Lord of the lume – Six recommendations for watches with good lume for Throwback Sunday

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Lume. Some of us are obsessed with it. But others don’t seem to give two hoots. For us, we think lumes are the icing in the cake, but only for non-dress watches. And of course, the brighter the better. Here are our picks of 6 of what we feel are the best. 

We carried a story about the technical aspects of lume on a watch – the dial, indices, hands which make the watch visible and legible in the dark.

Lume primer article 

Photographs of the lume given by two of the watches in the list. Left is the Luminox, and right the Ball. Both use tritium filled gas discharge tubes.

Without further ado, here are our top picks, in no particular order:

Luminox Bear Grylls Survival 3740 Master Series

As mentioned, this list is in no particular order, but Luminox as a brand has built almost their entire collection on luminous watches. The mainstay of their collection feature the gas discharge tubes for the lume. Though Luminox was the first watch to use this technology, the tubes are made by  a Swiss company called MB-microtec, initially for use in other industries with applications as map readers in the field, exit signage, and safety. Luminox founder Barry Cohen approached MB-microtec to jointly develop the tubes for watches, and first used the technology in their watches. MB-microtec manufactures the tubes under brand name Trigalight. MB-microtec also makes their own line of watches called Tracer.

The gas discharge tube technology uses Tritium (H3) a radioactive gaseous isotope of hydrogen with half-life of 12.32 years that emits very low-energy beta radiation. The devices are similar to a fluorescent tube in construction, as they consist of a hermetically sealed (usually borosilicate-glass) tube, coated inside with a phosphor, and filled with tritium. The glass of the tube completely isolates the beta radiation from the H3 decay, and the radiation is used to exite the phosphor which then re-emits the radiation (beta radiation is electrons) as light.

Our pick from the numorous Luminox watches is the Bear Grylls Survival Master Series (was S$1,420 before tax but sold out), a personification of Bear himself. An alternative is the newer, simpler Luminox Bear Grylls Survival Eco 3703 (S$800, made with ECO friendly material but no chronograph). The watch has a complex dial, and comes with a booklet where Bear gives tips on how to use the watch in a survival situations. Granted that most who buy these watches will never have their lifes at stake, but it is good to know that the Luminox Bear Grylls Survival 3740 is tough and fit for the job. Plus, the looks of the watch is rather attractive, with the loud orange strap, the always on glow in the dark lume, and the rugged proportions.

Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT

Like the Luminox, Ball also uses gas discharge tubes to provide lume, also from Mb-microtec. The Engineer Hydrocarbon is a watch which carries a toughness badge to absorb impacts of up to 7,500Gs, antimagnetic resistance of 4,800 A/m, water resistant to 300m.

Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT in the dark, showing the various colors of the micro gas discharge tubes.

The AeroGMT model carries three timezones as it was designed as a travel or pilot watch. The construction is excellent, and the watch feels very robust. The rotating bezel moves in both directions with satisfying and assuring clicks. The crown protection system, as we noted is a little gimicky perhaps, is well machined, and operates without glitch. The dial and bezel design is bold, clear, legible. And the asking price is S$4,500 for the stainless steel bracelet, and a little less for the rubber strapped version. We reckon this is rather well priced for a watch of this caliber: COSC certified movement, three timezones, excellent lume in a well made and engineered case.

We will be doing an update with the latest Engineer Hydrocarbon Original Limited Edition soon. We just received and spent a week with the watch.

Citizen Promaster Fugu

The Citizen Promaster Fugu is a very special range of dive watches, which offer a high quality workhorse for a very reasonable price. Priced at S$551 for the range of 3 watches, and a special edition of a full lume dial at a S$631. The latest NY011 is presented in a larger 44mm case, and the older collection released in 2018 and 2019 in 42mm case.

Bright, clear lume using Superluminova on the indices and hands. The trick here is, of course, the use of thick layers of Superluminova on the appropriately large sized markers and hands, allowing the glow to show up strongly.

The Fugu is a full out diving watch with 200m of water resistance, and with it, Citizen has carved out a nice niche in the modestly priced mechanical dive watch genre. It gets the aesthetics right, with Citizen taking care to ensure that finishing of the case, dial, hands, and the straps/bracelet are excellent. From this high level of aesthetic refinement to the build quality, the Fugu range is excellent.

HYT H4 Alinghi and Metropolis

The glow of the H4 is special. This is not a passive glow from a phosphor material which is charged by either light or by radioactivity. This watch, and the latest generation to use the technology, the HYT Flow which is in the current catalog uses an LED light. Is this cheating? Well it is cheating only if the LED light is powered by a battery or solar energy. In HYT’s case, the LED is powered by spring driven dynamo system. No electronics in the power system. This is an uber cool idea. And that it looks so magnificently beautiful, as the photograph below shows, is a HUGE bonus.

HYT H4 Alinghi with the LEDs activated, in the dark. The white light bathes the entire movement and the time can be read clearly. Not something which is easily done in the dark with the H1 as the liquid does not take to addition of a luminous substance. Note the light spill from the LEDs, creating a beautiful background for the watch. Very cool.

The base watch is HYT’s regular H1, if any liquid display HYT can be called regular by any stretch of imagination. The completely mechanical timekeeping movement is made by Mojon, and constructed in a classical haute horlogerie style. To this, the time display is a totally unconventional retrograde liquid display hour system and a regular minute hand. The two bellows which hold the liquid in equilibrium to accurately indicate the hours on the capillary tube is visible, and adds to the coolness of the look.

We believe both the H4 Alinghi and Metropolis are long sold out, but the retail at launch was S$136,000 and  S$127,000 respectively.

MB&F Black Badger HMX

The first iteration of the MB&F HMX was released in 2015 was released as apart of the 10th anniversary of MB&F. It was priced at S$47,800 which was near the cost price to produce the timepiece. This was done as a thank you by Max Busser to collectors for their support given to MB&F. When the Black Badger HMX was unveiled at Baselworld, MB&F were very open in disclosing the price difference between the new release and the first HMX.

The new MB&F Black Badger HMX looks very similar to the first HMX but it has been tweaked to give it some “Glow”.

The three available colors of the new MB&F HMX Black Badger in blue, green and purple.

MB&F timepieces have always oozed the cool factor, whether it is a timepiece from the Legacy Machine line or their Horological Machines. The MB&F Black Badger certainly has cool and additional glow factor from the Black Badger AGT Ultra giving one hell of a glow! Pairing the three timepieces with matching partially perforated calfskin straps that have the same colour as their respective glows is a nice touch. The three pieces in Radar Green, Phantom Blue & Purple Reign are limited to 18 pieces each and are priced at S$78,600, and by now sold out.

Sarpaneva Korona K0 Northern Lights

A magnificent piece, very limited is the Sarpaneva Korona K0 Northern Lights, and yet another collaboration using the lume technology of Black Badger Graphics. This series was released in 2015, in a collection of 8 pieces in 3 different lume colours. At EUR 14,500 at launch, it was considered a great value then, and was sold out quickly after.

The watch features Stepan Sarpaneva’s signature Korona case and unique looking “Moonface” moonphase. Looks good in daylight. The stainless steel case has been polished and a nice contrast is provided with the bezel having a brushed finish. The dial is a mesh-like DLC coated skeleton. But the K0 really comes alive in the dark. The hour, minute and seconds hands plus the hour markers on the dial are covered in SuperLuminova, but the pièce de résistance is the dial itself. The dial glows brightly just like “Aurora Borealis” the Northern Lights. The glow adds depth to the dial and provides the moon-phase with a completely different look. The luminous material needs to be charged up, to produce the cool glow. Walking in the sun for a little while will produce a very bright glow which will gradually fade, but will continue to last for many hours.

Concluding thoughts

The first note we might make is that of the six watches on this list, perhaps all are models which are limited edition and sold out. But we included them anyway for two reasons. First, the lack of supreme examples of the art of lume. And second, these watches are still available in secondary markets at pre-owned prices which are usually not a premium over retail.

We hope you have enjoyed this episode of Throwback Sunday. Tell us what are your go to lume watches, and why. And while you are at it, tell us also what you would like to see in future episodes of Throwback.



  1. The technical half-life time of Tritium gas activated tubes is around five years due to the diffusion of the Tritium gas through the tube itself and the destruction of the luminous zinc sulphide pigments. So after ten years, your watch is already at 25% of the initial brightness of the purchased watch. I would not be that sure, if such a technology should be recommended.