Skip to main content

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?


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.


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…
I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

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.

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.
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.

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
Attiya Ramzan said…
There are so many watches are in the market which we have seen all the time.But now Hijri Calendar Watches itroduce that is so beautifull and amazed watch.if you want to buy it than visit this website.
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.
william hall said…
Post is well written and it contains many good things for me. I am glad to find your inspiring way of writing the post.
cheap rubber wristbands
thanks for sharing!!
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.
BRAX TON said…
I'm certainly very happy to read this blog site posts which carries plenty of helpful data, thanks for providing such link
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.
Anonymous said…
I will not buy another Luminox!
i got a 3051BO a year ago and have too many problems- movement replaced, light gas tubes fall off the dial and strap broke.
it is just not a tough watch as should be!
Unknown said…
Don't know how many of you that are considering buying this watch are aware...but popular and expensive watches are faked or replicated and sold cheaper...

This is a link to a PDF file showing some of the things to look out for on fakes Luminox:
Anonymous said…
Update on my Luminox Mariner.. it has been a totally awesome watch. Rugged as heck. I work with my hands doing hard jobs and it is still like new.
Boyd Merrill said…
I bought a 3051 about a year and a half ago. I loved it but it stopped working well within two months. Sent for servicing to the USA and got it back within a month no charge. Worked for about a month then time was wrong about every three days so I threw it in the drawer and swore to never buy another. About three months later I remembered the warranty and sent it back. Absolutely no hassles I got it back with new guts and it has been a dream watch since. Like anything a warranty is great but you have to use it. Recommend it to all my police friends. Kudos to luminox repair and the management in western USA. Would buy another tomorrow but I will wear this one out first!
Scott Carter said…
I bought one of the original seal 3000 series back in 1997. When I graduated the academy in 1998, I gave the watch as a gift to a classmate who didn't have a working watch. Fast forward 17 years, I ran into him the other day, and guess what ? He was STILL wearing the same watch ! The numbers on the bezel are almost all worn off, but he said the watch has never broke, the lume's still bright, and all he's ever done was change the battery. That's 17 years of hard use with no problems. I bought another buddy a F-117 Stealth model about 8 years ago. Now, he's an average joe civilian (no offense), and hasn't been as tough on his, but his is still doing fine, with no problems. I bought an ANU 4200 series about 6 months ago. I've jumped and dove with it, and it's my daily beater. As expected, it's still doing great. The only puzzling thing for me regarding Luminox is their love-hate following based on customer experience. Understandably, for guys like me, their great, and for other guys who've had trouble with them, they suck. How can a company make some watches that rock, and other's that fall apart ? I'd think that 99% would be great, or 99% would suck, and they'd be out of business.
Scott Carter said…
I'd be interested to hear thoughts regarding my post above from somebody who worked for Luminox as to why customer experience varies so greatly. ;)
Anonymous said…
All I can say is there are ALOT on websites some for 200 bucks less then retail..I think there knockoff ratio is probably quite deal cheap watch
Anonymous said…
I don't know how this company or their repair center Saltzman watches in Cranston RI are still in business. First off let me say as a law enforcement officer who worked in Iraq as a police trainer I owned one of these navy seal watches. It lasted 2 years. During that time the battery kept failing. So, I sent it to saltzman and they were all to happy to charge me $280 for repairs. I told them to shove it and throw the watch away. What a piece of crap, and piece of crap company as well. Spread the word on this junk watch which is touted as some standard issue piece of equipment for nay seals. Doubt it.
Anonymous said…
I have a Scott Cassell Special Edition that I have since Nov 2013. I very rarely wear it and It's been tp Saltzman 3X so far. First Time the second hand "twitched" like it had Tourettes. I sent it to them and(and of course it was out of warranty) and had to negotiate the repair cost. So they fix it and a month later my son asked to take it to Costa Rica for a surfing vacation with friends. He comes home and tells me that there is water in the crystal and it was figging up all the way home on the airplane trip. So I put it on and sure enough it starts fogging up while on my arm. So I call them and explain this, so I send it back since it was only a few weeks after the repaiir. They never put the "gasket back" before closing the back. So N/C to repair it. Now the watch is is jumping one(1) hour ahead of the time that is current!!! I'm just thinking this watch was a waste of $$. I have watches for years that have never had to do anything but change a battery. And very one you talk to at Saltzman is NASTY and talks down to you and they have the monopoly on repairing these things. Luminox as gar as I'm concerned a not worth the cost that I paid and I'm lucky if I eat the watch a handful of times a month. GARBAGE......And everyone buys into the Navy Seal selling point.
Anonymous said…
Since this article was written, I've noticed the quality and customer service go down dramatically. I have had my Luminox series 200 for 13 years and it has been awesome. I was looking to buy a new Luminox due to mine getting old and worn. I love the looks of the 1945 series but after reading so many reviews here and on most other sites regarding watches and Luminox in particular, I'm saddened to say I'm ditching the Luminox brand and moving on. I will love my older watch but won't spend the money on a gamble.