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7 Exciting and Affordable Watches with Aged or Retro Lume

Posted on August 12 2021

Watches with Aged Retro Lume

I'm a fan of old watches.

I love Soviet-era Russian watches and I love watches associated with the space race. I'm a fan of military watches and groundbreaking dive watches.

But buying or wearing them can be a problem. Innovative dive watches aren't cheap. Military watches worn in the field are often battered. And used Russian watches often look like they were worn in a gulag.

The solution?

Heritage and reissue models. I constantly feature those watches on this blog. Remakes of iconic designs. Homages to expensive models. Or modern watches that take design cues from older successful watches.

The benefits are obvious.

They use modern watchmaking technology. They're often tweaked to cater to modern tastes and sizing. And they're reliable. They should be, they're brand new.

But they miss one thing.

The warmth of having aged. Some people want their vintage-looking watches to look worn in. A handful of brands cater for this, with Out of Order watches being the best example. They bump and scratch your watch before shipping it to you. Yes, really.

But others will simply use aged or retro-looking lume. They'll use lume that looks like it's decades old. That's what I've been looking into recently.

Instead of bright white or green illumination, it will be off-white or brown. It's a controversial feature, but I'm a fan.

It's been used by Omega, Tudor and other big Swiss names. But it's also used on very affordable models too.

Let me take you through a selection of my favourites. There should be something for everyone here.

MWC Dirty Dozen Military Watch

Military watches are ideal for using retro lume. Many military designs are timeless and modern recreations like this benefit from looking aged.

This style is based on the 'Dirty Dozen'. These were the first military watches ordered by the British government.

During World War 2 British soldiers needed tough, reliable watches. Not all watches perform well on the battlefield and current Swiss imports weren't up to the job.

The Brits were very specific in what they needed. They needed watches that were durable. Shockproof and water-resistant. With a shatterproof crystal and a tough build.

And they had to be black. That was essential. A stainless steel case with a legible black dial. Simple Arabic numerals that glowed in the dark.

Twelve watch manufacturers stepped up to the plate. This included Omega, Longines and IWC.

The result was an iconic timepiece, produced in relatively small numbers by a dozen companies. The Dirty Dozen.

Swiss-based brand MWC have released their own modern version.

It's a handsome watch with a comfortable 36.5mm case and a Japanese automatic movement. It faithfully recreates this scarce wartime watch and would be one of the obvious places to start if you're a fan of aged lume.

MWC Dirty Dozen DD/01/AU/2

  • 36.5mm Diameter
  • 13.5mm Thick
  • 18mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Automatic movement
  • Plexiglass
  • 50M Water Resistance

 


San Martin Water Ghost Dive Watch

Like the MWC, this model uses the aged lume on a watch that harks back to a previous era.

This is a homage to the watch that Sean Connery wore in the early James Bond films. It's San Martin's take on a 1960s Rolex Submariner.

San Martin is a new Chinese company. They were founded by industry veteran Liao JiaMing in 2016 and specialise in affordable homage watches.

Stylistically, this watch ticks the boxes that you'd expect. It has the aged lume, Mercedes hands and the prominent crown that the early Rolex's were known for.

It's a cracking piece and in an era of over-sized watches, it's refreshing to have a modest 38mm case. That adds to the authenticity. If the MWC is too small for you, the San Martin is a touch larger.

The specs are good and include a sapphire crystal and Seiko's reliable NH35 automatic movement - the same movement as the Dirty Dozen watch.

The size and simple colouring mean that this is a versatile watch. And it can be worn like Sean Connery wore his, with a canvas NATO strap.

This is an inexpensive way to get a vintage Rolex look. And the aged lume reinforces that aesthetic.

San Martin Water Ghost 6200

  • 38mm Diameter
  • 13mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Automatic movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance

 


Undone Basecamp Cali Watch

The Undone Basecamp has a unique style that is hard to pin down. It’s a real eyecatcher and has a major selling point - Undone encourage you to customise your watch.

I’ve featured Undone a few times on the blog now because I enjoyed making my own watch.

Undone sent me a complimentary code that I used to make a vintage styled chronograph - check out my review of the process is here.

As I noted in that piece, Undone believe that customisation is a sign of luxury. Not price or brand name. Luxury can be the process of having a product personalised.

As a watch fan, I found the process enthralling.

I spent an afternoon with a friend designing watches, then had my favourite made and shipped to me. I chose the main parts of my watch - case, dial, hands and strap. And then they put it together for me.

The Basecamp Cali Bronze is one of their standard models. I’d caution messing too much with this watch design. Look at it closely. What needs to be improved?

The bronze case already looks to have some patina. The addition of the full bronze bezel reinforces this weathered appearance. It’s a mid-sized 40mm case with an angular crown and exhibition case back.

Through that clear back, you can see Seiko’s reliable NH35A automatic movement - the same as the previous two watches.

Where this watch excels is in the dial. It’s a textured black background with a California style layout. It means that the top half of the dial uses Roman numerals and the lower half Arabic numbers. And of course, it has aged lume.

It’s quirky, uncommon and a brilliant addition to the Basecamp collection.

Bronze watches are popular now. But California dials are less common. For me, that makes this a desirable watch.

Undone Basecamp Cali Bronze

  • 40mm Diameter
  • 15mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Bronze
  • Japanese Automatic Movement
  • Lexan Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance


Mathey-Tissot Rolly Vintage Watch

Mathey-Tissot is a Swiss brand most famous for making watches for Elvis. The Rolly Vintage is one of my favourue watches of theirs.

The name gives away it's inspiration.

Like the San Martin, a vintage Rolex has inspired this piece. And like the San Martin, the result is excellent. It's Swiss-Made automatic with a much-loved dive watch aesthetic. The aged lume finishing off the loom nicely.

It’s a comfortable size too. The 40mm case is just right for this design. It's bigger and chunkier than the San Martin. The 20mm distressed leather strap works well for a vintage-inspired watch.

The Rolly Vintage is a versatile daily wearer.

You’re probably here for those two words at the foot of the dial. Swiss-Made. I get it, it’s important. Particularly at this low price-point. So it’s pleasing to know that this model is Swiss-made, as is the automatic movement.

It’s a big selling point for the brand, but I’m also here for the design and the lume.

Stylistically, it's a straightforward Submariner clone. The colouring is simple and the retro lume contrasts nicely with the black dial and bezel.

It all works. The size, the vintage design and the Swiss production. Once you also take the price into consideration, this is a great aged-looking watch.

Mathey-Tissot Rolly Vintage H900ATLN

  • 40mm Diameter
  • 12mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • STP1-11 Swiss Automatic movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 


Nethuns Scuba 500 Watch

The Scuba 500 is Nethuns take on the classic Skin Divers watch. In keeping with the 62MAS style, the watch has an angular case with prominent lugs and a simple black bezel. It also has the aged lume that we're interested in.

There are several variations available, but I was drawn to this model that hints at Blancpain's Fifty Fathoms.

If you're unfamiliar with Nethuns, they're another young brand. This time from Hong Kong. Dive watches are their specialism.

At 41mm wide the Scuba 500 is a little larger than a vintage Skin Diver. That wouldn't be a dealbreaker for me. But the ethos of those early dive watches was to be slim and unintrusive.

I can live with 41mm, but bear in mind that this is a modernised design.

Elsewhere the watch is more faithful to the era. Both the dial and bezel are straightforward and have an aged lume to contrast with the black.

There is also a waffle-style rubber strap. This is very practical if you will be taking the watch in water. It also has a Seiko automatic movement and a vintage-looking domed sapphire crystal.

If you're a fan of Skin Divers, this is a great affordable option.

Nethuns Scuba 500 SS531B

  • 41mm Diameter
  • 15.7mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Automatic movement
  • Domed Sapphire Crystal
  • 500M Water Resistance

 


Eterna Super Kontiki Watch

Eterna is a Swiss heritage brand. Despite being owned by a Chinese holding company, they're still Swiss-based and Swiss-made.

Their Kontiki collection is well-regarded and traces its roots back to Thor Heyerdahl’s 1947 KonTiki expedition.

This madcap adventure involved Thor and his team building a raft and sailing from South America to Polynesia. They were trying to prove his theory that this could have been an ancient migration route.

The six Scanivanian's on the balsawood raft all wore Eterna watches. Needless to say, the watches excelled during the treacherous 5000-mile trip.

The Kontiki range has varied over the years. In the modern stable Eterna has this gorgeous tonneau cased dive watch.

It's another model with real vintage appeal. That is reinforced by the aged-looking lume and the distressed leather strap. The watch gives the impression of being a vintage piece.

At 45mm it's quite chunky, although it's not oversized. It's a real contrast to the MWC and San Martin models. In this case, the leather strap not only softens the look but also lightens the weight too.

As you'd expect, it has a Swiss movement - a Sellita automatic - a sapphire crystal and 200M of water resistance.

If like me, you're a fan of 1970s divers watches then this could be the model for you. It unashamedly harks back to that era and does a great job of recreating the aesthetic of the time.

Eterna Super Kontiki

  • 45mm Diameter
  • Stainless Steel
  • Automatic movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance


Bell & Ross BR V2 Watch

The final watch on my list is also the most expensive.

The BR V2 is an interesting watch. It doesn't fit neatly into a single camp. Sometimes that can be a plus. It can mean that the watch is versatile and suitable to wear every day.

That's the role that I see for this piece.

My first impression was that it's like the Nethuns. It's an updated version of the Skin Diver concept. A simple, clean and minimal dive watch. An antidote to modern chunky professional divers.

This model does remind me of the vintage lightweight dive watches of the 1950s. Albeit with a modern, larger 41mm case.

But it's more than that.

It also has an aviation influence that the Nethun's doesn't have. I'd expect that from Bell & Ross. The hands on this model are pilot-styled and the second hand has an aircraft as a counterweight.

But I'd suggest that it's still more of a diver's watch than a pilot's.

So what are you left with?

It's a watch that is neither an aviation piece nor a diver. The V2 has elements of both. That makes it a very good allrounder. It's a sporty piece that doesn't need to be pinned down.

The vintage elements are present and I particularly like the beige, aged-looking lume. But the crown guards give the watch a modern edge.

It's that successful blend of styles and era's that makes this watch a winner. It's ideal if you want a truly versatile watch.

Bell and Ross BR V2-92 Steel Heritage BRV292-HER-ST/SRB

  • 41mm Diameter
  • Stainless Steel
  • Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance


Conclusion


Retro looking lume isn't for everyone.

In fact, you might be surprised at how vehemently some people are against it.

But I'm a fan. I enjoy heritage and reissue watches and on some models, an aged-looking lume works great. It adds a touch of nostalgia and authenticity.

As you can see from the list, both big-name brands and Chinese homage companies have employed this design touch.

I've focused more on dive watches, but there are a few others that have a similar colour palette.

So follow these links and have a look yourself. And when you're done?

Pop your thoughts in a comment below. Let me know what you think. Aged lume - do you love it or hate it?

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