- Aesthetically can look cheaper than other materials
- Easily scratched and scuffed - prone to clouding
- Weakest material overall
- Less vivid/clear viewing
Mineral Glass Crystals
Mineral watch crystals are made from tempered glass that’s often covered in anti-reflective coatings. Mineral glass is the most commonly used watch glass throughout quality mid-range watches and is considered the middle child of watch glasses due to its relatively inexpensive manufacturing process, toughness, resistance and clarity.
- Similar in clarity to sapphire at a fraction of the price
- Not as brittle as sapphire
- More scratch resistant than acrylic/plexiglass
- Can be coated to improve scratch resistance
- Scratches more easily than sapphire
- Won’t withstand the same level of impact as acrylic/plexiglass
- More difficult to polish out scratches than acrylic/plexiglass
The Verdict - Which watch materials are the best?
There isn’t one combination of watch materials that provide universal perfection for a wrist watch. Each strap, case & glass material has their own individual strengths and weaknesses which make them individually the best choice. Ultimately it’s down to the preference of the wearer and their day to day activity that will determine the best combination.
- If you want the best of the best; combine sapphire glass with gold, titanium or ceramic.
- If you’d like a mid range all rounder combine mineral glass with stainless steel or carbon fibre.
- Or, if you’re looking for something inexpensive to keep the time and so you don’t have to worry about bashing it, go for acrylic or plexiglass combined with rubber or resin materials.
If you still can’t decide, here’s a tip:
For the right strap, go into a jewellers and ask to try on a few different watches. Feel the weight and comfort of each case & strap material (it will be noticeable) and understand the differences in cost between those you’ve tried on. It is all well and good admiring watches online, but nothing compares to actually having it on your wrist and feeling the material.
Arguably this goes for watch glass too, the clarity of sapphire glass, for example, doesn’t compare well when viewing it on a screen, to truly see the difference, going into a jeweller showroom and trying on pieces will highlight the impact glass material can make.
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