The Debate: Is A Lightweight Titanium Watch Truly Luxurious?

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The Debate: Is A Lightweight Titanium Watch Truly Luxurious?

Words by Mr Chris Hall and Mr Felix Scholz

29 June 2022

Illustration by Mr Jori Bolton

Mr Felix Scholz


Let’s cover off the science first. Everyone knows that titanium is light – about 45 per cent lighter than steel. However, I don’t think light weight is actually the major drawcard – it’s a sideshow. That honour, the real reason to prize titanium, is its strength. Titanium has the highest strength-to-density ratio of any metal, and is exceptionally corrosion-resistant. We all know what steel or gold watches look like after 50 years of use.

These physical characteristics earned it mythic status. Titanium is the metal of aerospace and invention. The CIA smuggled titanium out of the USSR to build the airframe of the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, making it automatically cooler than anything that isn’t vibranium. Another winning attribute is something that isn’t apparent until you wear a titanium watch for a stretch of time; it’s a material with great thermal stability. Titanium will warm up quickly on the wrist, and stay warm. Something you’ll appreciate first thing on a brisk winter’s morning.

On a practical level, it might be surprising that utilitarian titanium is currently the metal of choice for blue-chip brands that typically deal in precious metals, but not if you think like a collector. By doing what it’s done with the Odysseus, A. Lange & Söhne has designated a titanium watch as something rare and special, reserved for a very limited take on a high-end sports watch.

That’s the same logic behind the sold-out Vacheron Constantin Overseas duo of titanium models, and it’s the exact reason why Patek Philippe, that guardian of Swiss traditionalism, reserves titanium for unique pieces, either as private commissions or for charitable auctions; the latest is the Ref 5270T-101, slated to be sold at Only Watch in November, likely for millions of dollars.

“Titanium is well-suited to high-end watch cases, it offers a point of difference and it wears incredibly well on the wrist”

The same goes for high-end independent brands like H. Moser & Cie. and De Bethune – they show titanium in its best light. Looking at it in this light, why would you not want titanium? It’s becoming a status symbol in its own right.

This current explosion of interest in high-end titanium speaks to the shifting demographic of buyers. Gold, for all its status, is heavy, soft and decidedly old-fashioned. Steel, that other fan-favourite, is perhaps too common, even when top-tier brands invert the natural order and make steel the hard-to-get option. Titanium offers the best of all worlds: from a technical perspective, it is well-suited to high-end watch cases, it offers a point of difference and it wears incredibly well on the wrist.

The gold standard – if you will – when it comes to treating titanium as a precious substance has to be Laurent Ferrier. The upscale atelier has a knack for treating the titanium cases of their classically styled watches with as much care and jewel-like polish as platinum.

Take the freshly minted Classic Traveller Magnetic Green as an example. This level of finish is a long way from the traditional image of titanium as the go-to choice for a knock-about watch, but if it's lightweight, strong and looks this good, you can see why people are pushing for titanium to overtake steel as the next hot ticket in watch cases. I feel certain that my next watch will have a titanium case – I can’t say it’ll be a Laurent Ferrier, but who knows.

Mr Chris Hall, Senior Watches Editor


The idea of a revered manufacture like A. Lange & Söhne producing one of its flagship pieces in this most… practical of metals is enough to send the faithful into new levels of fervour. For the longest time, it was just not done. Titanium has been on the scene for a while, and as we covered not so long ago recently exploded in popularity – but crucially, in watches with some connection to practicality. Watches for diving, or racing, or exploring – even if their modern-day equivalents never see anything wilder than woodland walks, it still makes a degree of sense to embrace titanium.

But your top-end luxury brands, your traditionally-minded horological craftsmen, they deal in luxury, which means heft. Gravitas. Excess. Indulgence. Doesn’t it? Now distinctly un-sporty types such as Greubel Forsey, Laurent Ferrier, Romain Gauthier, Czapek & Cie and Parmigiani are all making exquisite watches in titanium. Even Vacheron Constantin has done it, producing two Overseas models which shot to the top of collectors’ wish lists.

Patek Philippe is holding out, bar the one-off pieces mentioned above. And, oddly enough, Rolex bucks the trend, despite its stated pursuit of practical excellence, but it now seems inevitable that the time will come for all to put their watches on the titanium diet. And I just have such mixed feelings about the whole thing. If we all did what was most practical, who’d ever buy a sports car or a Loro Piana sweater?

I can’t argue with its physical superiority – titanium is clearly preferable to steel or gold on many grounds, except manufacturing cost. (Even here, maybe there is something perversely luxurious about making a case out of titanium that would be child’s play to sculpt in white gold.) And far be it for me to stand in the way of progress. But I can’t be the only one to find super-light watches weirdly unconvincing.

“There’s something fundamental about the weight and feel, the solidity and density of it that leaves you in no doubt that you’re holding something important”

I pick up a watch and immediately, I’m alert to the clink and rattle of the bracelet, the solid presence of stainless steel or – even better, if my budget matched my tastes – solid gold in your hand. There’s something fundamental about the weight and feel, the solidity and density of it that leaves you in no doubt that you’re holding something important.

There are luxury watches that are purposefully light, such as a Bulgari Octo Finissimo or a Richard Mille, and I’m not such an old curmudgeon that I object to their existence. In fact, I think if lightness is a fundamental property of the design itself, either because the watch is ultra-slim or ultra-sporty, then it’s all well and good. Although Richard Mille’s watches do sit in a unique place, both highly technical and clearly luxurious, and achieve lightness via much more over-the-top methods and materials.

But if the proposition is purely and simply a luxury watch, I think I prefer the heavyweight charms of Vacheron Constantin’s 222, a faithful copy of the 1977 original, to the high-tech but flyweight specs of the Odysseus, its latter-day equivalent.

Which ticks the box?