Rolex 904L steel: innovation breakthrough or marketing stunt?

Speaking of the uniqueness of Rolex watches, I believe that many of my friends will immediately think of elements such as the Oyster case and Paraflex shock absorbers, but the most conspicuous ones are also the most easily overlooked. The 904L steel used is precisely one of the biggest features.

For the 904L material used by Rolex, there are actually two sounds. Some people believe that 904L has stronger corrosion resistance and better gloss, which is undoubtedly a major innovation breakthrough for watch materials. But another part of the people questioned that the 904L was overly advocating and was just a brand marketing gimmick. Before discussing this issue, let us first understand the types of steel used in common steel watches on the market, and compare the 904L used by Rolex horizontally.

304 steel strap sold on e-commerce platform

304 steel is a material that we often come into contact with in our daily lives. It is widely used in various fields. Its most characteristic is that it is low in price and easy to process. Subject to cost factors, it is very popular with low-priced watches. Most of the “explosive” watches of Moubao and Mouxixi are made of 304 steel. At the same time, 304 steel also accounts for a considerable proportion of the substitute buckles and bracelets we buy on third-party platforms.

Known as one of the 316L “steel kings”, Vacheron Constantin spreads across the world

But for high-end watches, cost is not the main factor affecting the selection of materials, so a steel with good gloss, wear resistance and corrosion resistance must be used. 316L steel with better corrosion resistance is the ideal choice. Compared with 304 steel, 316L contains less carbon elements. The “L” in its name means “lower carbon”. In addition, 316L contains more elements of nickel (Ni) and molybdenum (Mo). As a kind of austenitic (Austenite) stainless steel, 316L has no attraction to magnets. At present, most famous brand watches on the market are made of 316L steel.

316L and 904L composition comparison

So what are the characteristics of the 904L used by Rolex compared to the 316L? In fact, the biggest difference between the two steels is the content of chromium and nickel in the material. The chromium content in 904L is higher, and its surface has stronger corrosion resistance and better metallic gloss.

Omega Seamaster PLOPROF 600 (Model: 166.077)

According to Rolex’s official website, “Rolex became the first watch brand to use this 904L steel for its case in 1985”. However, after consulting the relevant information, it is not difficult to find that the seahorse Ploprof 600-meter diving watch launched by Omega in 1971 uses a material called “Uranus Steel”, and this material is 904L.

Ball Speed ​​Warrior (Model: NM9030B-SC-BK)

At present, in addition to Rolex, Girard Perregaux Laurel Series and Ball also have watches made of 904L stainless steel. With the advancement of technology, I believe that more brands will try to use 904L material in the future.

The reason why Rolex chose 904L steel, in addition to the consideration of improving the quality of the watch, I think there is another reason that cannot be avoided is the need of marketing. To put it simply, marketing is to demonstrate the superiority of “people without me, others with me superior”. We can also corroborate this point from Rolex’s propaganda. The term “Oyster steel” appeared in 2018. Prior to this, Rolex’s official website or promotional materials would only call it 904L steel. The practical meaning of using this brand new term in 2018 is obvious, because the GP Laurel Series 81020 chronograph released in the same year also uses 904L steel as a promotional selling point. In order to fight back against competitors, Rolex specifically emphasizes “Oystersteel.” Different from other brands of 904L.

In fact, in terms of daily use, the perception of the difference between 316L and 904L is not obvious. Although 904L does have better corrosion resistance, the corrosion resistance of 316L is actually good enough if it is not tested in extreme environments, facing the erosion of rain and seawater in daily life. In addition, because 904L contains more nickel, some friends who are allergic to nickel should be careful when choosing.

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