Many people see their watch as an essential part of one’s outfit and a statement of style. It can complete your look. One may opt for a metal watch as they are seen as more sophisticated and are often of a higher quality than other material watches. Unfortunately for some of us, wearing a metal watch can cause an allergic reaction of the skin.
If you are the type of person to get red, itchy skin or even develop a rash when wearing a metal watch or another type of jewellery, then it is likely that you have a metal allergy. Metal allergies or metal hypersensitivity are very common. About 10% to 15% of people are reported to have some type of metal hypersensitivity.
In this blog we are going to go over some of the types of watches you are going to have to avoid, but also some materials you can still wear if you have a metal allergy.
But let’s take a look at what metal allergy is first.
What is metal allergy or metal hypersensitivity?
Metal allergy or metal hypersensitivity is an oversensitivity of the skin to certain types of metal, due to an overactive immune system. This hypersensitivity often shows in the form of what is called by medical professionals allergic contact dermatitis - an itchy rash that appears on the skin after (prolonged) contact with certain metals.
What causes metal allergy?
Our immune systems are wired to protect us from harmful agents such as viruses, bad bacteria, or noxious substances. In the case of people who are allergic to metal, their immune system has evolved to see metal ions as a serious threat. The immune system will therefore react as it normally does with bacteria and viruses: with inflammation. The exact cause of developing this immune system disorder is unknown. What we do know is that these allergies can develop after repeated prolonged exposure to these metals and could even cause more concerning chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia (chronic pain) or chronic fatigue syndrome (chronic tiredness). Once you develop a metal allergy you will always be sensitive to that metal and you are advised to avoid contact with said material.
What are common types of metals that people are allergic to?
Common metals people are allergic to are Nickel, Cobalt, Brass and Chromium. Nickel especially can be found in lots of everyday items such as eyeglass frames, coins, electronics and jewellery such as necklaces, bracelets or watches. What many people don’t know is that many stainless steel jewellery and watches also contain Nickel. Stainless steel is an alloy of different metals and Nickel is often added so that the steel is able to maintain its form at high temperatures. Avoid stainless steel watches or jewellery if you have a Nickel allergy.
What types of metals can I wear if I have a metal allergy?
When selecting a watch you will want to look for ‘nickel-free’ metals as this is the most common type of metal that people are allergic to. The majority of watch brands produce watches made from stainless steel. Many types of stainless steel are not actually 100% stainless steel, but they are alloys.
An alloy is a mixture of metals combined with one or more elements. Alloys are made to enhance the end material by giving it certain properties of different metals in the mixture, such as hardness, strength, corrosion resistance, machinability and many other things.
Let’s go over some hypoallergenic watch materials that are okay to buy and wear if you have a metal allergy.
Plastic is obviously not a metal and is therefore safe to wear if you have a metal allergy. It is however not a very popular watchmaking material among watch brands because of its association with lower quality and its immature aesthetic. Plastic watches are found in the lower segment of the market.
Surgical stainless steel watches
If you’re adamant on buying a stainless steel watch, make sure you look out for surgical grade stainless steel. Surgical steel is free of common allergy causing metals, meaning they most likely won’t cause a reaction.
Sterling silver watches
Sterling silver is one of the precious metals and it is hypoallergenic. In its pure form however, silver is too soft to use for jewelry - which means it is often alloyed to create a harder metal. When alloyed it is mixed with a wide array of different metals. One of these metals is nickel, which is the main metal to avoid if you have sensitive skin. Be sure to check if your sterling silver watch is made from a silver alloy and whether or not it contains any nickel.
18 karat yellow gold watches
The karat weight is a measure of how much gold it actually contains and therefore a number that defines the purity of gold. To avoid any allergies, you’ll want to pick a watch that is at least 14 karat gold. The higher the karat weight, the purer the gold and the less likely to trigger a reaction.
Another thing worth mentioning is that white gold is often alloyed with silver, copper or brass, giving yellow gold a lighter appearance. Brass could cause hypersensitive skin to react when present in the alloy.
Unfortunately gold watches can be incredibly expensive and are therefore above most people’s budget.
If gold is above your budget then you might want to skip this paragraph. Platinum is a precious metal that is even rarer than gold. Out of all the precious metals, platinum is the most expensive. Lucky for our loaded readers with a metal allergy 100% pure platinum watches, although rare, are completely hypoallergenic.
Should you choose to splash the cash on a platinum watch, make sure it is 100% platinum before purchasing one. Platinum is almost always mixed into alloys - copper and cobalt being popular base metals. These are both common allergens for people with a metal allergy.
Titanium is by far the most popular metal of choice when it comes to hypoallergenic watches that are safe to wear if you have a metal allergy. Coming in at only half the weight it still is three to four times the strength of stainless steel. Titanium is long lasting, corrosion resistant and best of all, it’s hypoallergenic.
Titanium alloys, like grade 5 titanium, are made to strengthen Titanium further and likely include aluminium and vanadium - both of which have a negligible chance of causing allergies. Titanium is therefore one of the safest choices when looking for a hypoallergenic watch.
Another thing to watch out for are PVD or DLC coatings or surface treatments. Titanium watches are often treated with alloyed coatings to increase its scratch resistance as pure titanium can be sensitive to scratching because of its hardness. PVD and DLC coatings can still contain metals that one might be allergic to, so be sure to check out if your watch of choice is coated and if so, what metals are used for the coating.
Hypoallergenic watches at pOrtahl
Our Peacemaker mechanical watch designed and manufactured by pOrtahl is made from grade 5 Titanium. Grade 5 titanium is known as the workhorse among the different types of titanium out there and is often used in aerospace and medical implants. The longevity of titanium ensures that the Peacemaker can last for generations. Furthermore the lightness of the material makes the watch effortless to wear.
To account for scratch resistance the case, bracelet and clasp of the Peacemaker are all coated with a diamond-like carbon (DLC) coating. A DLC coating is a surface treatment where metal molecules are blasted onto a surface to create a thin scratch resistant layer on top of the base metal.
Our DLC coating consists of titanium and tungsten carbide. Tungsten carbide contains trace amounts of nickel, however it is 100% hypoallergenic when bound to tungsten. Isn’t science a beautiful thing? Thus our Peacemaker model is an excellent choice for people with hypersensitive skin looking for a watch that is safe to wear when dealing with a metal allergy. Find out more about Peacemaker on our website.