Chrome plated versus full stainless steel watches: When we ask the collector, the preference is often given to full steel watches. But why? To understand that, we go back in time and look at the history of vintage watches and take a closer look at different models.


Stainless- or rustles steel was invented in 1913 by Harry Brearley of Sheffield. Harry Brearley discovered the result of this alloy while looking for anti-corrosion and anti-corrosion solutions for the British military. While Brearley had thrown away his previously attempts with added chrome ingredients, he only found out later that these pieces had not rusted.
This made it clear that by adding 12.8% chromium to the ingredients, the first stainless steel variant was created. The first stainless steel was used for British Army aircraft parts, cutlery and gun barrels

From this moment on, this relatively strong and “stainless” steel variant was used, mostly in industry and the military. Over the years, the stainless steel went through a lot of innovation; alloys and compositions continued to change, ultimately leading to increasingly stronger steel that was more resistant to rust and corrosion.


The production of the stainless steel was relatively expensive at the time and was therefore not used massively. Many alternatives such as chromed steel and nickel types were cheaper and easier to produce and therefore more commonly used at the time. Objects such as door handles, toys and other everyday objects were often chrome plated.


The objects that had to withstand harsh conditions or had certain high-quality standards were made of stainless steel. However, the production was very expensive and complex, making these items less common, rarer and expensive. As the 1960s approached, production processes were simplified and making stainless steel became cheaper and easier

Comparisons and quality.

Here we have a chromed steel watch case. (Excluding the  case back) The majority of the vintage watches with chrome-plated cases have developed some corrosion or the chrome-plated has partly worn off. One watch is worse than the other, but it can often be seen or felt from the structure and finish of a watch case.

Vintage Unver Watch step case 1940s sector like dial
Vintage Revue Automatic bumper 1950 full set Liege

This watch case is made of solid stainless steel, or as often indicated on the case: rustles steel, acier stainless steel or stainless steel. The quality of finish and the case itself is immediately distinguishable. This is partly due to the difference in production and is also reflected in the prices.


Different purposes and prices

The full-steel copies used to be more expensive compared to the chrome-plated ones. The watches from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, which are made of solid steel, were often real utensils instead of jewellery.

The small number of brands that did produced stainless steel watches that where meant as a luxury product, where very expensive and are very collectible nowadays (in the right condition). Of course, we cannot leave the early Rolex models out of our minds, but there were also many small brands that made beautiful steel examples. Think of brands such as Mulco, Wyler, Doxa Mido, Movado and so on.

Watch cases producers

At the time, there were many companies that specialized in producing watch cases. Think of Francois Borgel / Taubert and Fils who made watch cases for Patek Philippe, Movado, Doxa Lusina, Mido and more. Lesser known watch case producers in Switzerland and France also managed to create beautiful tre tachhe cases, step cases and sophisticated coin edge watch cases. These watch cases were usually purchased by small and now unknown or “niche” brands. 


Functional copies / war watches

A great example of the mainly functional pieces are the watches that where issued to the military and pilots in World War II. With a few exceptions, most functional watches where made of thick stainless-steel cases. They were used in the field and where made to withstand a beating. Today, the demand of collectors for full steel watches is also higher compared to the demand for chromed ones. This is also reflected in the prices that are being paid and asked by sellers and buyers.