Your Best Defense Against The Marketers? – Knowledge
I have written five blog posts on steel and stainless steel so far. Perhaps this was too much for watch collectors? Several readers said they appreciated a better understanding of steel, stainless steel, and their use in watch cases. Many still had questions on how to use this newfound information and what was the point?
A fundamental understanding of any subject has always been the very best defense against those pesky marketers. When I was waxing lyrically about stainless steel’s finer points, I failed to point this out. To address this, here is my guide to using our newfound knowledge of stainless steel. The best way to illustrate this is to look at a real-life example. Let’s run an example of the marketing department versus reality.
A New Quality Of Metal?
A search of the internet ensued to look for claims a watch brand makes about their stainless steel. It did not take long to find the new Chopard Lucent A223 Stainless Steel. This new quality of metal arrives on the market with quite a list of claims to its name. It is introduced as follows:
“Four years of tireless research have given birth to a quality of metal that is just as precious as gold with the superior functionality of steel.”
This looks as if it needs some investigation to find the truth. Especially if their new metal is as precious as gold – this could be very lucrative.
Who Made The Discovery?
Chopard has a fine track record in both watchmaking and metallurgy. They started as a jewelry house and then expanded into watches. Their reputation is well-deserved, with a history of developing their own alloys and operating their own gold foundry. Their claims for this new metal cannot be dismissed out of hand; they have a pedigree.
What Are The Claims We Care About?
I explored Chopard’s website further to understand some more specific facts about this new metal they had developed. There were two specific claims that I thought went to the core of the material they had developed. An analysis of these claims would provide us with the understanding a buyer would want.
- Chopard’s new material for Alpine Eagle is as “rich, precious and complex as gold,” says a statement from Chopard.
- It has some distinctive characteristics: hypoallergenic is comparable to surgical steel and has 223 Vickers hardness that is 50% more resistant to abrasion than steel.
Let’s Challenge The Claims
The comparison between the new Chopard Lucent A223 stainless steel and gold is interesting. Apparently, this new stainless steel is “rich, precious, and complex as gold.” The problem is I struggle to understand how a material can be rich. This adjective does not describe the physical properties of any material I can think of. All I can assume is that the marketers wanted to make the reader feel good.
“Precious” is next on the list. Gold is definitely a precious metal; there is no denying that. Chopard is implying that their new material is as valuable as gold. The problem here is that gold is not a precious metal by virtue of human endeavor. Gold is a precious metal due to its scarcity. If scarcity is needed for a precious metal, then a metal that can be created cannot be precious.
Finally, the new Lucent A223 is “as complex as gold.” The interesting thing here is that gold is not a complex metal; it is an elemental metal. It is the 79th element in the periodic table of elements, to be precise. That is a metal in its simplest atomic state. As we know from my previous blogs, Stainless steel is an alloy, a mixture of elements, iron, carbon, nickel, and chromium, to be accurate.
Do The Claims Stack Up?
This first claim does seem to lack accuracy. It could almost be construed as misleading. Unfortunately, Chopard does not provide any data to support their claims. My conclusion so far is that the marketing department became a bit too enthusiastic.
Into the Technicals
Will the specific technical claims stand up to scrutiny any better? These needed a bit more digging, but I established that Voestalpine Böhler developed Lucent A223 stainless steel in conjunction with Chopard. Voestalpine is a specialist steel producer and the exclusive supplier of stainless steel to Chopard.
The Voestalpine Böhler website is quite a contrast to the Chopard website. Very much more focused on technical details. Surfing the product pages a little bit took me to the section on austenitic stainless steel. As we all know, this is what we need to make a good watch case.
The Devil Is In The Detail
As I scrolled down the Voestalpine identifier codes, I realized they had a very familiar look. There was A220; next on the list was A224 – this seemed to be more than just a coincidence. I was not expecting to find the Lucent A223 material specification sheet anywhere. Although that would have been nice.
A more detailed look at A220 and A224 stainless steels should provide us with a hint of what may lie between these materials. Thankfully, Voestalpine Böhler provided references from their product references to international standards. Here they are, listed below.
Voestalpine Böhler Reference Number
ANSI Reference Number
Components for urea plants, pump heads, valve stems, condensers, reactors, strippers, scrubbers. Equipment and parts in the dyeing industry, textile, paper and leather, chemical, pharmaceutical and synthetic fibre industries.
Use in the jewelry and watch industry.
It All Looks Very Familiar
Looking carefully at the ANSI reference numbers, each of them starts with 316L. Our regular readers will understand the benefits of 316L stainless steel from my previous blog. Suffice to say, this stainless steel is the industry standard for higher-end watches.
Diving in deeper into the material data sheets allows us to compare the alloying elements. A220 and A224 were clearly from the 316L stainless steel family.
16.5 ~ 18.5%
2 ~ 2.5%
10 ~ 13%
If Voestalpine Böhler numbers their materials in a logical order, it appears a safe assumption that Chopard A223 Lucent stainless steel is austenitic stainless steel. And most likely can be categorized as a 316L. Or is the A223 just a coincident indexing system that Chopard has? That does seem unlikely.
How New is New?
On the assumption that Voestalpine Böhler numbers their materials logically, it would confirm that Chopard A223 Lucent stainless steel is austenitic stainless steel. We have verification from the ANSI codes and the indexing system that places it right in the middle of the austenitic steels.
Chopard says they have created a new quality of metal. Perhaps it is a new alloy, but how new is it? Specifically, they claim that it is hypoallergenic, comparable to surgical stainless steel, and a Vickers hardness of 223 that increases its resistance to abrasion by 50%. Should we be impressed? Is it worth a premium on the price? These are the key questions for the watch buyer.
Let’s Break It Down
Surgical steel, by definition, needs to be hypoallergenic. There is no point putting it into your body for an allergic reaction to occur. I discussed in my previous blog that surgical-grade stainless steel is a 316L stainless steel. So there appears to be nothing new here.
Careful With The Comparisons
The Vickers hardness and claims of abrasion resistance got me scratching my head. A Vickers hardness of 223 is harder than I would expect from a 316L stainless steel. In general, I would expect a Vickers hardness of 180 ~ 200 for a 316L stainless steel. The claim is that Lucent A223 is 50% more resistant to abrasion than steel. Abrasion resistance is directly correlated to hardness. This implies a Vickers hardness of 149 for their comparable steel.
I had to pause. I went back and read Chopard’s claim once again. I noticed that a critical word was missing. They seemed to be comparing it with “steel.” I realized that they were making a completely irrelevant comparison – steel is not stainless steel.
Perhaps we should have compared quench hardened martensitic steel (Vickers hardness of over 800). Or, given this new metal is taking its inspiration from gold, should that be the comparison? But why bother? None of these are relevant for a watch owner.
The fact of the matter is that metal with a Vickers hardness of 223 will still be susceptible to scratches in daily use as a watch. So even with improved hardness, it will not eradicate the problem it is seeking to address.
My theory is that Voestalpine Böhler and Chopard spent a lot of time refining a 316L stainless steel to create Lucent A223 stainless steel. I am sure they improved the production process and formulation that makes this steel worthy of praise. The problem for a watch enthusiast is that we are unable to understand the benefits. Marketing speak seems to have hidden the true benefits and there are no facts to evidence the claims.
I am sure that this new stainless steel is beautiful and lustrous, but most of that will come from the buffing and polishing techniques. Perhaps they have used a case hardening technique to improve the hardness of the finished piece? If that is the case, then I would want to understand the innovation.
My guess is that when the improvements arrived in the marketing department, the marketers did not understand them. The subtlety of the improvements was lost on the audience. With no understanding, they fell back to what they knew and likened the developments to gold and other irrelevant comparisons. It all spiraled from there to the fantastical marketing claims Chopard is making.
Let’s Just Go With The Truth
My goal in writing these steel blogs is to provide the information to understand the fundamentals and cut through the marketing speak. I hope this is a good example for everyone.
My analysis here is based on some assumptions. This will inevitably mean I have been wrong in some of my deductions. My point is not to avoid criticism but to highlight how wonderful it would be if there was no need for assumption, and we had the detail of Chopard’s achievements.
I dislike the marketing department that obfuscates the truth like this. It belittles the noble efforts of the material scientists who, with years of knowledge and experience, have created A223 Lucent stainless steel.
Credit Where Credit Is Due
I would prefer to understand the details. Celebrate the skills and knowledge of the artisans and material scientists who made this new steel possible. At the end of the day, there have been centuries of learning to make stainless steel possible. The immense technological advances this knowledge has made possible for all of us should be acknowledged.
Those who have dedicated themselves to the creation of these materials should be celebrated. Their art is as crucial as the watchmakers and should be lauded, not hidden behind marketing speak.