ROLEX USES AN EXPENSIVE AND DIFFICULT-TO-MACHINE STEEL BECAUSE IT LOOKS BETTER
Many watch lovers are familiar with the fact that Rolex uses a type of steel that no one else uses. Stainless steel is not all the same. Steel comes in various types and grades… and most steel watches are made from a type of stainless steel called 316L. Today, all the steel in Rolex watches is made from 904L steel, and as far as we know, pretty much no one else does. Why?
Rolex used to use the same steel as everyone else, but in around 2003 they moved their entire steel production to 904L steel. In 1988 they released their first 904L steel watch with a few versions of the Sea-Dweller. 904L steel is more rust and corrosion resistant, and is somewhat harder than other steels. Most important to Rolex, is that 904L steel, when worked properly, is able to take (and hold) polishes incredibly well. If you’ve ever noticed that steel on a Rolex watch looks different than other watches, it is because of 904L steel, and how Rolex has learned to work with it.
A natural question is why doesn’t everyone else in the watch industry use 904L steel? A good guess is because it is more expensive and much more complicated to machine. Rolex had to replace most of their steel working machines and tools to deal with 904L steel. It made sense for them because of the amount of watches they produce, and because they make all their parts in-house. Most other brands get their cases made from outside suppliers. So even though 904L steel is better than 316L steel for watches, it is more expensive, requires special tools and skills, and is overall more difficult to work with. This has prevented other brands (so far) from taking advantage of it, and is something special that Rolex has. The benefit is obvious once you handle any steel Rolex watch.