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OK, we all know that stainless steel isn't made all the same, but a visit to the Rolex dealership had me wondering. I was checking out the Submariner and the salesman was telling me how the grade of stainless steel used on the newer watches is higher, tougher and more durable than what's normally used on watches. Not sure if she was BSing. If not, then is this a new stainless steel material that Rolex is implementing (on Subs), and if so, is Omega implementing something similar? I've had a number of stainless steel watches in the past (Omegas but not Rolex) and they've all had scratches from daily wear. Nothing out of the usual. Just wondering if this "higher grade" stainless steel the Rolex salesman claims is more resistant to scratches, or just a marketing gimmick. Or if it's even true.
 

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Yes it is different. Rolex uses 904L and most brand use 316L. 904L is harder and has better corrosion resistance. I think it is 3 times the cost of 316L.
 

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For the most part, it is a marketing gimmick. Omega, like most watches, uses 316L stainless, which has proven very durable for watches. Rolex (which, incidentally, owns its own foundry, hence its fascination with esoteric alloys) switched a few years back to 904L stainless. The main advantage of 904L is it has a higher resistance to corrosion in a salt water environment. That said, since I rinse my dive watches after every underwater use, I have never seen any corrosion on a 316L watch, even after years of use and scores of dives.

There are a lot of reasons to buy a Rolex, but the "superiority" of 904L is not really one of them.
 

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A buddy of mine has a 2002 Submariner. I'm not sure if his model has 904L steel. But what I do know is that his Rolex has less scratches on the case and bracelet than my 2012 PO8500... (and he hasn't had it serviced or polished as of yet...)
 

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It's corrosion not overall hardness.

That just means he treats his Watches better :)
 
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My understanding is that 904L is similar in hardness to 316L, however it is considerably more corrosion resistant. I also believe it is more polishable.

Some may call this a marketing gimmick, but luxury watches are all about marginal improvements, 904L is an improvement. How significant an improvement is debatable, but the benefits of 904L over 316L would be more important and useful to me than say additional depth rating beyond 300m.

That said, it's no secret that I am a fan of Omega's grade 5 titanium, which is considerably harder and more scratch resistant than either of these steels, more corrosion resistant than 904L, lighter than steel, and also allows a nice polish.
 

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With regards to the grade of steel and their differences, brushed or polished, any SS surface can collect scratches easily with careful wear. I am not talking about banging your kit on the desk 35 times or scratching the lugs from strap changes; these markings are somewhat unavoidable. Instead I am speaking to the normal functions like taking hands in and out of pockets and taking off/putting on the watch repeatedly over a year or so.

The Rolex (904L) shows less of the swirly and minor scratches in my experience, especially the Rolex constructed entirely of 904. This due in part to the finishing process of 904L, producing a warmer grain structure behind that is seemingly harder to scratch.

And being that there is a higher concentration of nickel in the 904, the bracelet of a Rolex appears a bit whiter in appearance, especially when just cleaned/new. The fact that it is slightly harder and more resistant to chemicals/corrosion could be factors here, surely. But the aesthetic properties of 904L are also quite nice.

I scratched the clasp on my SubC against a sharp underside of the table's surface. When I washed the bracelet next time and dried it down with a microfiber, the marking was almost not even noticeable. I have made similar moves in the past with other SS cases/bracelets and gotten a deeper scratch.
 

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My 2012 Explorer marks as easily as my 1999 Sub and all of my Omega watches, so I suspect the scratch issue is not really an issue at all.
 

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My understanding is that 904L is similar in hardness to 316L, however it is considerably more corrosion resistant. I also believe it is more polishable.
Some may call this a marketing gimmick, but luxury watches are all about marginal improvements, 904L is an improvement. How significant an improvement is debatable
I'm not so sure, 904L is more corrosion resistant but is not as hypoallergenic than 316L due to the higher nickel used.
 

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I have noticed a lot of 316L watches from the tropics being badly pitted by sweat so I'd say its worthwhile if you live in a hot, humid climate. That said, there are other options out there. Cobalt Chromium (lum-tec), Chronidur 30 (Damasko), anything grade 5 titanium, tantalum, and of course ceramic. All of those options are superior to 904L from a corrosion resistance perspective.
 
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