Present day Rolex watches are altogether known for utilizing 904L steel, which was presented in the mid 2000s. Because of the cost and trouble of working with 904L, copy processing plants have keep on using different sorts of stainless steel — some contend that this makes for an alternate look from the gen.
This is an article in view of a post composed by ALE7575, an exceptionally regarded long-lasting part who is very acclaimed for his PAM manage. ALE7575 is a designer who has worked for a long time utilizing and assessing all sort of materials including stainless steels (SS). This post is his utilization of that amassed involvement keeping in mind the end goal to play out an assessment of the different sorts of stainless steel that are applicable to us imitation gatherers. Despite the fact that this post was initially composed in 2011, it is still extremely significant today, particularly to anybody stressed over the distinction in the vicinity of 316L and 904L out of a Rolex reproduction.
The sorts of stainless steel you can discover in reps in merchant indexes and in the great watches when all is said in done are the accompanying American Iron and Steel Institute organizations: 440, 904L, 316L, and 316F.
All them are austenitic stainless steel, implying that they are exceptionally impervious to consumption and can be machined and cleaned well.
316L and 316F
Most great quality reproductions and watches when all is said in done are made of 316L. Creators have been expanding the utilization of 316F too. In some cases copies made of 316F are more costly and you will infrequently observe showcasing endeavors to persuade you that 316F is better; we will return to this once more.
Infrequently, principally in Rolex reproductions, the merchants have offered two variants of a similar imitation: one out of 316L and another in 316F, the last being paraded as “super-white,” “extreme,” “best,” et cetera.
Along these lines, we will break down the attributes of these two sorts of stainless steel utilized as a part of imitations and furthermore contrast them and the qualities of the authentic Rolex 904L. That way, we can build up which sort of stainless steel is truly “the best” for imitations of Rolexes and different brands.
We will begin with the substance arrangement, which is the “personality card” of a material and the way to understanding the contrasts between the three sorts of stainless steel.
An alloyed steel is fundamentally made out of iron (Fe), carbon (C), and a gathering of other synthetic components which give it certain physical properties. On account of stainless steel, the synthetic components which decide the quality are for the most part nickel (Ni) and chromium (Cr), helped by different components like molybdenum (Mo) and copper (Cu).
Not a solitary copy has been made with 904L either. All merchants realize that; it is monetarily difficult to deliver a copy utilizing 904L. Consistently, there are bits of gossip about some production line or another at last tooling up to utilize 904L, yet nothing has ever happened to these gossipy tidbits. In this way, any merchant who shows that a reproduction in his inventory is made with 904L stainless still is a liar and that we can’t believe him.
This is the steel utilized by Rolex for its watches since the mid 2000s. It has a high substance of Ni, Cr and Mo and costs right around three times more than 316 stainless steel. We will return to those later as it will be utilized for examination purposes.
There is one measurable physical characteristic: corrosion resistance. But we need to define the types of environments where the corrosion resistance should be tested.
A watch has to endure oxidation, human sweat corrosion, marine environments, marine water corrosion, chemical products used in daily life… and in all of these cases, all three types of stainless steel are perfectly resistant and useful.
In the strict sense of corrosion resistance and in a laboratory level, the 904L, due to its higher content of nickel, chromium, and molybdenum as well as the copper content, is more corrosion resistant in general than either forms of 316.
However, 904L’s corrosion resistance applies more in environments with strong sulphuric acids or chlorides. As you can imagine, resistance to these types of environments are usually are not useful in practice for watches.
904L is also more corrosion resistant in continued exposure to warm sea water environments. In those types of cases, 904L is more resistant. Please note that the 316 alloys are not unusable in those environments; the 904L is just better.
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Additionally, the high content of nickel in the 904L found in gen Rolex watches could produce allergic skin reactions in some sensitive persons.
Moving on to a comparison of the two 316 alloys; due to the usually higher content of molybdenum, 316L is typically slightly more corrosion resistant than 316F.
In conclusion, 904L is more corrosion resistant in extreme and warm sea water environments than the 316 alloys and 316L is a little more corrosion resistant than the 316F.
Color and Brightness, Machining and Polishing Performance
We will analyze these characteristics together because they are very closely related.
The visual differences are very subtle and they depend not only on real color, but other factors such as ambient light and photography setup. We also cannot forget, in this case, the subjective interpretation — the fact that every observer will interpret what they see in a slightly different way.
The real color of a stainless steel, which is an important characteristic in the case of the replicas, depends mainly on nickel and chromium percentages — due to the high percentage of material they contribute to the stainless steel — and less on other elements such as molybdenum and copper.
Nickel is more “yellowish” than iron, but chromium is more “white” and shiny. The higher the nickel content, the more “yellowish” the SS. This yellowish color can be compensated for by the “white” and more shiny character of the chromium.
According to objective laboratory tests, 904L is a little bit more “yellowish” than 316F and 316L due to its higher nickel content, though, it retains a very shiny character due to its high chromium content.
316F and 316L have the same chemical composition, though 316F has a bit more carbon, sulfur, and phosphorus, which don’t influence the color or shine. 316F also has a little less molybdenum.
Therefore, you cannot expect significant differences in color and shine between 316F and 316L as they contain the same metallic elements.
Makers and dealers say the 316F is more “white” and shiny, supposedly, due to the lower molybdenum content. However, as you will see, this statement has no basis in fact.
In the first place, there are no copies made with 440. All merchants are very much aware of that. Accordingly, the merchant who shows that an imitation in his inventory is made of 440 is 100% misleading us and can’t be trusted. Regardless of the possibility that an imitation existed with 440 stainless steel, it would be bring down quality as 440 has no nickel; just chromium.
Each type of stainless steel has a fixed percentage of a group of chemical elements which give it a set of different physical properties.
A similar chemical composition normally means similar physical properties, though the differences in percentages of some elements will change those physical properties. In the case of watch manufacturing, the physical properties that attract our interest are as follows:
- Color and brightness, machining and polishing performance
- Hardness (scratch resistance)
- Corrosion resistance
All of these properties are conferred on the stainless steel according to the percentage and combination of elements used.
As you can see, 316F can have a molybdenum content of 1.75-2.5% and the 316L 2-3%. Thus, 316F could be 2.4% molybdenum and it would be an authentic 316F; similarly, 316L could be 2.1% molybdenum and it would be authentic 316L.
If the molybdenum were the true basis of the perceived “whiteness,” the 316L should be more “white” than the 316F in that case.
Why, then, does 316F have a reputation as being more white and shiny? The answer is very simple: it is due to machining and polishing performance.
The higher tolerance in phosphorus content and the relative high percentage minimum of Sulfur (0.1%) give to 316F a special gift for machining and polishing.
In industry in general, 316F is considered to Replica Rolex be easier to machine and polish than 316L. When discussing perceived whiteness or brightness, it is very important bear in mind this special trait of 316F. When putting the same amount of effort into polishing, 316F can appear to be whiter and shinier than 316L.
The differences will be little and, with a more intense and careful polishing, the 316L will have the same visual results in practice.
This machining and polishing performance in 316F is an advantage for makers who will be able to achieve the same visual finish quality with fewer costs. There is another advantage for makers: the same traits of 316F save money in machining tools.
Therefore, these 316F replicas should be cheaper.
From a subjective point of view (which is the most important in practice when buying replicas), the color and brightness of a metal depend on more than just the real color; they depend on polishing or brushing, on the surface shape of the piece and on the subjective interpretation of the observer.
Brushed and polished surfaces are not the same. Take a Milgauss bracelet for example:
The polished midlinks seem much more white and shiny than the brushed external ones. The fluted bezel of a Datejust, due to the reflective effect, will seem more much shinier compared to the simply polished bezel of a Milgauss.
In addition to the above, the amount of cleaning will influence the subjective brightness; to state the obvious, any watch will appear shinier and whiter after a deep surface cleaning.
316L, 316F, and 904L, although they have some differences in composition, they have, in practice, the same appearance, since other factors have a stronger influence on appearance: surface shape, finish, cleaning, and even subjective interpretation.
904L should really not be considered when making replicas because it will not confer any advantages, economically or visually. While we must admit that the visual aspect of a brand-new gen Rolex is awesome in quality and shine, we also must admit that the appearance depends mainly on the manufacturing quality and the degree of finish and polishing applied by Rolex.
Thus, we can assert that 316L, 316F, and 904L have no significant differences in color or appearance, for all practical purposes.
We can also assert that there is no advantage gained in color or appearance by using 316F instead of well-finished and -polished 316L.
Hardness Replica Rolex
Hardness is a physical characteristic of materials which indicates its resistance to scratches. This characteristic is measurable, and thus, completely objective.
There are some problems with establishing the hardness of these stainless steel alloys. If you look up hardness data you will find a lot of different results depending on makers, type (sheet, bars…), and other factors out of the scope of this article.
Fortunately, I have three gen Rolexes and two replicas at my disposal, which I have been able to use to perform a very simple experimental test: if material A scratches material B, then A is harder than B.
In all tests, the three gen Rolexes scratched, without any room for discussion, the case and bracelet the two replicas. Therefore, we can positively assert that the 904L stainless steel used in gen Rolex watches is harder than the 316L used in replicas.
The average hardness of 904L is between 85–90 HRB (Hardness Rockwell B scale). Judging by the resistance which to scratching, a gen Rolex should be near 90 HRB.
For 316L you can find results between 79 and 90 HRB, but for replicas, judging by the lower hardness showed against SS 904L, we cannot expect a hardness higher than 82–84 HRB.
The 316F, as we know already, has the same composition. So, we can expect approximately the same hardness. Some sources say that 316F is a little less hard than the 316L, perhaps due to lower molybdenum content, but you cannot expect any great difference.
In short, the winner of the hardness test is — as expected — the 904L with a hardness of approximately 90 HRB. The 316L and 316F would have a very similar hardness of around 82–84 HRB.
In any case, 316L and 316F are hard enough for watches for all practical intents and purposes. Despite the lower hardness when compared to 904L, they are still not as soft as reps made of titanium — looking at you, Chronopassion and Pelagos owners.
Watches made using 316L and 316F are perfectly usable, as shown by the large number of reps using both in the market.
The price depends on the amount of expensive metals in its chemical composition; for example, nickel, chromium, molybdenum, and copper.
Thus, the 904L, with its high nickel, chromium, molybdenum content and also a bit of copper, is almost three times more expensive than either of the two 316 alloys — not including machining costs.
The two 316 alloys are almost the same. You can see that 316F has less molybdenum and wider tolerances for impurities.
Therefore, the price of the 316F should actually be lower than, or at the very most, the same as 316L. Due to the huge amount of 316L that makers are consuming, it is likely that they can buy the 316F at a very good price.
But this is a problem to be solved by the makers; it is not our problem and we cannot be expected to pay for it.
Replica Rolex Conclusion
It is worth making a watch with SS 904L?
In the case of the replicas, the answer is quite definitive: NOT AT ALL.
904L (as used in gen Rolexes)
- Economically, 904L has no place in replica watch manufacture due to material and machining costs
- More corrosion resistant, especially in extreme and warm sea water environments
- Great appearance, color, and finish
- With respect to color and polishing quality, 316F is easier for machining and polishing; with less working time you can achieve the same visual results than using the 316L
- 316L has same or better hardness than 316F
- 316L has better corrosion resistance than 316F
316L is more than suitable enough and accurate for the replica market and is also the best current option.
Now, there is a strong trend, from the factories, to increase the use of the SS 316F to get the same finish with less working time. By doing this, the can increase their profits. Additionally, don’t forget that using 316F the makers save money in machining tools due to its easy machining properties.
However, if we consult various dealers, we can see that the replicas made of 316F are between 15–30% more expensive than replicas made of 316L.
The dealers are keeping out of this matter by claiming “we sell what the maker make and we offer the characteristics that the makers tell us about,” but they are using arguments about the properties of stainless steel to sell more watches at a higher price.
So the dealers don’t want to get involved in this matter; they have no interest in fighting against the incorrect pricing of 316F steel replicas.
Since the cost of making a replica with 316F is lower than the same replica with 316L, we must not pay more for a replica made with 316F.
This is a subject of interest to buyers and it must be our fight; we must reinforce this work by consulting the forums and properly choosing our purchases in order to achieve two things:
- 316F replicas with the same quality as 316L replicas, but at a lower price
- 316F replicas with a HIGHER quality than 316L replicas, but at the same price
So when should we buy 316F replicas?
- When they are cheaper than their 316L counterparts
- When makers guarantee a better finish for the same price
- NEVER if they are more expensive!
Please note that 316F perfectly suitable for making replicas. But if you buy a 316F replica, you have almost definitely paid a price higher than its true value. Please do not allow yourself to be conned by marketing speak.
Presently, we should always buy the 316L version of a replica; it will be cheaper, have practically the same color, finish, and hardness, and it will also be more corrosion resistant.