Titanium vs. Stainless Steel Watches – Best Watch Material?

With all of the factors that go into making a watch work, choosing the right watch can be difficult. 

Build quality, movement, accuracy, and overall design are some of the things you may look for when buying a new watch.

Adding on top of that, you’ll soon learn that watches can even be made of different materials. Stainless steel, brass, chrome, titanium, and other metals can be used for the case of a watch, each with varying pros and cons.

Stainless steel and titanium, two of the most popular watch case materials, are often compared against each other. Which of the two is better?

In short,high-quality stainless steel tends to be heavier and generally more scratch resistant while titanium watches are generally lighter and more comfortable. Titanium watches also tend to be more expensive. 

As you can see, neither material is clearly “better”. But which of the two materials is right for you?

Stainless Steel SNK355

Price & Value

Price and value is always extremely subjective when it comes to watches. It can sometimes be hard to put a monetary value on certain features. 

Will a titanium watch drastically improve your life? Get you a promotion at work? Better grades in school? A hot date? Maybe not. (But maybe…)

What a titanium watch will do, however, is make wearing your watch a bit more comfortable, as titanium watches can be up to 30% lighter. 

Titanium also has a few other perks, which we’ll discuss more in-depth soon.

Those perks come at a cost, however.

Titanium is a more difficult material to work with than stainless steel, making it more costly to manufacture, and more expensive to buy.

In general, stainless steel watches are the more affordable option when compared to titanium watches in the same range.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t amazing affordable titanium watches, however. 

The Seiko Presage SARX055 (Amazon), for example, is a gorgeous affordable titanium watch that has a whole lot going for it. 

There are two versions of this watch, one in stainless steel (SRPD39) that is almost half the price of the titanium SARX055 model.

In-house movement, textured snowflake dial, and a titanium finish throughout the case and bracelet that makes the watch weightlessly disappear on your wrist like a breeze in the wind.

But which material is tougher?

Scratch Resistance & Durability

Titanium has a few issues when it comes to durability and scratch resistance.

While titanium watches scratch easier than stainless steel, the real issue is that scratches and scuffs on a titanium watch tend to be much more noticeable than scratches on a stainless steel watch.

This is because titanium reacts with oxygen in the air to form a layer of oxide that coats the metal and protects the watch. As the watch gets scratched, the scratch more often than not pierces the thin layer of oxide coating, creating much more noticeable scratches.

On the other hand, scratches on titanium watches are much easier to buff out. 

By using something like a titanium refinishing pad (Amazon), you can scratch away the thin layer of oxide surrounding the scratch. This will even out the layer, and create a smooth and even appearance. 

Stainless steel watches can be re-polished and brushed similarly, it just takes a bit more effort to do so. You’re also likely to shave off a lot more metal in the process. Over years and years of re-polishing, this can eventually completely change the shape of the case. 

This is something you might notice if you currently shop for vintage Rolexes from the 60’s. The ones that have been polished many times may be visibly deformed. 

Image by Dr.K. / CC BY-SA

In short, titanium scratches easier initially, but can also be repaired easier. 

Stainless steel doesn’t scratch nearly as easy, but can be more difficult to hide the scratches, once it does get scratched.

Because of this, stainless steel makes an excellent “beater” watch. Great for everyday wear and tear, and activities that might be a little tougher on your watch. 

Weight & Comfort

When it comes to weight and comfort, there is no question. 

Titanium watches wins this category. 

Titanium watches are up to 30% lighter. As a result, they are almost always more comfortable.

However, some people tend to prefer a hefty watch, and even compare the weight and feel of a heavy watch to a feeling of luxury.

If you’re someone who prefers to feel something weighty and substantial on your wrist, titanium is likely not the option for you.

If you want a watch you can throw on and basically forget you’re wearing it – a titanium watch might just be in the cards for your next purchase.

Allergens

If you have sensitive skin, you may have experienced a watch irritating your skin, or giving you a rash. 

This is often a result of the use of nickel in some stainless steel watches.

Stainless steel can come in various grades and blends of metal, such as 204L, 316L and 906L. 

Each have their pros and cons, and are composed of different metal makeups.

Cheaper grades of stainless steel, often seen in cheap no-name watches, can often contain various nickel and copper compositions that can irritate your skin more easily than high-grade stainless steel. 

These cheaper blends of steel are often made to cut costs, but all steel is not created equal.

Titanium watches, on the other hand, have a naturally occurring oxide coating all around the titanium. This means the metal from the titanium never actually touches your skin, only the coating does.

As a result, titanium watches are nearly completely hypoallergenic.  

If you have sensitive skin, or often find yourself allergic to your watch, titanium watches are a fantastic option that will keep your skin itch-free. (Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor is this professional medical advice.)

Appearance

Stainless steel tends to have a slightly shinier and more ‘blingy’ appearance.

Titanium is duller in color and shine. It almost has a “satin” look to the finish. 

That doesn’t mean titanium watches can’t be beautiful, though. 

Some Grand Seiko watches such as the Grand Seiko SBGA23 come in a high-intensity titanium, and is sure to make your jaw drop. 

I’m a bit of a Grand Seiko fanboy, I’ll admit… (Not an ad – just daydreaming about my grail watch, sorry.) 

Most watches you’ll see on other’s wrists in your day-to-day will be made with stainless steel.

In fact, if someone was wearing a titanium watch, it’s likely you wouldn’t even notice, unless you were right up in their grill, since they’re often much duller in appearance.

Titanium watches tend to be much subtler and smoother in finish. 

What About Aluminum, Brass, Bronze and Other Materials?

Watches come in all sorts of case materials. Titanium and stainless steel watches aren’t the only options. 

For example, the Apple Watch (Amazon) comes in either stainless steel, or aluminum, which tends to be a softer, and lighter material, similar to titanium.

Bronze is another material that you might find on some more rustic looking watches. 

Dive watches like the Glycine Combat Sub (Amazon) are often made in bronze. Bronze is a material that, when exposed to saltwater, can create a patina, which is a weathered and faded look. Very desirable to some collectors. 

Stainless Steel vs Titanium Watches – Pros & Cons

Stainless Steel

  • Heavier – some people prefer heft and weight
  • Generally more scratch-resistant
  • Comes in various qualities and blends of metals. Cheaper blends of stainless steel use low-quality materials such as nickel that are more likely to irritate skin and cause rust.
  • Shinier and more blingy
  • Cheaper
  • More scratch resistant
  • Can use a simple Brillo pad to polish out scratches

Titanium

  • More expensive
  • Harder to work with
  • Much lighter
  • Generally more comfortable 
  • Hypoallergenic 
  • Naturally occurring oxide layer covers the metal, so the actual metal never actually comes in contact with the skin
  • More subtle appearance
  • Easily scratched
  • Easier to polish scratches out
  • Can come in different colors
  • Cool factor

The Final Verdict

Generally, stainless steel tends to be a more affordable and durable option. It’s great for everyday wear. On the other hand, titanium watches tend to be lighter and much more comfortable, but often at an extra cost.

Some cheaper blends of stainless steel that you may find in cheap watches might contain nickel, an element that is highly irritant if you have sensitive skin.

How much is your comfort worth? 

Titanium also scratches rather easily, but scratches can be buffed out and masked just as easily. Probably not the best “everyday watch” kind of watch – but a very unique option that you won’t typically see. 

So, titanium vs stainless steel watches. Which is better overall? That depends on your needs and budget. But if you do have the extra budget, I urge you to check out a titanium watch such as the Seiko SARX055 on Amazon for yourself, and decide whether or not its right for you. 

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