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The 7 Best Luminox Tritium Watches - A Buyers Guide

Posted on November 02 2020

Luminox is a modern watch brand that was created around the use of Tritium illumination. The brand produces military and outdoor tool watches, having created special editions for the US Navy Seals and others. In 2020 they partnered with Bear Grylls to produce a series of outdoor adventure and survival watches.

They’re a relatively well-known brand with a global presence. They are currently available in 50 countries, including a number of Luminox stores in Japan. They have created the brand around the concept of GTLS technology. In this post, I’ll take you through the company's history and explain the technology used in their watches. I’ll then highlight what I consider to be their best seven watches.

The History of GTLS


The story of the Luminox brand begins earlier than its founding in 1989. Two things were happening before this. The first was that Barry Cohen was working in, and becoming acquainted with, the watch industry.

At the same time, Swiss-based company MB-Microtec was developing GTLS - Gaseous Tritium Light Source. They were working on a way to safely use Tritium to illuminate watch hands and markers. Radium, a radioactive substance, had been banned from use in watches in the 1960s and replaced by the less radioactive Tritium. This was then superseded by modern lume’s

While modern lume’s, like Superluminova, are safe, they do have their limitations. For example, they need to be charged with light. Once charged they glow in the dark, but this weakens until they need to be exposed to light again. Radium and Tritium glow for years, even decades, due to their radioactive nature.

MB-Microtec’s innovation was to house the Tritium in a glass tube. The glass is lined with phosphorescent material and then filled with gaseous tritium. The illumination then lasts between 10 and 25 years.

The History of Luminox Watches


Having developed GTLS, MB-Microtec had applied the new technology to a number of projects. They had an interest in also applying this innovation to watch designs but hadn’t found much enthusiasm among the watch industry. That was until two American’s, Barry Cohen and Richard Timbo, came into the picture.

Barry signed an exclusive contract with the company to use the new technology in watches and created the company Luminox. It’s Latin for Lightnight. MB-Microtec would later go on to work with other watch brands and then launch their own, Traser.

As the first to market - producing a range of highly luminous sport and military watches - Luminox made quite an impact. I remember getting my first, the orange dialled 3000 series. It was so light, fun and obviously glowed in the dark more than any previous watch that I’d owned.

 

Luminox 3000 Series Watch

In the early 1990s Luminox won a tender to supply 1000 watches to the Navy Seals - a watch that they still produce now. The kudos the brand received by having the Navy Seals logo on their watches meant that they could go on to work with the U.S. Coast Guard, New York City Police Department, Singapore Air Force, Special Military Forces Israel and others.

Where are Luminox Watches Made?


Luminox now produces hundreds of thousands of watches each year, with production based in Switzerland. In 2017 the rules were changed as to what watches would qualify as Swiss-made and could be marketed as such.

All Luminox watches still meet the criteria to be sold as Swiss-made.

 



The designs are distinctive, with many using a carbon case. It’s why my 3000 series feels so light. The Cabonox case and mostly quartz movements mean that the are watches feel quite insubstantial. It can be a little deceptive when we’re often used to heavy stainless steel pieces with mechanical movements.

Luminox has its own aesthetic. If I was going to speak of a typical Luminox watch, like that issued to the Navy Seals, it would have some obvious features. An angular carbon case, a quartz movement, a rubber strap and of course, Tritium tube illumination. It would be light-weight and sporty.

The Best Luminox Watches


I’ve highlighted what I believe to be the best Luminox watches. As well as the outright best, I’ve also included some that are the best at a particular price-point and a selection of others that you really should take a closer look at.

 

Luminox Atacama Field Automatic Watch

 

The Best Luminox Watch


Of all the watches in the Luminox range - the Air, Land and Sea series - this is what I believe is the best watch. Ironically, it doesn’t have a typical Luminox design, but it’s a watch that I find really impressive. Let’s start with the basics.

It’s an automatic model. There are very few mechanical watches in the Luminox stable, understandable when the watches have been designed to work in extreme environments. But the fact that it is an automatic, a Swiss one at that, means I was keen to take a closer look at this watch.

Inspired by the Atacama desert, this is marketed as a watch to be worn in harsh environments, but also suitable for casual wear. I’m happy with that definition of a field watch.

The design is refined, with a beautiful cream dial that has the GTLS tubes built into the hour markers. Additional tubes adorn the hands, giving 24hr illumination. The black contrasting date window and orange accents add colour without compromising the tool watch look.

At 44mm, it’s well-sized for a modern watch and the matt stainless steel case has a screw-down case-back. That and the screw-down crown ensure the 200M water resistance.

The olive strap enhances the military vibe and can be swapped out if you do want to smarten up the watch.
Definitely my number one Luminox.

Luminox Atacama Field Automatic 1709.NF


  • 44mm Diameter
  • 14mm Thick
  • 24mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance


       

      Luminox Bear Grylls Survival Eco Watch

       

      Bear Grylls should need an introduction, particularly in the UK. He’s the face of outdoor survival. An ex-SAS soldier and survival instructor turned TV presenter.

      In a fitting partnership, Luminox teamed up with Grylls to produce a signature series of watches. Of the five designs in the collection this, the Survival Eco, is the one that I like the best. Indeed, it’s among the best in the whole Luminox line.

      In a previous post, I examined eco-friendly watches and highlighted some of the innovative ways that watch manufacturers are beginning to repurpose materials to use in watch production. The Survival Eco is a good example of this.

      Waste plastic from Thailand is collected and sorted by local fisherman and turned into the material used to produce this watch case. Rather than end up in the sea it ends up on our wrists. Additionally, money from the sale of each watch is donated to Project Aware, an organisation of scuba divers who work to protect our sea’s.

      The watch itself is a nicely styled piece, very much in keeping with the Luminox brand. This time the plastic case actually looks like an aged metal, possibly bronze. Rather than presenting as a modern watch, the case resembles something with a bit of age.

      The textured dial incorporates Gryll’s logo in place of the number ten and his motto, Never Give Up, on the lower half of the dial. As expected there are GTLS tubes on the hands and at points around the dial. There are orange accents to contrast with the blue and the overall effect works well.

      It’s also a limited edition model.

      Luminox Bear Grylls Survival Eco 3703

      •  45mm Diameter
      • 14mm Thick
      • 24mm Lug Width
      • Case made from 100% recycled ocean-bound plastic material
      • Swiss Quartz Movement
      • Sapphire Crystal
      • 200M Water Resistance


       

      Luminox Sea Turtle Giant Watch

       

      The Best Budget Luminox


      Named after the Leatherback turtle, this is another impressive watch. Again, it’s very much a design that sticks to the familiar house style. It has a 44mm angular Carbonox case and quartz movement, making it very typical of the Luminox range.

      Although it is from the Sea collection and has 100M water resistance and a rotating bezel, the beige numerals and chapter ring give the watch a military look. This is enhanced by the canvas Nato strap, a design more suitable for land than sea.

      The lume once again is positioned at key points, namely the hands, bezel pip and 10, 20, 30 minutes etc. It makes for a very legible and functional watch - the larger numbers only being broken by a neat date window.

      If you’re already a fan of the Luminox style then this is a great take on it. A watch built to be used on water, but with a design that hints at a vintage military vibe. The Nato strap has the advantage of being cheap and easy to swap out or replace if damaged.

      Luminox Leatherback Sea Turtle Giant

      •  44mm Diameter
      • 12mm Thick
      • 22mm Lug Width
      • Carbonox Case
      • Swiss Quartz Movement
      • Mineral Crystal
      • 100M Water Resistance


       

       

      Luminox Pacific Dive Watch

       

      The Best Luminox Under £500


      If I was spending more than the previous watch, then this would be the watch I’d purchase. It’s a more conventional divers watch, but with a touch of Luminox’s style.

      The case is more as I’d expect from a divers watch. The Carbon and recycled plastic cases have been put to one side in favour of more traditional stainless steel. There are two other variants -  a black dial version on a rubber strap and a blacked-out model. I prefer this fully stainless steel piece with the deep blue dial.

      Although the Carbonox case is gone there’s still the core Luminox DNA present. The case still has the angular aspect, with the blocky crown guards. Crucially, the Tritium illumination is also there - in familiar areas.

      It’s another quartz model and features a sapphire crystal and 200M water resistance, making it a legit diver. At 44mm it’s a comfortable size for both active use and office wear, and more than the other two variations, this does feel like it would make a good desk diver.

      If £500 is your top budget, take a closer look at the Pacific Dive.

      Luminox Pacific Dive 3123

      •  44mm Diameter
      • 12mm Thick
      • 24mm Lug Width
      • Stainless Steel
      • Swiss Quartz Movement
      • Sapphire Crystal
      • 200M Water Resistance



       

      Luminox Original Navy Seal Watch

       

      This was really where the Luminox story began for me, and where the brand really picked up the pace. The collaboration between the watch manufacturer and the Navy Seals produced a watch that combined the new GTLS technology with Swiss watchmaking know-how and additional suggestions from the Seals.

      The 3000 series was the result. As you can see above, I grabbed one.

      It’s a deceptively light-weight watch. Each aspect feels quite insubstantial, but without being flimsy. The opposite of course is nearer the truth. The carbon case is lighter than steel but very strong and versatile. The rubber strap is again lighter than steel, but comfortable and ideal for submersion. The quartz movement doesn’t have the beauty of a mechanical engine, but it’s more accurate and saves further weight.

      The watch is therefore practical and highly functional. With 200M water resistance, it can be taken in water and the carbon case and rubber strap can take any number of knocks. Design-wise - it looks like what it is. A watch designed to be worn on a daily basis by special forces units.

      If authenticity and practical application are your thing, this is a great model to consider.

      Luminox Original Navy Seal 3001.F

      •  43mm Diameter
      • 12mm Thick
      • 22mm Lug Width
      • Carbonox Case
      • Swiss Quartz Movement
      • Hardened Mineral Crystal
      • 200M Water Resistance


       

      Luminox Ice Sar Artic Watch

       

      In another collaboration, Luminox teamed up with ICE-SAR, the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue. Obviously, carrying out rescues in the harsh Nordic environment presents any number of challenges - particularly during extended periods of darkness.

      The watches designed to excel in this job retain the Luminox aesthetic, but with a few interesting modifications. By picking the model with black numerals on a black dial, I’ve probably picked the least legible of the collection, so I’m maybe not doing it justice. However, for me, this is the most attractive design in the line. Although maybe not the most practical.

      It’s a chunky 46mm wide. Of course, with a light carbon case, it’s not too intrusive to wear. The crown is, however, quite substantial and the strap is wide at 24mm.

      I like that there’s plenty of colour on these models. This even includes red contrast stitching on the rubber strap. The red accents on the otherwise black model are probably what attracts me most to this variant. It looks functional but is quite stylish too.

      A nice little touch is that the number at 12 o’clock has been modified. It instead has 112 - an emergency number in some European countries.

      The Ice Sar line has a bit more flair than some of the other Luminox collections.

      Luminox Ice Sar Arctic 1002

      •  46mm Diameter
      • 13mm Thick
      • 24mm Lug Width
      • Cabonox Case
      • Swiss Quartz Movement
      • Sapphire Crystal
      • 200M Water Resistance

       
      Luminox Navy Seal Steel Watch

       

      The final watch on my list brings together the design elements of the brand - the core DNA - and repackages it in a stainless steel case. Essentially we have the distinctive Luminox turtle case, with its unique shape and bezel, the trademark GTLS, all in a heavy-duty diver’s watch.

      It’s a real winner for me. The carbon cases are great, and make a real alternative to stainless steel. The Eco case also has the advantage of having been manufactured from what would otherwise be sea waste. But there’s still a place for heavy, polished steel.

      At 45mm wide and with a 24mm bracelet, this is quite a jump from my fun 3000 series. It feels like a more rugged watch. It has a screw-down crown, sapphire crystal and the overall package reminds me of my Reactor Trident - a watch I often describe as bulletproof.

      This is a good watch to round out the list with. The design is on point. It’s exactly what the best Luminox watches look like. And it feels like a watch that will last the 25yrs that the lume will continue to glow.

      Luminox Navy Seal Steel 3258

      • 45mm Diameter
      • 14mm Thick
      • 24mm Lug Width
      • Stainless Steel
      • Swiss Quartz Movement
      • Sapphire Crystal
      • 200M Water Resistance

       

      Conclusion


      Luminox were pioneers of GTLS technology. By partnering with MB-Microtec they have been able to safely use radioactive Tritium in watches. Without the need to charge the lume with daylight, it is more practical and long-lasting.
      This lume last 25yrs without any charging.

      By subsequently partnering with the US Navy Seals they were also able to field-test and refine their designs. The Swiss-made watches that they produce now are rugged and highly functional. To achieve this the brand has developed its own distinctive style. 

      From the Original Navy Seal - the basic Luminox model - to the Atacama, a refined mechanical piece. The current Luminox range should be one of the first places you look for an outdoors watch.

      Which model is your favourite Luminox?

       

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