Rolex is known world-wide for their exacting quality and timeless style. The range of models and materials offers the wearer a range of fashion statements from the subtle elegance of the stainless Oyster Perpetual to the panache of a gem set white gold Pearlmaster. But despite the array of precious metal cases that hold the iconic Rolex mechanisms and complications, let’s focus on the simple stainless cases. These Oystersteel bodies exemplify all that the name Rolex stands for and is the epitome of the level of production that the entire line embodies.
Quality watch makers use stainless steel in their watch cases for its resistance to corrosion, the durability of the metal and the ability to polish or brush the surfaces to produce a variety of styles and designs. Rolex takes this a step beyond. The commonly used grade stainless is 316L. There is a whole family of 300 grade steels and the rating is based on the specific alloys used. 316L is a low carbon version that is commonly used in commercial kitchens. However resistance to corrosion is limited and pitting and stains can occur, especially in salt water environments. In the mid-1980’s Rolex noticed some pitting and corrosion in the threads and case backs of their popular dive models. As a result, in 1985 in their ongoing quest for perfection, Rolex became the first to use a higher quality metal – 904L stainless steel . At the time 904L was only commonly used industrially by chemical plants and in aerospace applications. This grade stainless uses a higher concentration of nickel and chromium and added molybdenum for increased hardness and more corrosion resistance. Rolex perfected the mix developing Oystersteel, a proprietary blend 904L graded stainless steel.
Rolex 904L Stainless Steel
In the early 2000’s Rolex began using their 904L in all their bracelets and stainless cases. The switch from 316L to 904L came at a cost. Since the manufacturing of Rolex parts happens exclusively at their own facilities, new presses and machinery were required. The factories and foundry had to be re-outfitted to handle the new metal. The results are nothing short of outstanding, and Rolex again surpassed industry standards raising the bar in horological circles. Rolex refers to this switch ‘a step forward in their pursuit of excellence.’ We agree and for several reasons.
The benefits are not just limited to better corrosion resistance. The harder steel proved more attractive. The addition of molybdenum and an increase in copper concentrations, the 904L stainless steel polishes to a more reflective state than 316L. This adds an extra “sparkle” to the cases and bracelets in the Rolex line. And this combined with increased durability allows modern Rolex watches to maintain their brilliance for longer and gives jewelers the option to polish used cases to bring them back to an original sheen – one that is still superior to any 316L cases used by other brands.
The higher grade alloy also has a greater magnetic resistance than the industry standard 316L stainless bodies. The use of automatic movements by those working around large machinery and in heavily magnetic environments find a frequent decrease in accuracy and often need to de-magnetize their time pieces to keep them running smoothly. While the movement, most likely the main spring, is the usual culprit the additional molybdenum adds a layer of protection from this common watch ailment. Rolex has addressed this phenomenon since the 1950’s and for those concerned with the issues caused by magnetic forces, the Rolex Milguass line has for nearly three quarters of a century provided engineers, and aerospace technicians protection from these invisible forces.
But regardless of the reasons, the Oystersteel used by Rolex epitomizes the standards the brand consistently puts forth. The attention to the fine details, the excessive quality control and the use of the finest materials are what has always set Rolex apart. Rolex has for decades signified luxury and finesse and this is exemplified in every aspect of their products all the way down to the stainless steel they use to make their cases.
So whether you’re looking for an entry level luxury watch like the stainless Oyster Perpetual, or the durability of a tried and true Submariner, know you’re buying the finest. At U.S. Coins and Jewelry, we stock a wide range of choices from the Rolex family. Our extensive inventory is ready for sale with no waiting lists. All our watches come with our guarantees of quality and authenticity. Work with one of our experienced associates to find that perfect timepiece for any occasion. We look forward to sharing our love for the timeless grace of the world’s most popular luxury brand – Rolex.