I was watching a video from the London Watch Collector on YouTube yesterday, and he posted a video doing a demonstration on how to set the time, date and moon phase on a Patek Phillipe Nautilus. He reiterated more than once that the Patek Philippe watch he was doing a demonstration on was made of steel, and the Patek Phillipe “pin-pusher tool” he was using was made of white gold, to ensure the watch isn’t scratched by this instrument. I always thought this was a fairly obvious concept, but the number of times he reiterated this made me wonder… so I did some digging and came across this article from ABTW.
Before I share it, I will say that prior to doing any research, my pick for the most durable watch would be a Casio G-Shock – the watch was tested by the designer Kikuo Ibe by dropping it out of a building and then collecting it later after work (since he was developing it in secret!). After doing some research, guess what I found? I will quote Wikipedia directly:
On December 12, 2017, G-Shock earned the Guinness World Record for the heaviest vehicle to drive over a watch. Guinness World Record drove a 24.97 ton truck over the Casio G-Shock DW5600E-1. The G-Shock is the first watch by any company being able to withstand the challenge.
Having said that, there are others around too… the Victorinox INOX happens to be the only watch in the world that has survived being run over by a 64 ton tank! Turns out that the actual weight borne by the watch isn’t actually 64 tons because of the tank tracks etc – so I am not sure how Guinness calibrates their results for the record – but I am just stating what I believe to be the facts out there… do correct me if I am wrong! Whatever the case may be, these two are certainly tough as nails, and will probably withstand most things your daily life throws at them.
You can find further reading and recommendations on Tough Watches… on none other than Toughwatches.net.
With that debate unresolved but out of the way, just a bit of a detour into my own collection and overall durability… My most durable piece aside from G-Shock would have to be the RADO Sintra:
This watch is made of “high-tech ceramics” as RADO calls it – and as old as it is, it always looks new! That has its upsides, but when I look at my older pieces with some wear and tear… they tell a story too.
I can assure you that EVERY scratch has a story, and the moment it happens – especially with newer watches – my heart sinks a little! After a while, it stops being much of a concern and the watch ages with you. Most of the ‘purist’ collectors I know wont even consider buying a vintage watch that has been polished – because as far as they are concerned, that is a false representation of what that piece ought to be (and of course other reasons like poor workmanship, losing detail etc).
The article from ABTW goes into the details about the different metals out there, and the various ‘hardness’ levels… most folks are aware of diamonds being the hardest – then sapphire crystal… and then all the rest. You can read that at your leisure, along with the recommendations on durable watches.
Ultimately ABTW wrote this article thinking in terms of ‘metal durability’ – as far as I’m concerned, durability is a scale, and all types of watches sit somewhere on that scale – dividing it into metals and other materials such as rubber, ceramic etc isn’t particularly useful unless you have your heart set on a specific piece; in that case however, I suspect durability may not matter at all!
A Guide To Metals & Some Of Our Top Most Durable Watches
Inadvertent smacks against a door frame, accidental scrapes against a concrete wall, or the errant slip of a spring bar tool. These simple and often inane mistakes can result in frustrating, disappointing, sometimes anger-inducing and yet seemingly inevitable scratches on originally pristine watches. This sad fate does not, however, have to be the case – as we detail here, some watchmakers use special metals and surface treatments that greatly reduce scratches and keep your watch looking like new. There are a few ways to achieve extra durability in a metal – and those are discussed below. Along with examples of watches and companies that aBlogtoWatch editors feel make some of the best examples of hardened or treated metal watches.
While some of us may embrace wabi-sabi, letting the dings and scratches tell a story of a life well lived and a watch well-worn, others of us are less Zen in our approach to watch ownership, preferring that factory-fresh finish and lamenting each new scratch. Luckily for us, horological metallurgists have been dreaming up new compounds and treatments that can result in extremely hard, scratch-resistant cases that can endure even the clumsiest of owners.
While some companies are innovating the use of completely new materials (e.g., Rado’s DiaStar and ceramic compounds), the majority of super-hard watches utilize steel or titanium as the base material. How exactly companies achieve increased hardness and durability is variable, but generally falls into three categories listed below. Regardless of which you choose, the result is a watch that will better resist the scratches and dents that result from an active (or clumsy) life. In some cases, these watches will retain a “brand new look” for many years to come.
To put this discussion into context, let’s first examine differences in hardness among some common watch materials. To measure the hardness of a given material, scientists have developed a number of different metrics, including the Brinell, Rockwell, Knoop, and Vickers hardness tests. For watch materials, the results of a Vickers hardness test are commonly reported, providing an HV value – a unit of hardness that describes a material’s ability to resist deformation from a standardized source. The higher the number, the harder the material. Listed below are typical values of common watch materials:
- 316L stainless steel: ~150-200 HV
- Titanium: ~350 HV
- Gold: ~140 HV
- Zirconium oxide ceramic: ~1200 HV
- Sapphire crystal: ~2200 HV
- Diamond: ~10,000 HV
For case materials like steel, titanium, and even gold, additional steps can be taken to transform or modify these relatively soft metals into harder materials better able to withstand bumps and bruises brought on by daily life. The primary techniques employed to achieve this increased hardness include:
Hardened Steel Alloy
316L stainless steel is ubiquitous in watches. It is a strong, corrosion-resistant alloy comprised of iron, chromium (16-18%), nickel (10-12%), and molybdenum (2-3%) and has a hardness of roughly 150-200 HV. By altering the compounds in the alloy, watchmakers can change how the metal itself can be treated and its resultant hardness. For instance, by removing nickel and adding carbon and nitrogen in a proprietary process, Damasko can harden their steel to 800 HV, roughly quadruple the hardness of 316L steel. Sinn and others utilize “submarine steel,” or HY-80, an alloy similar to 316L, but with less nickel and a low carbon content. Though only slightly harder than 316L (~300 HV), this steel is highly corrosion resistant and used in dive watches subject to frequent immersion in salt water. Overall, these alloys are hard, scratch-resistant, and offer a unique, deep, nearly titanium hue.
Metal Surface Hardening
Besides the difficulties in manufacture, one disadvantage to hardening steel is the potential to create a brittle alloy. As a result, some manufacturers utilize surface-hardening treatments. Though they may go by different names (e.g., tegimenting [Sinn], ruggedizing [Mercer], EBE2000 [Bremont]), all describe processes that harden only the outermost surface of the metal. The hardened layer may only be micrometers thick, but it is extremely hard and scratch-resistant often at ~1200 HV or greater. An advantage of this approach is that it can also be applied to different metals, such as titanium and even the above-described submarine steel. A downside, however, is the potential for a hard (very hard) impact to result in an eggshell-like crack by bruising the metal under the coated layer.
Another approach used by several prominent companies is the use of super-hard, scratch-resistant coatings such as Seiko’s DiaShield or Citizen’s Duratect (though note that Citizen uses both coatings and surface hardening treatments). Similar to DLC (diamond-like carbon) coatings, they are specifically designed to improve scratch-resistance. Seiko’s DiaShield has a reported hardness of ~500 HV, while Citizen’s different treatments range from 1000 HV to a staggering 2500 HV. As with any hardening approach, one challenge is that if a scratch does occur, any polishing or repair will be extremely difficult. Regardless of which technique is used, one of our favorite aspects of hardened watches is their accessibility for almost every budget, from relatively affordable entry-level pieces up through many-thousand dollar watches. Below, we list nine examples of watches that utilize these hardening techniques. Chime in below in the comments to let us know your experiences or pieces we missed that you think should be highlighted.
Damasko DA38, Hardness 800 HV
Damasko is best known for their no-nonsense tool watches and, most importantly, their proprietary ice-hardened steel, which gives their watches a distinctive look and renders them nearly scratch-proof (take look at used versions and try to find evidence of a scratch). Nearly all Damasko watches, such as the DA38 pictured below, are sandblasted, which brings out the steel’s deep hue and highlights its rugged build. Most of Damasko’s ice-hardened watches fall squarely into the tool and pilot watch categories, feature ETA/Valjoux movements, and sell in the $1,000-$3,000 range, though they do also have a dressier offering with an in-house caliber. The steel used in Damasko watches and bracelets was originally developed for use within the aeronautical and aerospace industry, including ball bearings on jet-engines, rotor bearings for helicopters, and fuel pumps on the space shuttle. So yes, it’ll stand up to knocks against a doorframe. Price is $1,132.
Mercer Airfoil, Hardness 1200 HV
The world of microbrands, always quick to capitalize on new and innovative techniques, has not ignored the benefits of hardened steel. Mercer Watch Co., a small and relatively new company based out of the US, produces a classically-styled, yet modern pilot watch that utilizes what they call ruggedized stainless steel. Though the process is proprietary, the result is that the Mercer Airfoil is 1200 HV – much harder than typical stainless steel – meaning that the attractive, brushed finish should stay that way for years to come. Price is $649 and you can check it out on their website at mercer watch.com.
Sinn 856, Hardness 1200 HV
Sinn is one of the quintessential German purveyors of purpose-built tool watches. Amongst their myriad models, from classic pilot watches to modern dive watches to sleek dress watches, one of the technologies Sinn offers is tegimented steel and titanium. This surface hardening procedure raises the hardness level to roughly 1200 HV and is available on several of their dive and pilot watches, including the pictured Sinn 856. The 856 offers a completely tegimented case (with an optional tegimented bracelet) and runs on an ETA 2893-2 GMT movement. On top of that, Sinn adds in additional technology such as magnetic field protection (80,000 A/m) and a dehumidifying capsule. Price is $1,770 and you can see more on their website at sinn.de.
Archimede Outdoor Protect, Hardness 1200 HV
Another German company, Archimede is one of the several house brands of renowned case manufacturer Ickler. The Archimede Outdoor Protect, which is offered in several colorways and strap options, is purpose-built for an outdoor lifestyle where scratches and dings are commonplace. This 39mm Made in Germany watch with a Swiss Made SW200-1 movement is another solid value proposition, coming in at under 1,000 euros. Like several of the other watches featuring surface hardened steel, the case (not bracelet) of the Archimede Outdoor Protect charts in at 1200 HV, ensuring that errant branches and the occasional boulder won’t be a major concern.
Bremont ALT1-C, Hardness 2000 HV
Bremont is a London-based brand with strong ties to aviation and a penchant for aviation-inspired timepieces, though their offerings are quite diverse and also include military and adventure-inspired watches. With the goal of producing watches that will continue to look good for years to come, Bremont utilizes what they call EBE2000 technology, a treatment in which the metal is “heat-treated, defused with carbon, then bombarded with electrons.” What that means for us is a watch with a hardness of 2000 HV that will continue to look as good as it did the day you purchased it for a not-insubstantial amount. The ALT1-C pictured above is a 43mm chronograph driven by a chronometer-rated, modified Valjoux 7750. If chronographs aren’t your style, Bremont utilizes their hardening process on classic pilot, sport, and even dressier watches.
Citizen Promaster Tough, Hardness ~1000-1400 HV
Citizen prides itself on producing highly functional and durable watches, and this includes several different techniques for coating (e.g., Duratect DLC) and surface-hardening (e.g., Duratect DLC). These treatments are offered across a wide range of watches with hardness ranging from a respectable 1000 HV to a mind-blowing 2500 HV (harder than a sapphire crystal). The Citizen Promaster Tough is pretty reasonably priced, ranging between $425-495. Learn more on their website at citizenwatch.com.
Montfort Strata, Hardness 1200HV
A relative newcomer on the watch scene, Swiss company Montfort successfully launched via Kickstarter in 2016, producing watches that employ highly textured 3D-printed dials and, most importantly here, scratch-resistant “Super Stainless Steel.” Similar to other techniques, their surface-hardening process results in surface hardening to a solid 1200 HV. Featuring an SW200 movement and 44mm case, the Montfort Strata offers novel and visually-striking design elements along with the hidden benefit of hardened steel. The Montfort Strata starts at about $2,000 and you can check out the range on their website here at montfortwatches.com.
Seiko Presage “Baby GS Snowflake” SARX055, Hardness 500 HV
No list of hardened watches is complete without including an example with Seiko’s venerable DiaSheild coating. Though a majority of the watches highlighted thus far fall more in the tool or sport watch category, the Seiko SARX055 (affectionately referred to as the “Baby GS Snowflake”) clearly demonstrates that even elegant watches can benefit from some added scratch-resistance. Powered by Seiko’s automatic 6R15 movement, the SARX055 is a thin and well-proportioned 40.8mm titanium watch treated with Seiko’s DiaSheild coating on both the case and bracelet. While the hardness may not quite compare to some of the other offerings on this list, DiaShield still provides 2-3 times the surface hardness of stainless steel and will do an excellent job minimizing scratches. The SARX055 is priced at $1,1oo.
Hublot Unico Full Magic Gold, Hardness 1000 HV
Stainless steel and titanium not your style? Looking for a statement piece in gold, but concerned about dropping a significant chunk of change knowing a soft gold case will inevitably be marred by scratches and dings? Hublot has your back. Their designs may be polarizing, but the investment that Hublot has put into materials science is beyond reproach. Their patented Magic Gold is a prime example of Hublot’s commitment to pushing watch material boundaries. Put to use in their appropriately named Unico Big Bang Full Magic Gold, Magic Gold is a certified 18-carat gold with a twist. By fusing 24-carat gold with carbide powder and extremely high temperatures in a novel process, Hublot is able to create the hardest gold in the world, a 1000 HV 18-carat gold. Deployed in their modern classic Big Bang case, the Magic Gold shines and will continue do so for decades to come. Price is as high as you’d expect, with a tag of $33,600. More here at their website on Hublot.com.
The full article can be accessed here.