So, you’re checking out a new addition to your watch collection and the model comes in both titanium and stainless steel. Or the model is more high end and only comes in titanium, and you’re wondering whether it’s worth the 20% price increase compared to the non-titanium model? Valid questions that I’ve also pondered, so here’s my thoughts on titanium vs stainless steel.
Spoiler alert for high end watches- it’s complicated when it comes to material used in expensive watches. This is especially true when patents and specialized coatings are used by the manufacturer.
I recommend basing your purchase on aesthetics rather than quality of material as there aren’t many general rules that will apply in all circumstances.
The pros and cons of each titanium vs stainless steel are summarised below:
Do you like a heavy or a light watch? To many that is the deciding factor on whether to fork out extra for a titanium watch. One of the key benefits of titanium as a material is that it has a high strength-to-weight ratio. This means that a titanium watch can be lighter than it’s stainless steel cousin, but remain very strong.
If considering a smaller watch (ie less than 41mm), the light weight and feel of titanium can be a turn-off as it can make the watch “feel cheap”. If this is you, then stick to stainless steel. There is little to be gained from the extra price.
If you’re more comfortable wearing a lighter watch, or considering purchasing a larger watch (say 42mm or more), than titanium may very well be what you’re after.
There is a healthy debate around whether titanium does actually scratch more. If comparing the main type of stainless steel used in watches; 316L, to the most common titanium used in watches; Grade 5 (or Ti-6Al-4V), then titanium is indeed harder and should therefore scratch less.
Note: “harder” in this context is according to the Brinell Scale used to measure the physical properties of materials. Go here for a deeper look at a comparison of other properties.
But, the downside of titanium is that when scratches do occur, the oxidation properties of titanium kick in and form a new layer, making the scratch appear a different color to the rest of the material and therefore scratches are more visible. The good news is that these small scratches can generally be buffed out.
Titanium’s superb corrosion resistance properties make it a clear winner on this front. This is especially true if you’re thinking about getting a quality dive watch or even if you plan to wear it during activities where you’re likely to sweat.
Stainless steel watches can react to the skin if you have a nickel allergy. Titanium has no nickel and therefore won’t irritate the skin the same way. Titanium is often used in medical devices partly because the body doesn’t react to it. If you know you have sensitive skin, then a titanium model may be a great investment.
Titanium is more expensive to produce as it requires a lot of energy during manufacturing using the Kroll Process and is much more difficult to work with than stainless steel. One of the main issues with producing products out of titanium is the tools used to machine it have a short lifespan before needing to be replaced.
So whilst titanium may be a superior material in many regards, it’s not scarcity like gold or diamonds that influences price the most. The difference mostly comes from the increase in cost required to produce the alloy and machine the watch case (or bracelet).
Shallow as it may be, unless you have a real need for titanium, then it really just comes down to good old fashioned aesthetics. Do you prefer the dulled grey look of titanium or the shiny classic metallic look of stainless steel? It really doesn’t need to be more complicated than this for most people. If you like the look of titanium and are happy to pay a little more because it’s worth it to you, then by all means go grab a titanium watch and add it to your collection.
We’ve singled out the Citizen Eco-drive because we like this watch and it has both titanium and stainless steel variants. Note, the titanium version has a blue ion coating, which makes the titanium pop a little more and reduces the dullish look that can be associated with titanium. This is indicative of many different treatments that manufacturers apply, making it very difficult to compare apples with apples based on raw material quality alone.
Do you own a titanium watch? Love it or hate it? We’d love to know why you chose to go with titanium. Let us know in the comments below.