Luminous timepieces are designed to make nighttime reading a snap, but the story of luminosity has been a long—and sometimes dark!—one.
FROM TOP: Officine Panerai’s Luminor Submersible 1950 Carbotech™ 3 Days Automatic 47mm watch ($18,400) is crafted in a high-tech composite material based on carbon fiber. The watch offers a calculation of immersion time and has Super-LumiNova hands and markers. 9480A Brighton Way, Beverly Hills, 310-228-1515
From Omega, this Speedmaster Skywalker X-33 Solar Impulse Limited Edition Chronograph 45mm watch ($5,900) features a blue and green dial with white transferred indexes and hour markers coated with white Super-LumiNova. A multifunctional quartz chronograph movement powers the piece. Westime, 3832 Cross Creek Road, Malibu, 310-456-2555
This Hublot King Power Oceanographic 4000 watch ($45,900) is water-resistant to 4,000 meters. Crafted in a 48mm titanium case, the watch features Super-LumiNova hands and numerals, screw-down crown, and helium escape valve. It is built in a limited edition of 1,000 pieces. 9470 Brighton Way, Beverly Hills, 310-550-0595
Rolex’s Deepsea Sea Dweller watch ($12,350) is a COSC-certified chronometer with helium escape valve and water resistance to 3,900 meters. Its innovative Chromalight display casts a distinctive blue glow that lasts up to eight hours. The triangleshaped zero marker on the bezel is visible thanks to a capsule containing the same proprietary luminescent material as the Chromalight hands and markers. Rolex Boutique at Gearys Beverly Hills, 351 N. Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills, 310-273-4741
Creating a watch that glows in the dark sounds simple enough, but perfecting this technology has taken more than a century—sometimes with disastrous results.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, watchmakers attempted to add shine to their creations by crushing shimmering shells and iridescent volcanic materials and then painting them onto the dials. The first real possibility for true luminescence did not come until the early 20th century in response to Marie and Pierre Curie’s discovery of radium, but that sometimes-deadly practice was short-lived.
This spurred the development of new photoluminescent paints that absorbed energy from external light sources in the UV spectrum and reemitted it over a period of time, creating a legal—and safe—lumen. Then, in the 1990s, a nonradioactive substance called Super-LumiNova made its debut. The strontium aluminate material enables the watch numerals, markers, hands, and other dial accents to glow blue, green, or even red-orange, depending on the mixes used. Over the past two decades, the material has advanced due to a great deal of research and development, and it’s currently the market leader for luminous watch dials.
From Clerc, the Hydroscaph H1 Chronometer ($6,300) is a dive watch, waterresistant to 500 meters. It features an exclusive patented bezel that is rotated and locked by the crown, antireflective sapphire crystal, Super-LumiNova hands, and 3-D markers. David Orgell, 262 N. Rodeo Dr., Beverly Hills, 310-273-6660
There are other luminescent materials on the market as well, used by a handful of brands for dive and pilot watches. MB-Microtec is a major developer and supplier of a tritium-based material called gaseous tritium light source (GTLS), wherein radioactive material is encapsulated inside tiny glass tubes placed together to offer a brightness that can be as much as 10 times greater than applied Super-LumiNova. (It is worth noting that GTLS is forbidden in certain countries.) Super-LumiNova begins to dim after a short time, whereas tritium capsules will not dim for about 15 to 20 years. Additionally, while Super-LumiNova needs to be exposed to a light source to regenerate its power, the capsules are permanently luminescent during their lifetime. Of course, companies continue to strive to find new and different ways to give watches their ultrachic glow—but for now, these methods continue to shine brightest… and safest!