Classic tritium illuminated military watches are hugely popular yet more divisive than you may imagine. In certain circles they are simply seen as rugged issue kit to be relied upon. However in watch-world they are less appreciated. As someone said to me the other day, they are just not “watch-guy” watches. They seldom have fine movements tending to favour singularly generic quartz modules. They all look similar and most have an exceptionally light case probably made from some form of polymer or compressed carbon. Finally they do not have traditional lume but are equipped with glass tubes filled with tritium. They are the complete antithesis of the classic mechanical wristwatch.
The Magazine has previously covered the 1980s military history which spawned the tritium watch revolution so I won’t retread old ground. Suffice to say that the US introduced this technical requirement and it has been with us ever since. Three brands quickly dominated the market by winning significant military contracts. They are Luminox, Traser and Marathon. All make excellent tough watches which sport copious amounts of tritium making them real gems in low light. The brands use a similar construction method for their best sellers which make them super light and extremely tough. They have all spread their wings into less militaristic designs such as dive and field (with mixed success) and continue to innovate at fair prices for what you get. The reason their mainstay products are so similar is that they are all trying to match locked military spec which permits limited design wiggle room. The upshot is that all these rather similar watches are seldom seen as the afore mentioned “watch-guy” products but if you happen to grab a coffee in a US military base café then you could be forgiven for thinking that these three brands were the only watches in the world.
However there is a fourth player. Smaller than the others, but no less combat ready. In fact one of their models has been selected by the British Special Air Service. We speak of Nite Watches from the UK.
Following a chance meeting at the London World Time event last month we had a lot of hands on with Nite Watches. Our stands were located next to one another and it was not long before respectful curiosity overcame us all. By the end of the show we had agreed to review a couple of Nites and without further delay let’s take a closer look at the brand.
Nite was created back in 2003 by Roger Green after he was impressed with the performance of Tritium illumination and realised that other people like him would appreciate a UK based well-engineered watch that used this technology.
Today, Nite is still proudly based in the idyllic coastal town of Christchurch on the South coast of England where they design all their watches, run an in-house service centre and dispatch every order by hand. Selling their watches exclusively through the website enables them to deliver a truly personal service and allows for the tailoring of watches to meet the needs of an ever growing community of professional and civilian users around the World.
They currently have three families of watch: the Alpha, Hawk and MX10. The latter of which is in service with the SAS. We had an Alpha and Hawk on test.
There are 19 Alpha variants in total which offer different strap, dial and tritium configurations. We had the Alpha T100 Green/Orange on a stainless bracelet.
The supplied Nite box is black on black so when you open it the blue dial 42mm Alpha really stands out. Its like finding an iridescent gem in the darkest recess of a jewel box. Lots of interesting mechanical angles and an explosion of rich colour and steel hits you.
The 2022 Alpha is Nite’s reimaging of the classic dive watch. It is one of their less militaristic models dropping firmly into the bracket of a top grade tool watch. With highest permissible T100 Tritium illumination, legibility is outstanding in all light levels. Bold indices and syringe hands make accurate time keeping a certainty in what is a well conceived dive watch.
300m water resistance means that the watch will take what you throw at it if your planned deployment is as a Field or Outdoor watch and of course the Alpha can be bought as a professional underwater watch. It is always refreshing to see a dive watch which really works to move away from the obligatory Rolex Submariner look. You cannot help but admire the imaginative flair and use of bold colour and the Alpha reminds me in many ways of offerings from Squale (take that as a compliment). At the difficult price zone of £560 the Alpha is neither cheap nor expensive but it does deliver high quality materials to really bat above its weight – which is a not insubstantial 182g! So on balance the price is fair.
A colour co-ordinated ceramic bezel gives a premium feel and provides a robust scratch resistant surface. The bezel itself has a highly mechanical look which really works aesthetically and is clearly designed to offer maximum grip with neoprene or cold weather gloves on.
The dial itself is the star of the show – as it should be on a tritium watch. The intense luminescent material glows with a bright light for 20+ years and makes the Alpha highly visible as natural light fades in the ocean depths. Nite offers blue, orange, and green tritium all of which are the more powerful T100 strength rating. Some competitors offer a more subdued T25 millicurie radiation level as the higher level is not always permitted for import into some countries. Fortunately T100 is fine in the UK so we can enjoy the light show. A sapphire crystal lens seals the dial away.
Ticking away (rather than sweeping) is a Ronda 715Li quartz movement. From a journalistic perspective, its hard to get excited about this heart of the machine but it does the job well and will provide all the accuracy you’ll ever need. Personally, I have no issue with a decent quartz and thankfully the Nite designers have selected the higher end Lithium 715 which delivers a 10 year battery life. Interaction with the movement is via a very well designed screw in crown that bears a similarity to a Breitling Avenger crown.
The watch is supplied on a chunky and visually impressive brushed steel bracelet with double clasp lock and contoured links. Fit and finish is excellent and I really want to comment on the 22mm end pieces which fit absolutely seamlessly into the case. This is always a nice indicator of superior design.
To summarise the Alpha it’s a highly capable tool watch which will serve you well and deliver a level of design which one would expect to pay at least another £500 for. There is no question, on first reveal, the watch looks like it should cost a lot more than it does and on the wrist it wears comfortably and feels reassuringly robust. If you are in the market for a 300m model with superior visibility the Nite Alpha is well worth considering.
I mentioned we had two watches in for assessment. They could not be more different and you could be forgiven for thinking they came from different manufacturers. Let us now enter a fundamentally different world with the Nite Hawk.
The Hawk is a versatile outdoor/tactical watch which represents everything you would expect from this genre. It doesn’t pull out any major surprises but that’s how it should be as most of these watches are in line with an accepted military spec. And the Hawk is batting up against some big hitters we mentioned earlier such as Luminox.
The Nite Hawk’s 70g carbon fibre polycarbonate case and rotating bezel are tough and functional. The contours of the bezel are well thought out and it can be activated easily with thicker tactical or outdoor gloves. The Hawk we had was supplied on a silicon strap to keep weight down but I swapped this out early for a ZULUDIVER Military Nylon strap for outdoor use. Its just my thing on a tactical watch and shaves a few more grams off the weight.
As with the Alpha a critical part of Nite’s USP on the Hawk is tritium tubes which offer exceptional clarity in all lighting conditions. The Hawk we had on test was an orange dial T25 rated watch which was noticeably lower in luminosity than the T100 Alpha but it is still capable of outshining traditional luminescence come the early hours of the morning. A T100 Hawk is available if you really want more powerful lume.
A Ronda quartz beats in the Hawk as it does in the Alpha and will meet all accuracy needs. Despite the lack of a screw down crown the Nite Hawk is water resistant to 200M and is fitted with scratch resistant sapphire crystal with triple anti reflective coating.
The Hawk wears as well as you would expect. Like all models in this genre you very soon forget you have it on due to the lack of weight and mass. Which is quite a feat when you consider that the watch is 51mm in diameter. Legibility in day or night is super clear thanks to a well designed dial.
Does the Hawk stand out against Luminox or Traser? Yes it does. It is technically a very similar watch, for all the obvious reasons, but where Nite steps ahead is how they have nailed the bezel. I own all the other brands and can comfortably report back that the Hawk bezel is much more tactile than those fitted to the competitors. Its deep recesses provide a superior grip with gloves.
Strap Suggestions for the Alpha and Hawk:
Like any watches the Alpha and Hawk can always benefit from a change of look. And this is not just about aesthetics. A smart re-strap can preserve leather or avoid scratching steel. So with that in mind, here are a few suggestions for the Nites which reads across to any dive or polymer watch.
The Alpha lends itself perfectly to a rubber dive strap or a high quality Military Nylon. As we had the blue dial Alpha we would recommend the following.
PHALANX Marine Nationale Military Nylon Watch Strap - Blue/Orange - Satin
This bulletproof Military Nylon is from the Phalanx stable and is perfectly suited to the blue dial Alpha. Thoroughly field tested by our experts these straps support all watches with either 20mm or 22mm lug widths and come in a range of subdued camouflaged colours, each one representing a different theatre of operation in Special Forces life. Made from specially woven nylon these straps are based on the original G10 design and will resist salt water and mud, washing easily to their original condition and drying quickly.
ZULUDIVER Seacroft Waffle FKM Rubber Dive Watch Strap (MkII) - Blue - Brushed Buckle
Again picking out the striking blue of the Alpha the Seacroft takes inspiration from 1960s Seiko waffle straps. The ZULUDIVER Seacroft FKM watch strap is a thoroughly modern design made without compromise. It is technically one of our most advanced diver straps with robust characteristics making it ideal for any watch which lives in challenging climates.
It is highly flexible for comfort over long periods. Has full length strap adjustment holes allowing easy wear over a wetsuit or clothing. The lowest keeper is retained and won’t move up the strap and quick release spring bars for easy strap changes.
FKM is an extremely hard-wearing rubber compound highly resistant to salt water, aggressive chemicals, and extreme temperatures (as low as -45C and high as +300C). It is the perfect choice for a high-end rubber watch strap designed to be fitted to the toughest watches and tackle the harshest environments. Lastly the strap is finished with our brushed steel buckle that is deep etched with our trademark ZULUDIVER logo, so you can take reassurance from the build quality that comes with the name ZULUDIVER.
As the Hawk comes on a soft rubber strap we have just one full proof alternative recommendation. A good Military Nylon! At 24mm the choice is limited but fortunately ZULUDIVER makes some excellent larger size G1098 spec straps. When you have a tactical watch like the Hawk just keep it simple and stylish. I suggest you try either a Black ZULUDIVER 141 Nylon Military Nylon or a Classic Bond Nylon Military Nylon with PVD IP Black metalwork. Either of these will work exceptionally well on the Nite Hawk and take all of the rough treatment you can throw at such a durable watch.
In summary. Nite Watches are the successful evolution of accepted designs taken to a more imaginative level and well built. Clearly the Nite design team have not been satisfied to just clone other watches. On each model they have tried to advance a genre and they should be applauded for that. Next time you are looking for a 300M dive or Tactical watch make sure you check out Nite’s website.