Taking the phrase 'go-anywhere watch' to a whole new level...
It is difficult to write meaningfully about Luminox without mention of the Special Forces unit which brought them to the world’s attention and still today inspires much of their design. The US Navy SEALs are an elite combat unit who rightly enjoys a reputation as one of the finest Special Operations units in the world. Synonymous with underwater activity they are equally at home on the land and have seen service in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and are perhaps most famous for bringing an end to the reign of Osama Bin Laden.To operate effectively in such extreme environments only the best tactical equipment will do. SEAL clothing, communications, weapons, and ancillary equipment is tested to high levels and to have your kit issued to the legendary Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), aka ‘SEAL Team 6’, is quite an accolade.
Suffice to say, the Units regulation issue watch is a LUMINOX. Like other watch success stories, Luminox came from an individual spotting a gap in the market and working hard to fill it. Barry Cohen discovered a self-powered illumination system utilising multi-coloured tritium gas trapped in tiny vials which glowed with a soft light for over 25 years after sealing. These vials were small and light enough to be fitted to a watch dial and crucially, hour, minute and second hands. Luminox was born in 1989 (in Latin Lumi-Nox, Light-Night), driven by a commitment to offer high-performance sports watches which offered clear legibility in all light conditions.
In 1993 Nick North, chief of SEAL tactical equipment procurement, had been tasked with finding a dependable watch for night missions and saw a solution at a trade show when he met the Luminox team. He subsequently worked with Cohen to develop a watch specifically for the Navy SEALs – the now legendary Military Dive 200m Model 3001. In the later words of North himself: “After testing a variety of brands in the most arduous conditions, Luminox was the only one still functioning at the end of the evaluation”. With their military kudos established, and sales performing well, Luminox was then asked to develop a watch for US Air Force pilots flying the stealth F-117 Nighthawk fighter. They produced a special model for the pilots, in partnership with Lockheed Martin, which was soon followed by another unique timepiece for F-22 Raptor crews. Luminox had quickly built a reputation as a go-to brand for Special Forces equipment.
At WatchGecko we feel that watches with this level of specialism merit some scrutiny and we have previously reviewed direct competitors such as Traser and Marathon. And this brings us neatly to the next model currently on test, a 2020 issue US NAVY SEAL Luminox Model 3501.
Luminox marketing has made great efforts to create and hone specific imagery when advertising these models which generates a certain level of expectation and anticipation with buyers. First impressions of ruggedness are especially important as purchasers of this model will consciously have selected a genuine Spec Ops inspired watch. Fortunately, Luminox does not disappoint even before you unbox the product.
The packaging is suitably robust with the watch arriving in a small-copy of a Peli-Case. If you have chosen to read this specific feature the chances are you know what a Peli-Case is, but if not, they are virtually indestructible polymer transport boxes favoured by all manner of professionals from photographers to the military. They are amazing pieces of kit, and it is fitting that the Navy SEAL 3501 comes in its own Luminox branded mini-version of a Peli-Case, all be a copy.
On first view, you are immediately struck by the stark precision of the white and black contrast of this large 45mm watch and then the eye is drawn to the red second hand, standing out, like a pointer telling you which way to proceed after being dropped behind enemy lines. At the 12 mark the famous Luminox shield logo is the only other splash of colour with its faint red outline.
Legibility is key with all Spec Ops watches and you can see instantly that the 3501 has been designed with that requirement foremost in mind. No matter what the angle or available light the time can be seen immediately which gives the watch a truly resourceful feel. Nevertheless, while we have already made passing reference stealth it is not a word you could apportion to the 3501. The watch has a significant visual impact. Everything on the dial seems super-sized. The complete antithesis, for example, to Trasers latest release, the P96. The hands of the Luminox, powered by a protected Ronda 515, are shaped like bullets and the tritium tube seems small in these large white pointers.
The 1-12 indices use bold numerals which really stand out and take up a considerable space. By contrast, a tiny 24-hour ring is almost lost beside these mighty numbers. The inner rehaut is sub-divided into minute markers for accurate timekeeping and as we progress outwards the bezel once again utilises a bold black and white design.
Night luminosity is provided by the aforementioned tritium vials which are placed horizontally at each hour marker, on the hands and a reference dot on the bezel. The 3501 uses blue lume for eleven of the markers and the second hand and orange for the 12 mark, both principle hands and the bezel. In zero light the time is clear, and the colour choice is aesthetically pleasing.
The overall effect is a watch where the time is remarkably easy to read but it does not do it subtly. There is a no-nonsense, zero margin for error, approach to the design of this Luminox which seems akin to the professionals who rely on it. The sheer boldness of this dial will not be to everyone’s taste, some may even think it garish, but if supreme legibility is a purchase factor you will not be disappointed.
The case is made from Luminox’s propriety CARBONOX material. It is ultra-lightweight and creates high-tech timepieces with a very rigid and hard finish which, quote: “takes ruggedness and durability to a whole new level”. CARBONOX consists of carbon powder in varying percentages depending on the watch model. Its properties are impressive; 6 times lighter than steel and 3 times lighter than titanium. The 3501 weighs only 71g. The case is non-metallic (useful for EOD work), anti-allergenic and anti-magnetic with strong chemical resistance. Unlike metal, CARBONOX does not get hot in warm temperatures or cold in extreme cold climates.
The case back is a sophisticated satin steel finish with the Navy SEAL logo engraved in the centre. This famous military insignia is four images in one; the Golden Eagle symbolises airborne capability, the pistol reflects skills on land and combat, the Trident shows dominance of the sea and the anchor represents the US NAVY.
The 24mm strap of the 3501 is made of polyurethane (PU), which typically lasts longer than rubber, especially in applications where it is constantly manipulated or otherwise exposed to stress. The strap is fastened by a smart Luminox branded buckle with a double fork to ensure maximum retention.
For a large watch, this model is very user friendly. Then lack of weight, the contour of the case lugs and the PU strap make the 3501 extremely comfortable to wear long term. At 14mm height, the watch is low enough to easily slip undercoats and clothing. If you are the market for a true, battle-proven, Special Operations watch with a polymer style case then you have a few clear choices of manufacturer. Luminox is one of those and they certainly have a strong look, in no way appearing generic as some pseudo-military watches do. The technical capability of the 3501 is beyond reproach, it simply would not have been selected by the units who wear it if it did not work and could take the knocks. It is more about whether the very bold looks of the watch appeal to you as an individual or whether you would prefer the more subtle approach of competitive models in this very select genre. If Luminox is the one for you it will be a fine choice and withstand any adventure you take it on.
US NAVY SEAL Luminox Model 3501 Technical Specification:
Luminescence capability: Constant glow for up to 25 years
Size of case (diameter): 45 mm
Water resistance (meters, feet, ATM): 200 / 660 / 20
Movement: Swiss Quartz Ronda 515
Case material: CARBONOX
Bezel: Uni-directional rotating
Case back: 316L Stainless steel screw-on
Crystal glass material: Hardened mineral crystal (550-650 Vickers)
Crown: Screw-in, double security gasket, crown protected
Strap / bracelet: PU
Lug width: 24 mm
Case height: 14 mm
Weight: 71 g
Price from Luminox UK: £349
Watch straps for the Luminox 3501 Navy SEAL.
There are specific straps which will look appropriate on a watch like the 3501 so in our usual excursion into the WatchGecko collection there will be a distinctly rugged theme. At 24mm there is also slightly less choice.
ZULUDIVER 141 Nylon Military Nylon Watch BandIt had to be included! The 141 is a classic and in black, with black metalwork, will look perfect on the Luminox 3501. Military Nylon watch straps have come a long way since the original Admiralty Grey 18mm bands of decades ago. But one thing that has not changed is the ruggedness and versatility of these straps. And the added security you get from having your watch attached to the strap independently at two points. If you should 'pop' a spring bar, perhaps while on a beach assault, the second spring bar will keep your strap and watch connected.
ZULUDIVER 286 Italian Rubber Waterproof Watch Strap
Perfect for the aspiring Navy SEAL diver or serious outdoor explorer. This rubber strap is manufactured by Bonetto Cinturini to their usual high standards in the same factory where OEM straps for many luxury watch brands are made. Cinturini is one of Italy’s top manufacturers of rubber watch straps for diving, swimming, athletics, and leisurewear. Synonymous with strength, suppleness, simplicity, and crisp detailing of the high-performance vulcanised NBR (not silicone rubber). An ND (No Decompression) Limits table is printed clearly on the strap tail which themes well with Luminox’s SEAL heritage.
Seaford Sailcloth Water-Resistant Leather Watch Strap in Black
The leather used for this strap has been through a patented finishing process during tanning to make it water-resistant. Made from a supple yet durable water-resistant leather this design is both practical and comfortable and with its contrasting stitching does not compromise on style. Made in Germany the top leather is embossed with an interesting dimpled texture and the soft lining is stamped with the Geckota logo for reassurance of quality. For that continued Spec Ops look why not swap the polished buckle on the Seaford with a PVD black buckle.
Final thoughtsI used to work regularly out of a Special Operations base in Jordan called KASOTC. It is worth a Google, just to see the Airbus. During moments of rest in this harsh place, there is a Pro-Shop which sells much-needed beverages and chocolate as well as all manner of personal items which may have broken during the day. Everything from belts to backpacks, holsters to watches. For many years, the watches for sale in KASOTC were Luminox and this theme carries over to similar sites globally. The people who use these facilities demanded the best equipment so you can take a leaf from their book and buy a Luminox with confidence. If you are looking for a rugged outdoor watch for your next hike or if you are an individual who puts themselves in harm's way to keep the rest of us safe, have a look at the 2020 Luminox collection. You may just find your perfect go-to watch.
Thank you to Gemma at Luminox UK for sending the 3501 out for review on loan. To find out more click here.