What it is 904L Steel and Why Does Rolex Swear by it?

Stainless steel has a lot of advantages for watch buyers, but they have a tendency to get a bad reputation sometimes. There are so many inferior brands that use it that people may associate the words with a lack of quality. But those who really know watches realize that there are different types of stainless steel, and some versions are truly remarkable. 904L steel is a combination of nickel, molybdenum, and chromium, and it’s not meant to be handled with kid gloves. If that little science throwback doesn’t convince you, remember that 904L is Rolex’s go-to choice for their premium stainless steel watches.

904L Basics

If you’re looking at luxury stainless steel watches, you’re likely to see either 316L or 904L. Both types of stainless steel will typically hold their own against water, so you won’t have to worry about rust. Either choice will also give you a number of ways to customize your watch, so you get the look you want. But 904L is more durable than 316L, which makes it a great fit for those who like to get out and about. 316L may not be exactly delicate by any stretch of the imagination, but it was more likely to scratch or rust under extreme pressure. Rolex knows that their customers tend to be the go-getter types, so they know how important it is to offer a product that can handle all that playtime.

Why Did Rolex Start Using 904L?

It wasn’t that long ago that Rolex ditched 316L to 904L. For years, 316L was hailed for its ability to ward off salt water and acidic liquids due to its low carbon content. But around 2000, Rolex noticed that salt water was actually worming its way into the caseback threads and watchband. The chloride from the salt was essentially trapped until the watch needed to be serviced or repaired. Since salt is generally the culprit behind rusting and pitting, Rolex decided to make the switch to 904L. The material is actually more resistant to all chemicals (not just chloride.) Switching to 904L allowed them to offer a better product that was could handle serious stress.

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How Does Rolex Use 904L?

Rolex didn’t take the decision lightly to use 904L. It wasn’t a marketing gimmick so they could hike up prices for the wearer. They knew that abandoning 316L meant abandoning all the equipment that they had used for their previous watches. 904L is a very particular type of steel, and it isn’t easy to work with. Rolex had to go to the drawing board to create their own tools, so they could guarantee quality for each product. The first cases were stamped with a 250-ton press. The hard material is polished for that impressive glow, and each watch has a brushed finish that might inspire a double-take or two. The warm grain that you’ll see left on the watch is excellent at resisting scratches too.

How Should I Use 904L?

You may not want to pair your 904L watch with your fanciest of tuxes, but practically every other scenario is fair game. It’s one of the reasons why stainless steel is so popular. A Rolex made from this material would look equally good at a casual dinner party as it would in the most powerful board rooms. Of course, people buy these watches because they’re getting ready for far more exciting activities than a meal or a meeting. Use them when you’re hiking, boating, or flying without fear of damage. 904L is not magnetic in the slightest, and it’s made to resist damage in even the tiniest of crannies in the band.

Any Downsides?

There are practically no downsides to a 904L watch, although men with a nickel allergy should be careful. Complaints about this are relatively few and definitely not widespread, but it is something to be aware of before you make your final decision.

904L stainless steel is just one more example of the Rolex’s quality. Once they realized that 316L wasn’t cutting it, they decided that their customers were too important to risk deterioration in their stainless steel watches. Their efforts have heavily paid off for both the company and their customers.

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