Friday, February 5, 2010

Gear Review: Luminox Watch

Open any gun magazine, sporting catalog or watch any spy/special forces genre action movie or tv show and at some point you're gonna see the subtle product placement of a tactical watch on the heroes wrist.

Nothing new to this really. James Bond through the decades has worn Rolex's, Omega's, and Breitlings. Clive Cussler's character Dirk Pitt has worn and orange faced Doxa dive watch for years. Even Jack Bauer (or maybe more so) with his character wearing the hundred pound MTM tactical watch that has “a light on it that can be seen a mile away”.

Actually I once owned a Rolex President for 45 seconds when a Principal I was working gave it to me by mistake at a Christmas party. I realized the mistake immediately and handed it back to him and said “couldn't I have a nice Parazzi 12 gauge instead”.

The funny thing about watch companies is they have to go out and find someone to endorse it, pay them large sums of money to get the reputation built. After all everyone has to start somewhere.

But the story of Luminox (Latin for light night) Watches is a vastly different one than that of its competitors. Necessity being the mother of invention after all.

In the late 1980s business partners Barry Cohen and Richard Timbo (Richard-Barry Marketing Group) were actively looking for proprietary technology that could push them out and ahead of the competition. And like dedicated hunters they found their prize treasure on a trip to Switzerland in the form of a small Swiss watch firm. The relatively obscure Swiss company had created a then unknown and unique illumination technology for watches that relied on micro gas lighting as opposed to heat or battery power to illuminate watch hands.

Barry recognizing the immediate potential for solving one of life's simplest realities, degenerating eyesight, saw a market for older aging eyes. Without missing a beat they negotiated an exclusive deal for the use of the new micro gas technology in North America. And with that the world's most luminous watch was born.

But birth doesn't equal success. Soon enough the newly formed Luminox Watch Co realized that they were a small unknown firm in the world of reputable Swiss watch makers. A life boat bobbing in the shipping lane as it were. Then in 1993 something fortuitous happened. One of those once in a lifetime golden egg opportunities came knocking at their door. The U.S. Government.

Actually it was a little known representative of the Government, Procurement Officer (read: scrounger), Chief Nick North of SEAL Team 5. North explained that the SEALs were in need of a self-sustaining illuminating watch for night missions and having heard of their little known Luminox Watches asked if they could build the SEALs a new dive watch for.

Obviously when the best of the best knock on your door you answer. And nine months later in 1994 the first Navy SEAL dive watch was launched.

Then in 1999 a call came from Edwards Air Force base. The bombing pilots loved Luminox watches. What they didn't like was that they were wearing a “Squids” watch. The USAF asked if Luminox would make them their own model.

How do you say no to that?

Instead of making a model for the Air Force Luminox talked with Lockheed Martin to acquire licensing rights related to some of their more unique aviation properties. If you ever wondered what watch F-117 Stealth Fighter Pilots wear now you know.

So how does a Navy SEAL designed watch and a major U.S. Watch manufacturer get tied in here at SFICW?

After ten years of wearing (and abusing) my stainless Kenneth Cole Chronograph I was in dire need of a new watch. I specifically realized this on a very dark night this past July working in a mosquito and tick infested stretch of woods trying to gather intelligence for a new client. No moon made it dark enough, a heavy canopy of leaves made it a helluva lot darker and occasionally these nights out and about gathering intel can be hourly sensitive. So I had to do this hunker down -pull out SureFire-close eyes-bulb down-heat watch method to keep on my time target.

By the drive home at 5am my ten years of nostalgic feelings towards the watch were gone. The search for a new mission ready watch was on. I pulled out catalogs, looked on-line, for applicable watches. By now you're thinking buy a “Timex” dude. I hear you. Honestly. I'm not an image whore to be honest, but I am a hard-use gear whore if there is such a thing.

I looked at a couple of the new “tacti-cool” watches out there being hawked by some actors. As soon as I saw the $1000+ price tags I was looking else where. I looked at the MTM “Warrior” watches. Was the on-board light idea intriguing?

Yep.

But the must charge once a month/ not leave said charger in an airport-hotel-basement was not.

I then remembered a conversation I had a little over ten years ago. I had spent the weekend with some overseas contractors running some training drills, one of them was a former Navy SEAL. One evening at dinner I noticed his watch and asked if it was a Luminox. He replied that it was. When I asked him how well he liked it his response was "Best ******* watch I have ever owned." The watch was dinged and worn but worked flawlessly. Who would want anything else.

So I called Luminox's Director of U.S. Operations, Max Robertson, and told him my beef with the competitions over priced watches, and what I needed from a watch. With out missing a beat Max recommended the the Luminox Black Ops 8401 with black face. I thanked Max for his time and placed my order.

A week later and a half hour before walking out the door to go camping for my birthday with friends, Bill from FedEx dropped off my new watch. Talk about perfect timing from a watch company.

So five months, two seasons, a couple of trips, some shooting clinics and hunting seasons later what are my thoughts?

A fantastic watch.

I like the heft and styling, it is definitely masculine, and the bright green dials and numbers are fantastic when you are laying in the tent during deer season and don't have to fumble for a head lamp to see if you have three hours or three minutes before you get up and meet the cold blackness of morning. The other brilliant idea is the orange illumination for 12 O' Clock. It may not sound like that big of a deal but if the watch is off your wrist and on the desk top in a dark hotel room it can be hard to tell exactly what time it is. The orange dot allows for immediate perspective.

How is that made possible?

Implanted tritium undergoes what is called beta decay. This is a release of electrons which causes a phosphor layer to fluoresce. When being manufactured a length of borosilicate glass tubing has its inside surface coated with a phosphor-containing compound and filled with radioactive tritium. The tube is then fused with a CO2 laser at the desired length. The borosilicate is relied on for its strength and resistance to breakage. In the tube, the tritium gives off a steady stream of electrons due to beta decay. The particles excite the phosphor, and hence you get the emitting low and constant glow to the watch hands.

Or so I've (cough) read elsewhere.

The other thing I have personally come to like (and you don't have to have a Luminox for this) is the rubber wrist band. Laugh if you want but I have worn a fixed stainless clasp band on my two previous watches for twenty years. Now having the option of being able to wear my watch on the outside of a winter jacket or wet-suit, instead of fumbling with gloves to push clothing back is a nice option to have.

If you are looking for a rugged, hard use watch that you can take anywhere and do damn near anything to Luminox is probably the way to go. Because after all you must be doing something right as a company when the Federal Government allows you to laser engrave the Special Warfare insignia on the back of your watch.


23 comments:

James said...

Now if only they'd hire someone to do their Technical Operations just as well... their website is erroring out.

Dan F said...

Maybe this is a stupid question, but I don't understand what you mean by heating the watch.. My G2's xenon puts out a good amount of heat, but what does that do?

Anonymous said...

In my experience my Casio G-Shock had more functions, just as durable, and a cheaper price tag. YMMV.

I'm with stupid said...

Dan, Some watches rely on their illumination "crystals" to be warmed my an external light source and when they "heat" up (not to any recognizable temp to you or me) they glow for a period of time. As they "cool" down the crystals dim in their glowy goodness.

Does that make sense?

Yamin said...

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Boat Guy said...

Dunno. Been wearing Casio G-Shocks since 1986. Most of the Team Guys back then wore them as well. Not sure how much better the "new" watch is but I guess I'll have to check it out...

J. Forestier said...

When I was in the Army, I did buy a Timex. Biggest thing I like about it is it has the "Flix" feature which allows me to turn on the back light one-handed.

Tom from OVER HERE said...

while I'm not currently in the market for a new watch, but always enjoy reading. Thanks for a good post. Nothing outstanding like your other posts, but it was just as informative and well written like you always do.

It was nice to read something that wasn't INTENSE.

Thanks

armed_and_christian said...

Matt, how does it deal with magnetic fields? My body has an abnormally high electromagnetic field that drains batteries and disrupts sensitive electronics unless they are manetically shielded. Although I can't find current G-Shocks that are magnetically shielded, the Tough Solar that I bought about 3 years ago had that feature; in fact that was one of the main selling points (that and the solar-recharging cell). This is the only watch that has ever lasted me more than 6 months--and it is still plugging along keeping very accurate time.

I hear you on the rubber wristband. Few things get your attention like arm hair caught in a metal watch band.

armed_and_christian said...

Update, for those of you who care. I called and spoke with Luminox to see if their watches are ISO 6425 compliant (this is the standard for dive watches, and also includes magnetic resistance). They are not. However, they are getting ready to release their Deep Dive watch which will be ISO 6425 compliant.

ndruck said...

I have owned a 3202 Luminox watch since 2002. This is a GREAT WATCH. Bright, illumination, Real Bright. I am a industrial electrician and must weld. I have never had a problem with this watch. Welding splatter doesn't stick to the crystal, case, or band. I can always see the time, even in pitch black conditions. Sapphire Crystal... I also own a cheaper model with a mineral crystal. Welding splatter will pit the mineral crystal bad.

Anonymous said...

I purchased the Digital version of the SR-71 watch about a year ago. This is not the same watch shown here, but the digital with three time zones, compass, etc. Right after I got the watch the second counter quit working. I took some work to track down Lumondi, the parent company and then had the watch gone for a month. Fast forward 10 months. The pressed in back on the watch popped off. The band is not deep annodized and is likely painted. The finish is polishing off. Shipped this watch for repair again. They will fix the back under warranty, but they don’t warranty the band. Guess the poor quality finishing is not considered a manufactures defect.

My recommendation is to skip buying one of the expensive Luminox watches. The cheaper ones might be a good watch, but there are others on the market. If you are going to the high end, get a Brietling or something else. This was a grand wasted.

Doug

kenben said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Nice blog.. good watches, though not great. To the poster who said his body has abnormally high magnetic fields. That's not possible..magnetic fields come from magnets or electromagnets. Unless the person has super magnets imbeded in his wrist, no way it's possible. His watches are breaking from some other reason. Oh, and by the way.. those magnetic or Ion bracelets are BS and don't do anything for health for similar reasons. thank you.

EACowboy said...

Bot my Luminox 3083 a year ago. Swapped the rubber strap for a Cabelas Luminox velco strap so I can wear it outside my wet suit and camogear. Glow hands work like a champ for these tired eyes. Watch has taken a beating this year during cross training, deer hunting, concrete mixing, in and out of the pool with grandkids, multiple margarita splashes. Crystal is still unmarked. Wish the bezel was numbered counterclockwise so it could function as a 60 minute countdown. When the hands are from 520 to 740, it's a challenge to see the elapsed time hours dial. Blue paint on 7 of the 12 bezel numbers is gone. But I wouldn't go back to any other watch. Semper Fi.

Sheamus Warior said...

This stuff is down t earth, hats off buds out there.
grand seiko

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Tactical News said...

Love my 3165 ss colormark luminox and waiting for a 3152 blackout i found on ebay with metal bracelet. True about a person not able to have high magnetic fields in his body. Great review i enjoyed it very much. Its the light that charges regular watches with Lumunova not heat though, if u place a watch in the sun face down so no light gets to the face but it gets hot the hands and numbers dont glow, but as soonas u let the sunlight hit it they glow lime crazy proving its the light.

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Anonymous said...

In November of 2012 I purchased a Luminox chronograph for 500 bucks. In July, is stopped running and I returned it to the dealer for service. I just got the watch back yesterday. Over course of the 90 days I did not have a watch, I purchaed a Citizen ECO-Drive chronograph for 400 bucks on sale at a local jewelry store. The quality on the Citizen far and away outweighs the Luminox. My advice to the Navy Seals is don't reley on this piece of crap. Buy anything else you like but don't fall for the hype from Luminox. They are JUNK!!!

Anonymous said...

Interesting comments. I have a 1842 Field and just bought the Mariner 6250 because I love these watches. My Field has taken a beating for 3 years now every day.
Here is why I went Luminox. I have owned Seiko Divers since 1982. Good watches but didn't like the lost lume at night. Or how the crystal (Hardlex) scratched. Sapphire crystal will shatter easier then Hardlex they say. Can't prove it by me.
More reasons to buy Luminox. I wanted a loud alarm watch and looked at some expensive Seikos. Not very loud. I read about the Luminox sound box design and after I hear it I was amazed. I bought the 1842 Field version. I can't have any watch which is plastic like the g shock etc. I put my watches threw hell. I constantly get paint,epoxy etc. and work with my hands doing many mechanic,building jobs and then some. I wash all the crap off with Lacquer and other chemicals. I then buff it up on a buffing wheel with Jewelers rouge. Looks great after that. Try that with low end watches.
Buy the upper end Luminox and don't buy from non Authorized Dealers because you may get a fake and blame Luminox for hands falling off or what ever.

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Jim Crowell said...

As a follow up to my first post I since have sold the 1842 chrono for a 6252 Marina Luminox. It has been great. Very well built. Heavy but that's ok I want a rugged watch.