Introduction to the worlds first 904L stainless steel safety razor
904L stainless steel is the de facto standard in the luxury watch-making business. Pioneered by Rolex, "Oyster" steel, is graded as 904L stainless steel. This high performance grade of steel is typically used only in commercial diving, military and in the offshore oil industry, where corrosion resistance is paramount.
The Cx-904L is the first machined safety razor to be made from grade 904L stainless steel.
904L steel was first introduced and used in the high-end watch market by the Swiss luxury watch manufacturer Rolex in the mid-1980s. Rolex began incorporating 904L into their watches as a way to enhance the corrosion resistance, overall durability, and appearance of their timepieces. Prior to this, they were using 316L stainless steel.
The first to use 904L in a luxury watch is however disputed, as Omega(First watch on the moon) was experimenting with a grade of stainless steel called "Uranus" steel in 1972 with the PloProf watch project or "Plongeur Professionel project" (French for "Professional Diver"). The inspiration for using this material came from its application by a French diving company, COMEX who was using this grade of 904L stainless material in its diving bells. The development of these diving watch prototypes was in partnership with famed french naval officer and oceanographer, Jaques Cousteau. For a commercial diver, keeping time is a critical element and reliable timekeeping is paramount.
The luxury brand Rolex recognized the need for a stainless steel alloy that could withstand the harsh environments and conditions that their watches might encounter, particularly in marine and diving applications. The higher alloy content of 904L, including the addition of copper, offered superior resistance to corrosion, especially in chloride-rich environments like seawater and sea air. This metal is also renowned for its bright and clean finish.
Like Carbon Shaving Co., Rolex's decision to adopt 904L was driven by its commitment to producing high-quality, luxury, reliable, and long-lasting products.
This is why Carbon Shaving Co. used this special metal to develop the world's first machined safety razor made with this unique alloy, 904L stainless steel.
What makes 904L better for a safety razor?
As with luxury watches, our 904L safety razor, the Cx-904L was inspired by the desire to make the best possible safety razor with the highest quality material. When considering 904L for a safety razor, several factors contributed to our decision to use this material:
904L exhibits exceptional corrosion resistance, making it well-suited for wet environments such as wet shaving. The razor is exposed to salt air, water, a moist environment, neglect and mildly corrosive substances like shaving creams or gels. The corrosion resistance of 904L helps protect the razor from rust and degradation over time. 904L is about +/-40% more corrosive resistant then 316L.
One key reason Rolex has cited for moving to 904L stainless steel is the unique, bright finish when 904L stainless steel is polished. The bright finish of 904L contributes to the overall visual appeal of a luxury safety razor. Its high polish finish and corrosion resistance allow for a luxurious and timeless appearance. This can enhance the shaving experience and provide a sense of quality and craftsmanship. There is something about holding a quality product made from an absolute premium material.
Balance, Weight, and maintenance:
904L is similar in weight to 316L, the balance point is also the same as our Cx-316L. Safety razors require regular cleaning to maintain hygiene and prevent the buildup of bacteria, rust or residue. Our highly polished 904L is non-porous and extremely resistant to corrosion, making it easy to clean and sterilize. The unique polished finish of our Cx-904L helps prevent the accumulation of debris, ensuring a more sanitary shaving experience. If you don't maintain your razor regularly, you should, but no worries this metal is durable.
Durability and Longevity:
Safety razors are often considered an heirloom product passed on to the next generation. Patek Philippe (worlds most expensive luxury watches) says it best:
"You never really own a Patek Philippe...you merely look after it for the next generation."
We tend to think the same thing about our Cx-904L.
The durability of 904L ensures that the razor will withstand regular use and maintain its functionality over time. With its bright finish and unique alloy content it is highly resistant to corrosion, resulting in a razor that retains its performance and aesthetic appeal for an extended period.
Exclusivity and Prestige:
We can't make many of these pieces, they are difficult to machine and time consuming to finish. Each Cx-904L requires numerous hand finishing steps to achieve our high polish finish. We very much were inspired by the concept of "quiet luxury" with these pieces, a trend in design that is low-key luxury, devoid of logos and flash where the quality is unique to those familiar. Similar to luxury watches, the use of 904L in our double-edge safety razors is limited and today, unique to Carbon Shaving Co. No other manufacturer makes or has machined a 904L safety razor. As a nod to the watch making industry, we applied a "perlage" pattern(watch finishing technique) to the underside of our caps for our first run.
Is grade 5 titanium considered more durable then 904l?
We also offer a grade 5 titanium version in our line, the Cx-Ti, also known as Ti-6Al-4V, it is known for its excellent strength, corrosion resistance, and biocompatibility. Comparing the durability of grade 5 titanium to 904L stainless steel involves considering several factors:
The big advantage of 904L is the bright finish and polish-ability, it truly is ornate. The finish is bright and smooth with 904L, Titanium will polish to a grey white finish, while 904L is known for its brightness and shine. It is one of the big reasons Rolex decided to use this grade of steel in its luxury watches. Rolex talks more about it here.
Grade 5 titanium is known for its high strength-to-weight ratio, making it stronger than many stainless steel alloys, including 904L. The benefit of grade 5 titanium in our Cx-Ti is its lightweight and strength.
Grade 5 titanium and 904L stainless steel exhibit excellent corrosion resistance, both superior to grade 316L. However, 904L stainless steel is particularly renowned for its exceptional resistance to various corrosive agents, including acids, chloride, and saltwater. In certain aggressive environments, 904L may have a slight advantage in corrosion resistance over grade 5 titanium. In a wetshaving environment...about even! However Titanium will never rust (no iron).
Grade 5 titanium exhibits excellent toughness, allowing it to withstand mechanical stress and impacts without failure. 904L stainless steel is also tough, although its toughness is slightly lower compared to grade 5 titanium.
Grade 5 titanium is widely used in medical and dental applications due to its excellent biocompatibility with the human body. It is non-toxic and non-allergenic, making it ideal for implants and other medical devices. While 904L stainless steel is considered "food safe", unlike grade 303 stainless steel, it is generally safe for most people, titanium's biocompatibility may give it an advantage if you are prone to metal allergies.
In conclusion, grade 5 titanium and 904L stainless steel both offer excellent properties in a safety razor, and their suitability depends on what is important. Grade 5 titanium's strength, low density, and biocompatibility make it well-suited for those looking for a lightweight safety razor. On the other hand, 904L stainless steel's exceptional corrosion resistance, additional weight and bright finish make it a preferred choice for those who want the best quality stainless steel and a heavier shaver.
Why is 904L a better stainless steel for luxury watches?
With this question we can look at why Rolex watches decided to change to 904L in its luxury watches, they talk about their "Oyster" steel here. 904L is often considered a better choice for luxury watches due to several factors:
904L offers exceptional corrosion resistance, compared to 316L, especially in harsh environments. This is particularly important for luxury watches, as they are often exposed to sweat, salt water, and various chemicals. The superior corrosion resistance of 904L helps protect the watch from rust, pitting, and other forms of corrosion, ensuring its longevity while maintaining its aesthetic appeal.
904L has a distinctive appearance that sets it apart from other stainless steel grades. It has a rich, lustrous finish that enhances the overall look of luxury watches.
Luxury watches are often seen as investment pieces and are expected to last for generations. 904L is known for its high strength and excellent durability, making it highly resistant to corrosion and dents. This durability ensures that the watch remains in good condition even after years of regular wear.
904L is still only used on a very limited basis with luxury watchmakers, however, it is used exclusively in the Rolex watch cases when using stainless steel.
As with Rolex, the above are some of the reasons why we decided to use 904L stainless steel in our Premium Cx-904L safety razor.
Who invented grade 904L stainless steel?
Its difficult to trace its initial use however commercial diving, specifically gas and oil rig divers were likely the first to adopt this material. With the environment of salt water, heat, and a generally hostile environment, the need for a highly corrosive resistant material was needed to minimize failure rates, considering their lives depended on their equipment. Timekeeping is a critical part of commercial diving, hence the development and partnerships with luxury watch companies like Omega and Rolex.
Grade 904L was not invented by a single individual but rather developed and refined through collaborative efforts by metallurgists, engineers, and researchers over time. The specific composition and properties of 904L were established through advancements in stainless steel alloy development. However, Carbon Shaving Co is the first to use 904L stainless steel in our luxury safety razor, the Cx-904L.
The development of stainless steel as a whole dates back to the early 20th century, with significant contributions made by several researchers and companies. The addition of various alloying elements, including chromium, copper, nickel, and molybdenum, played a crucial role in enhancing the corrosion resistance and other desirable characteristics of stainless steel grades.
While the specific origins and exact timeline of 904L development may not be well-documented, it emerged as a distinct stainless steel grade recognized for its exceptional corrosion resistance.
The incorporation of 904L in the watch industry, particularly by Rolex, helped popularize its usage and establish the metals reputation for high quality and durability. Over time, other industries and applications began to recognize the benefits of 904L, leading to its expanded use in various corrosive environments beyond the watchmaking industry.
How is 316L different from 904L stainless steel?
Both 316L stainless steel and 904L stainless steel are both stainless steel alloys, consisting of Iron/Fe and Carbon/C but they have distinct differences in their composition of other elements and properties. The “L” in both of their names denotes a “Low” carbon variation. Both materials weigh similarly. Here's a comparison between the two:
- 316L Stainless Steel: It is an austenitic stainless steel alloy containing approximately 16-18% chromium, 10-14% nickel, 2-3% molybdenum, and small amounts of other elements such as carbon, manganese, and silicon.
- 904L Stainless Steel: It is also an austenitic stainless steel alloy but with a higher alloy content. It typically contains approximately 19-23% chromium, 24-26% nickel, 4-5% molybdenum, and 1-2% copper, along with smaller amounts of other elements.
- 316L Stainless Steel: It offers good general corrosion resistance, particularly in wetshaving environments. It offers significantly better corrosion resistance compared to 303 stainless steel or 304 stainless steel. It is suitable for applications exposed to salt air atmospheric conditions and mildly corrosive substances.
- 904L Stainless Steel: It provides excellent corrosion resistance, especially in aggressive environments(You neglect your razor!). It exhibits superior resistance to corrosion in salt air, it is more resistant to pitting and rusting. 904L is about +/-40% more corrosive resistant then 316L.
- 316L Stainless Steel: It is widely used in various industries, including marine, chemical processing, pharmaceuticals, food processing, and architecture. It is suitable for applications where strong corrosion resistance is required.
- 904L Stainless Steel: Due to its cost it is only used in industries that demand exceptional corrosion resistance, such as commercial diving, desalination plants, offshore oil and gas facilities and as mentioned, in high-end luxury watches, where a luxury finish is a priority.
Availability and Cost:
- 316L Stainless Steel: It is a widely available stainless steel grade and significantly more cost-effective compared to 904L.
- 904L Stainless Steel: It is less commonly available and is more expensive than 316L due to its higher alloy content, specialized applications and scarcity.
Fabrication and Machinability:
- 316L Stainless Steel: While significantly harder to machine then 303 stainless steel, it is easier to fabricate and has good machinability compared to Titanium. I talk more about machining stainless steel in safety razors here.
- 904L Stainless Steel: It has a higher alloy content, which makes it more challenging to machine, fabricate and finish compared to 316L. Specialized equipment and techniques are required for its processing, it was significantly harder to machine than our Titanium safety razors.
316L is often referred to as Surgical or Marine grade stainless steel, and 904L is called by trademark names such as Uranus steel(Omega) or Oyster steel(Rolex), however, in all cases, the composition needs to fall within the range mentioned above to be designated 904L. While 316L stainless steel provides great corrosion resistance for wet shaving, 904L stainless steel offers superior corrosion resistance, particularly in aggressive environments(You neglect your razor!).
Is 904L harder than 316L stainless steel?
No, 904L stainless steel is not inherently harder than 316L stainless steel. In our experience, using 904L in our safety razors does not prevent scratches, any better than our 316L safety razor.
Hardness is a property determined by various factors, including alloy composition, heat treatment, and manufacturing processes applied to a specific stainless steel grade.
In general, both 904L and 316L stainless steels have similar hardness ranges, although 904L has a higher hardness range. The hardness range for 316L and 904L stainless steels can overlap, depending on the specific hardness treatment and processing techniques used. In terms of hardness, Titanium is generally harder than both 316L or 904L.
It's important to note that hardness alone does not necessarily determine the durability of a stainless steel grade. Other factors like corrosion resistance, ductility, and toughness also play crucial roles in assessing the overall durability of a stainless steel alloy. For these reasons 904L can be considered more durable compared to 316L. A safety razor made from carbon steel would be harder then any safety razor we have ever made, including titanium, however it would rust quickly.
Very limited public information is available about machining 904L stainless steel, which made machining and finishing our 904L safety razor even more of a challenge.
Is 904L more scratch resistant than 316L?
No. 316L and 904L have similar hardness and both are harder then 303 or 304 stainless.
Why is 904L stainless steel expensive?
904L stainless steel is significantly more expensive compared to other stainless steel grades and Titanium for several reasons:
Higher Alloy Content:
904L stainless steel contains a higher alloy content, including more chromium, nickel, molybdenum, and copper, compared to other stainless steel grades like 316L. The increased amount of these alloying elements contributes to its superior corrosion resistance properties. The higher cost of these alloying elements translates to a higher price for 904L stainless steel.
The higher alloy content of 904L stainless steel and limited public information makes it more challenging to machine and finish compared to Titanium or any other stainless steel. Specialized equipment, techniques, and expertise was developed during our production, which adds to the manufacturing costs.
904L stainless steel is used very infrequently and primary in the offshore oil industry and Rolex. It is less commonly produced and available compared to Titanium and other stainless steel grades like 316L. The limited availability of this raw material results in higher prices due to demand dynamics.
904L stainless steel is often associated with specialized applications, such as high-end luxury watches and military applications. The exclusivity and demand for 904L in these niche applications contribute to its higher price.
Will 904L cause a nickel allergy?
Unlike grade 303 stainless steel, 904L is considered food safe. 904L stainless steel contains a higher percentage of nickel compared to other stainless steel alloys. However due to 904L being so corrosive resistant, it is less likely to release nickel. While nickel allergies are possible, it's important to note that the risk of developing an allergy to 904L stainless steel is relatively low for most individuals.
Nickel allergies are primarily caused by skin contact with items that release nickel ions, such as certain jewelry or low-quality stainless steel alloys like 303 stainless steel, this article discusses the 303 allergy risk in more detail. However, 904L stainless steel is known for its excellent corrosion resistance, which reduces the risk of nickel ion release and subsequent allergic reactions. I talk more about allergies and sensitive in this blog.
That being said, individual sensitivities can vary, and some people may still be susceptible to nickel allergies even when exposed to high-quality stainless steel like 904L(or 316L). If you have a known nickel allergy or are sensitive to nickel, it is recommended to exercise caution and consider using alternative materials for personal care products. Our Cx-Ti is a good alternative for those with a nickel allergy, however, some people have titanium allergies.
If you're concerned about potential metal allergies, it's always best to consult with a dermatologist or allergist who can provide personalized advice based on your specific situation and medical history. They can conduct patch tests or provide guidance on the best materials and products to use to minimize the risk of allergic reactions.
What other luxury products are made with 904L stainless steel?
The bulk of 904L stainless steel is used in the Gas and Chemical processing industry. It is also used extensively in commercial diving gear. While 904L stainless steel is primarily associated with luxury watches, particularly those made by Rolex. It is occasionally used in other luxury products as well such as rings, pens, and occasionally bespoke items, mostly items that require turning only. Traditional mill machining is almost non-existent in 904L. From our research, very little is made with 904L stainless steel due to its difficulty to machine.
It's worth noting that the use of 904L stainless steel in luxury products other than watches is less common. It is only Rolex and a few other luxury watchmakers who use this material due to its difficulty in acquiring and machining. The material's higher cost and specialized characteristics in machining and finishing make it more prevalent in commercial and military applications where exceptional corrosion resistance and longevity are critical.