Watches Developed With the Help of SEALs

I have to admit I’ve been a serious Luminox watch fan for a long time. I was fortunate enough to have obtained one of their first models around 1994, and I wore it for the remaining ten years of my military career. Our medical sergeant turned me on to them, explaining that they were highly rugged, waterproof, and, best of all, had tritium tubes at all of the indices that glowed on their own at night; no need to “charge” them, they kept their glow for 25 years. What closed the deal is that they had a glowing tritium tube on the second hand, and that allowed him to take someone’s pulse in total darkness. Precision timing in the dark…I was sold. So, I bought one, used it in almost any imaginable situation, and the thing never wore out.

Well, that’s not 100% true. In 2017 I noticed that the bezel (the ring that rotates around the face of the watch) was cracked. I called the company about getting a new one and started telling them my story. Long story short, I ended up talking with the man in Switzerland who owned the company. Did I mention these are Swiss watches? He found my story so interesting that he asked if I’d send him my watch to be included in a collection in the company museum in Switzerland. In return, he’d send a new one. I hated to let old faithful go, but I did, and they kept their promise and sent me a brand new ANU (Authorized for Navy Use) diving watch. It’s part of my regular rotation when I need something rugged. They also included my story and photo in their trade publication, Luminox Times, making me a quasi-official brand ambassador.

Back in the early 90s, now-retired Navy SEAL Nick North (featured in the video below) with heavily involved with the research and development of new equipment for the Teams. He was approached at that time by Luminox and asked to put their new watch through the paces. As the story goes, after testing a variety of brands under the harshest of conditions, Luminox with the only one still functioning at the end of the evaluation period. Today, Nick is still going strong, and here he discusses the SEAL mantra, “The only easy day was yesterday.” 

 

Fast forward to September 27th, when I opened my email and saw an ad for the newest additions to the Luminox Air Series of timepieces. The ad featured the P-38 LIGHTNING and the CONSTELLATION (that’s how they spell the names, with all caps, so who am I not to follow suit?). I thought they were fantastic and unique and thought you would too. So, I asked the kind folks at Luminox if they could send one of each for me to review for SOFREP readers, and they were more than happy to do so.

The P-38 LIGHTNING

The Luminox P-38 Lightening on a stand
The Luminox P-38 LIGHTNING is shown here on one of my Watchpod stands—a photo by the author.

I fancy myself a bit of a photographer, and I know you guys can see stock images of these timepieces anywhere, so I took all of these photos myself. Taking good pictures of watches is difficult, but these turned out well and reflect what the piece looks like in the real world.

Immediately you can see this is a Flieger, with styling inspired by the iconic German B-Uhren pilot’s watches of World War II. However, instead of having the number 12 at the top, they feature a triangle with dots on either side. Specifically, this is styled after a type B (Baumuster B) Flieger watch, with 24-hour timing featured on the inner sub-chapter ring.

This is a printed dial with a color-matched date wheel. The hands are unique in that the hour hand features what looks like a delta-winged aircraft. Watch fans may refer to it as a “syringe-type” hand. The face is well balanced, with the Luminox logo above the pinion and the words P-38 appearing below. At six o’clock, we see those all-important words, “Swiss Made.” We’re not dealing with any Chinese special here. At 4:30, we see the marking “T 25”. Our friends at hautehorologerie.org remind us that the radioluminescent indices are filled with tritium that emits less than 925 MBq (25 mCi). In the words of Jesse from Breaking Bad, “Yeah, science!”

We also note a fourth hand, outlined in bright red. This is the GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) hand that can be set to a second time zone. Let’s suppose you are a globe-trotting, best-selling author leaving NYC for some well-deserved time off in Europe. If you have a regular watch, you could set it to local time and manually do the subtraction in your head to remember what time it is back home. With a GMT watch, put the second hour hand to NYC time, and you can quickly tell what time it is back home and in your current time zone. It’s quite a useful complication for travelers.

The face is covered with a flat sapphire crystal with an anti-reflective coating. I’ve been field-testing these watches for about two weeks now and can tell you that reflection from the bright Florida sun is no problem with either of these watches. The case diameter is 42 mm, and it wears well on my seven-and-a-half-inch wrist. The notched bezel is fixed and does not rotate. The braided crown is nicely oversized and grippy, reminding you that this is a pilot’s watch, originally designed to be manipulated by someone wearing gloves. In my case, my arthritic fingers can turn it just fine. It screws down as well, helping to give the piece 100 meters of water resistance. This is more than enough for everyday use. But, of course, no one is going diving with a pilot’s watch.

P-38 lightning caseback
The Luminox P-38 LIGHTNING case is back. Photo by the author

The watch features a screw-down cashback and a crisp engraving of the Lockheed Martin P-38 aircraft that inspired it. The P-38 was designed by the Lockheed corporation for the Army Air Corps during World War II. It was a twin-boom aircraft with a central area containing the cockpit. As a result, it was almost impossible to mistake the P-38 for just about anything else in the sky.

One of the reasons I asked to review this particular model was the mesh bracelet. It’s also available on a leather strap, but I liked the look of the mesh. As you can hopefully tell from the photographs, the bracelet is extremely well made. The stainless steel conforms perfectly to the contours of your wrist, especially since it is infinitely adjustable.

P-38 lightning clasp
The clasp on the Luminox P-38 Lightning. Photo by the author

Here we see the clasp on the P-38, complete with pushers on both sides to keep it securely in place. The deeply etched Luminox logo is a nice touch.

Important Info: 

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  • Movement – Swiss quartz RONDA 515.24H with approximately 50-month battery life
  • Case Material – 316L Stainless steel (also makes up the bracelet)
  • Case Height – 14 mm
  • Weight 135 g
  • Luminosity – Always visible borosilicate tubes filled with tritium that constantly glows for up to 25 years.

You can find it here if you’d like more information on this piece.

The CONSTELLATION

Our second featured timepiece today is the Luminox CONSTELLATION (reference XA.9607). This retro-styled beauty is a 42 mm Swiss automatic powered by the SELLITA SW 200-1 movement.

Lumonox CONSTELLATION face
The Luminox CONSTELLATION is one of the newest in their Air Series of fine timepieces. Photo by the author.

The printed dial is what I would describe as Flieger-ish, with the triangle and two dots featured where the 12 might be. There is no inner ring of numbers, so this watch is reminiscent of a Type A or Baumuster A design. I’ve read literature saying that the dial is beige, but I’d call it more warm ivory or parchment. For you pilots out there, you’ll notice that the green and red ring on the outer perimeter of the dial puts you in mind an airspeed indicator.

Printing on the dial is well balanced, with the company logo above the pinion and a drawing of a Lockheed Constellation aircraft below. Under the aircraft, we see the word “automatic” written in all caps in an arched fashion. The outline of a globe fills out the area where numerals would be if this were a Type, B Flieger. All of this is exceptionally well thought out and screams the 1940s. Again, we note the words “Swiss Made” on either side of the 6 o’clock index marker and the designator “T 25,” indicating exactly where all that constant lume is coming from.

The date complication is on a black background with light numerals, and I think this looks better than if they had chosen to go with a color-matched wheel with dark numerals.

The hour and minute hands are of the syringe type, with a tritium tube on each. The watch features a baton-style secondhand with a red tip. This bit of color, along with the green and red “airspeed indicator,” helps to give the dial a bit of a pop. A slightly domed piece of anti-reflective coated sapphire protects the face and provides the perfect amount of old-school distortion when viewed from the right angle.

Lockheed Constellation C-69 in flight
A Lockheed Constellation C-69, with military markings, in flight. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Constellation went into service with the US Army Air Force in 1943. After the war, it found fame during the Berlin airlift and as a presidential aircraft for Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Surrounding the face of our timepiece is a bidirectional coin-edged bezel with only the slightest hint of back play. The case and buckle are ever so lightly brushed 316L stainless steel. The oversized, branded screw-down crown helps achieve the 100 m water resistance rating—more than adequate for this kind of watch.

The caseback of the constellation is deeply embossed
The case back of the Luminox CONSTELLATION. Photo by the author.

One of the stars of the show here is the deeply embossed case back. It’s a beauty, probably the nicest of any watch I’ve personally reviewed. My apologies for the dirt; that’s just proof I’ve been wearing it. As you can see, it screws down to the watch. The photo above also gives you a good view of the deep grooves cut into the crown. Easy to grip, easy to twist. The thick, rich brown leather strap is supple and 22 mm wide.

If you are interested in finding out more about this timepiece,  you can do that here.

full view of the watch and strap
My favorite shot. You can see the entire timepiece. I photographed this on top of one of my grandfather’s original flight manuals when he was training to be part of a B-17 crew in WWII. Photo by the author

Important Info: 

  • Movement – SELLITA SW 200-1
  • Case Material – 316L Stainless steel (also makes up the clasp)
  • Case Height – 14 mm
  • Weight 105 g
  • Luminosity – Always visible borosilicate tubes filled with tritium that constantly glows for up to 25 years.
The Constellation glowing in the dark
The money shot. The lume of both of the watches is the same. Photo by the author

I’ve saved the best shot for last, and let me tell you; it is not easy to take with a cell phone camera. The shot above does, however, give you a good idea of how bright the glow is from both of these watches. This particular photo is of the CONSTELLATION, but the lume setup is the same on both pieces—orange on the hands and the 12 o’clock index. I had my original Luminox for 23 years before I gave it up, and I can attest to the fact that it still glowed brightly enough to see at night, even after all that time easily.

So, if you are a military buff looking for a new, rugged watch that will last you a lifetime, here are two pieces you’ll definitely want to consider. Hell, go ahead and buy them both. These things are kind of like potato chips in the fact that once you have one, you are going to want more. I speak from experience.