Hehe, no, I’m not talking about literally being allergic to watches as devices. I’m talking about allergic reactions to stainless steel. More specifically nickel that is used to make stainless steel alloys.
So, you want to wear a watch, but you’re allergic to nickel component in stainless steel. Well, here are few options that can help you out.
Selection becomes quite limited, but there are options…
First and most obvious choice are titanium watches. Titanium is incredibly light, pretty much as strong as stainless steel and is also very resistant to corrosion and is non-allergenic. Which makes it perfect choice for people allergic to nickel in stainless steel. It is more expensive, but since absence of nickel isn’t the only good quality of it, it is easier to justify higher cost. There are plenty to chose from, starting at prices of around 250€ up to few thousand €. So, anyone can pick something, even if you’re not rich.
Second most obvious choice are plastic watches. However, here is a small catch. There are plenty of good quality watches made of high quality plastics (resin material) like G-Shock. However, unlike 100% titanium watches, these often come with stainless steel back. Which is great in general, just not to people allergic to nickel. It is in direct contact with the skin and when you start sweating it will just get even worse. So, make sure you inspect the watch before purchasing it. Make sure it has no stainless steel parts that will be in direct contact with your skin.
Most obvious choice here would be Swatch brand. They have tons of 100% plastic constructed watches and they also have latest quite interesting series named “Sistem51”. I don’t like it because it’s entirely plastic, but for situations like this, it’s absolutely perfect.
400 series grade stainless steel watches
It is rather rare in watchmaking industry, but I’m quite sure there are watches made of 400 series grade stainless steel. Most watches are made of 316L grade stainless steel which is cheap, durable, highly corrosion resistant and non-magnetic, but contains nickel. 440 stainless steel on the other hand contains no nickel, just chromium and is magnetic. To retain hardness, they infuse it with more carbon during manufacturing. If watchmaker mentions the use of 440 grade stainless steel, it means you can wear such watch without risking nickel allergic reaction.
The trend of golden Rolex watches has kinda died out these days since they are just too flashy and they just look vulgar because they look like the kind of watches pimps wear. But some people still buy them. And they are non-allergic if they are made of 16 karat gold and up that doesn’t contain nickel. They are a lot more expensive and prone to dents since gold is a lot softer than stainless steel, but it is an option. You may want to avoid white gold versions because they may contain nickel.
Coated stainless steel
Next option are coated metals. There are two options within this group really. Gold platted watches or DLC coated watches. Gold is non allergic material and despite it being pricey, a thin layer of it over stainless steel hardly raises the price. And DLC or Diamond-like Coating. It’s basically a very strong coating that imitates diamond structure. It is black in most cases (at least I haven’t seen any other), meaning the watch can be more restrained and not as flashy as gold platted ones. The coating separates your skin from the stainless steel, however, over time both will wear out in certain spots that have constant friction and you may get in contact with stainless steel again. Take that into consideration.
Also, not all DLC coated (or gold coated) watches also have DLC coated case back. Steinhart below does, but some have an untreated “silver” stainless steel for case back.
Ceramics are the high tech stuff that’s just becoming more accessible to casual consumers. There are famous older brands that specialize in ceramic watches like Rado, but you can also find more affordable options from watchmakers like Citizen. You may again want to check the watch case back if it’s also ceramic or stainless steel…
Cheating with NATO and aviator straps
Maybe it’s not the perfect solution or if you only have mild reaction to stainless steel, you could get away by using NATO straps or leather aviator straps. Because of their design, the strap itself separates watch case from the wrist, meaning even if it’s a 316L stainless steel with nickel, it may have very little or even no contact with your skin.
Cheating with clear case back sticker
Another way to kinda cheat and be able to wear any standard stainless steel watch is to cover case back with round, transparent, water resistant sticker. It may not be the most comfortable or nice option and may sometimes come in contact with your skin, but is an option to isolate the watch stainless steel case from your wrist skin.
Surgical stainless steel
I’ve wanted to include this category into the guide, however, watch sellers have watered down this term so much it somewhat lost its original meaning. They just stick “Surgical grade stainless steel” on everything just because it sounds cool. I mean, if it’s surgical, then it has to be good right? Not quite, because majority calls regular 316L as “surgical”.
Only stainless steel that actually deserves to be called “surgical stainless steel” is actually the above mentioned 440 grade stainless steel. It is often used for blades and razors because they are in direct contact with skin and they must not cause allergic reactions. High chrome and carbon content, but no nickel.
I hope this guide will be helpful for new or even old watch enthusiasts. Happy watch collecting and wearing 🙂