Titanium was first discovered in 1791 by a priest and amateur chemist named William Gregor in Cornwall, England. He first called it Manaccanite. Four years later however it was independently discovered by a renowned German chemist by the name of Martin Heinrich Klaproth – who more adequately named the metal Titanium, also known as ‘the metal of the Gods’. Its name derives from the Titans of Greek mythology.
Today it is used in various industries such as aerospace, architecture, medical implants, military hardware and equipment and can even be used as a raw material for 3D printing. However what we will be talking about in this blog is the use of Titanium in the watchmaking industry.
The start of Titanium in Watchmaking
Back in 1970 it was the Japanese brand Citizen that made the very first Titanium watch, called the Citizen X8 Titanium Chronometer. According to various sources Citizen’s X8 was inspired by the Apollo mission as it saw the potential of the metal for watchmaking. They were not wrong. Another Japanese brand followed Citizen 5 years later, when Seiko introduced the Seiko Professional Diver’s 600m watch.
Since then many different watch brands have adopted Titanium in their watches as material for their cases and bracelets. It has since been used by brands such as Zenith, Tudor, Orient, Tag Heuer, Hublot, Audemars Piguet, Bell & Ross, IWC, Jaeger Lecoultre and Omega to name a few.
Titanium has some unique properties that make it a perfect material for watch cases and bracelets. Titanium is surprisingly lightweight, hypoallergenic and it doesn’t rust.
Titanium Watches vs. Stainless Steel Watches
Since the 1970s stainless steel has become a widely popular material for manufacturing watches. At first, steel watches were primarily made for people in specific professions like divers or pilots. Up until that point steel was pretty hard to find. It just wasn’t produced in large quantities like it is today. Not to mention all the small parts on a watch. To make them all from steel would have been a huge pain in the ass at the time, not to mention expensive.
Over the years the steel industry created new machining techniques and formulas, which made steel a more realistic option as a watch material. With Rolex at the forefront of this trend, steel watches became increasingly popular. They have since lost the image of being mere tool watches and have made it onto the wrists of the masses.
The Pros of Titanium Watches
So how does Titanium compare to stainless steel and what are the benefits of using Titanium for watchmaking? Well, at pOrtahl we chose Titanium over stainless steel for multiple reasons. Let’s go over them so you may understand why we chose Titanium over the more common stainless steel.
1. Titanium is strong
Titanium is about three to four times stronger than stainless steel. Therefore its lifespan over generations is longer than is the case for stainless steel watches. A watch that is someday going to be passed on to a next generation should be able to withstand the test of time.
2. Titanium is lightweight
Titanium, while being stronger than stainless steel, is 45% lighter than steel. A watch that you will want to wear every day should feel comfortable on the wrist and moving around with it should feel effortless.
3. Titanium doesn't rust
Unlike stainless steel, Titanium does not rust. Its natural coating of Titanium dioxide prevents oxidation in the atmosphere. Nor does corrosion occur when Titanium is exposed to acidic or alkaline conditions. Because of its properties Titanium watches will stay beautiful in any climate and won’t be affected by sweat.
4. Titanium is anti-allergenic
Stainless steel is often an alloy – which means that it is a mix of different metals to change the properties of the material. Even surgical stainless steel contains about 12% Nickel. Although stainless steel is often labeled anti-allergenic, it can still be somewhat of a grey area. Unalloyed metals such as Titanium are the least likely metals to cause an allergic reaction and are therefore often used in medical implants. In case you are wondering, also the applied DLC coating on top of the Titanium is anti-allergenic.
The Cons of Titanium Watches
If one were to make an argument against using Titanium as your watch material of choice, one should consider the cons as well.
1. Titanium is expensive
Titanium is significantly more expensive than steel and has nearly doubled in the past 15 years. Titanium is about 5 to 10 times as expensive as steel, depending on the grade and/or purity of each metal. The benefits of using Titanium in watchmaking therefore quite literally comes at a price. Titanium watches are also more expensive to repair. Once Titanium is scratched, its hardness makes it difficult to polish or refinish. This is exactly why we chose the combination of Titanium with a scratch resistant DLC-coating, increasing scratch resistance significantly so you won’t even need to worry about this.
2. Titanium needs a scratch-resistant coating
Actually steel is more scratch resistant than Titanium. Titanium is a much harder material than steel and therefore it scratches more easily. For this reason we added a Diamond Like Carbon (DLC) coating on top of the Titanium to increase its scratch resistance by a factor of 20. DLC is the most scratch resistant black coating available. Even though stainless steel wins this round, with the DLC coating on top, Titanium is still the better option.
3. Titanium is hard to work
Titanium as a material is not only more expensive than steel, but also the production process of a Titanium watch requires more processing. This is due to the fact that Titanium, because of its strength, is quite hard to work. You need special machinery and watchmaking equipment to manufacture and finish all the parts used for making the case, bracelet and clasp.
In Summary - Why we chose Titanium for pOrtahl
We chose Titanium – The Metal of the Gods – for a number of reasons, based on our design goals for pOrtahl’s Peacemaker. Its longevity will ensure that a pOrtahl can be enjoyed for generations to come. The lightness of the material will make our Peacemaker effortless to wear around the wrist, no matter the activity.
Although Titanium is less scratch-resistant than stainless steel, the applied anti-allergenic DLC coating will protect the Titanium from scratches to keep your watch looking as good as new for as long as possible.
However, because Titanium watches are more expensive to produce, they therefore come in at a higher price point. We strongly feel that the benefits of a Titanium watch are worth it and that’s why we think Titanium is the better option.