I have a sister who wants to be able to wear watches, but who has been unable to for a number of years now. The reason? A nickel allergy (contact dermatitis), which extends to an allergic reaction to leather straps as well. For some unknown reason this surfaced only in her late 20s, but it has meant that she has not been able to wear a watch for a long time.
Many chemical agents, including nickel, can cause allergic contact dermatitis (ACD), which results in inflammation of areas of the skin in sensitised individuals. ACD is caused by sweat corrosion of nickel and the formation of nickel ions as a result of prolonged contact with the skin.
The European Nickel Directive 2004/96/EC determined that the level of permitted nickel release be 0.5 micrograms per square centimeter for products intended to be in direct and prolonged contact with the skin.
Products may contain nickel in higher concentrations, but only where they have a non-nickel coating and the coating is sufficient to ensure that the rate of nickel released from parts in direct and prolonged contact with the skin is less than 5 micrograms per square centimetre per week for a minimum period of 2 years normal use.
In spite these regulations, it is an issue which does arise periodically on watch fora. There are people who are unable to wear Omega Speedmasters for example.
Non-occupational ACD reportedly affects between 5-15% of females. According to the Nickel Institute, public health advocates are using these figures to project that over 10% of the world's population are at risk of being sensitised to nickel.
Not being as horologically addicted as I, but nonetheless owning a couple of decent watches, the absence of a watch on her wrist has not bothered her as it would me, but she has nonetheless hoped that she would be able to wear a watch again some day. The other week I finally managed to convince her to try again, by purchasing a new one. The general agreement amongst the Tarts who gave advice was that Titanium or ceramic would be the best options.
Titanium and ceramic watches are not hard to find for men (or women who wear men's watches), but for women like my sister, whose wrist is too small to wear a men's watch, it is much more difficult. Another compounding problem is that the use of ceramic or Titanium is sometimes combined with stainless steel on watches. This is perfectly fine for most, but for those with skin allergies who need the caseback to be Titanium or ceramic, and not stainless steel, this reduces the already very limited options even further.
My sister wanted a practical watch, nothing white, nothing with diamonds, and at a reasonable price point. Basically it came down to Rado, who are in fact well known for the Ceramica line.
With this as a starting point, she visited some half a dozen watch shops in Central, Hong Kong, where she has been holidaying, and at each dealer, there was only ever one woman's watch available in Ti or ceramic, regardless of brand.
Yes, it became an issue of stock availability.
Her eventual purchase was the Rado True Active R27678152. The watch will serve the purpose, but with the projected figure that 10% of the world's population could be nickel sensitised, if nothing else it makes some degree of financial sense for companies to consider increasing the range of (not just women's) watches available in materials such as Titanium and ceramic not just for aesthetic reasons, but for health ones. There is hypo allergenic and non nickel coated jewellery readily available after all, so why not watches as well?