Luminox 3860 Master Carbon – Elite Tactical Equipment

Luminox 3860 Master Carbon – Elite Tactical Equipment

7 min read
Richard Brown



Richard Brown



The Luminox Master Carbon 3860 Automatic represents a flagship entry into the Navy SEAL portfolio from the brand.

Luminox Master CarbonLuminox Master Carbon - Credit WatchGecko

The Navy SEAL models have existed within the Luminox catalog for 30 years. In fact, it was partly the issue of Luminox to this elite unit that brought the watch to international attention.

The traditional Navy SEAL models are priced around £400 to £500, which is a little more for an entry-level model than competitors such as Traser or Nite. However, Luminox has always had the kudos of being deployed with one of the most famous Tier 1 Spec Ops units. The 3860 parachutes in at hefty £999, which is £250 more than the previous Master Carbon, although we have seen it cheaper in the USA. So, what makes it different, and is it worth it?

US Navy SEALs & Luminox

First, let's take a quick look at the history of Luminox to put into context why the brand has introduced this new model, which is no doubt expected to elevate the SEAL range to a new audience.

You cannot write about Luminox without an explanation of who the US Navy SEALs are. Part of the US Navy’s Naval Special Warfare Command, the SEALs (Sea, Air, and Land) are an elite combat unit that has a serious reputation as one of the finest Special Operations units in the world. They are equally at home on the land and have seen service from Vietnam to Afghanistan. To operate in such harsh combat conditions, SEALs only carry the best tactical equipment. Everything packed is strictly tested, so to have your kit issued to the DEVGRU, aka ‘SEAL Team 6’, is a testament to the quality of your product. As we alluded to before, SEALs use LUMINOX.

Luminox Master CarbonLuminox Master Carbon - Credit WatchGecko

Barry Cohen created Luminox (in Latin Lumi-Nox, i.e., Light-Night) back in 1989 when he discovered a self-powered illumination system utilizing multi-colored tritium gas trapped in tiny vials which glowed with a soft light for over 25 years after sealing. The vials were small and light enough to be fitted to a watch dial and hour, minute and seconds hands.

Four years later, the Head of SEAL Equipment Procurement was ordered to source a dependable combat capable watch especially suited to night missions. He met the Luminox team at a trade show and subsequently worked with Cohen to develop a watch specifically for the unit. The result was the Military Dive 200m Model 3001. And Luminox watches have been on just about every SEAL mission since that first issue.

Hands on with the Master Carbon 3860

Initial hands-on with the new Luminox 3860 does not disappoint. Despite the case being made from Luminox’s proprietary and super light material CARBONOX, the watch feels very solid and is 39g more than the traditional CARBONOX Navy SEAL model 3501.

Luminox Master CarbonLuminox Master Carbon - Credit WatchGecko


Because the 3860 has two major changes from the standard model, an automatic movement and a display display back. However, we would never accuse Luminox of falling into the annoying trend seen with some watch manufacturers who want us to believe that weight translates to quality. It doesn’t. At 110g, Luminox have made this watch as light as they can given the machinery within.

There is no question this watch feels in every way a superior model, and the high standard of manufacture and attention to detail is very apparent. In fact, the more we look at the watch, the more clever it becomes. Luminox has seamlessly and oh-so cleverly blended the tactical ethos that we love with a smarter and more sophisticated look. Take, for example, the beautiful texturing on the dial. The upshot: the Master Carbon would look equally appropriate on your wrist at a fashionable wine bar watching power boat bob in the marina or under the backdraft of a Blackhawk prior to you forcing entry to a nondescript house in a hot, dusty country.

Technical Details

Luminox Master Carbon
Luminox Master Carbon - Credit WatchGecko

Let's summarise the 3860’s technical details.

As with all models, it is made in Switzerland, and Luminox proudly tells us that the manufacture of the watch is comprehensively CO2 neutral and falls within scope 1, 2, and 3 of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. These standards are becoming more important to watch owners hence the reason we see many environmentally friendly packages.

Through the display case back, we can see an automatic (self-winding) Sellita SW220-1, which beasts at 28,800 mph. It offers a 41 hrs power reserve, 26 jewels, shock protection, a ball-bearing rotor, bidirectional winding rotor, hacking, and manual winding function.

The tritium gas vials glow in green and orange color and will give exceptional luminescence for 25 years, although you can expect some degradation about halfway through that lifespan. Only the hour hand, 12 markers, and bezel pip are in orange. As this is a functional 200 meter water-resistant watch, we have a unidirectional rotating bezel which is solid and purposeful.

Luminox Master CarbonLuminox Master Carbon - Credit WatchGecko

The case, which is the highlight for us, is made from Luminox’s CARBONOX. This is an ultra-lightweight material which creates a very rigid and hard finish. CARBONOX consists of carbon powder in varying percentages depending on the model. It is 6 times lighter than steel and 3 times lighter than titanium. The material is anti-allergenic and anti-magnetic with strong chemical resistance. Unlike metal, CARBONOX does not get hot in warm temperatures or cold in extreme climates.

The watch case is 45 millimeters in diameter, and there is a 316L marine-grade stainless steel case back ring which surrounds the crystal display back.
The 3860 is 14 millimeters in height but wears low on your wrist, given its size. There is a screw-in crown which is a welcome upgrade from the 3501. The lens is sapphire crystal with a decent anti-reflective coating.

Nice strap!

As you can imagine, at WatchGecko, we're always interested in straps and so often are disappointed to report that watch manufacturers treat straps as an afterthought. This is, however not the case with the 3860 Master Carbon. The OEM Luminox strap is exceptionally high-quality genuine rubber with a 316L stainless steel locking buckle.

Luminox Master CarbonLuminox Master Carbon - Credit WatchGecko

The lug width is 24 millimeters which will,, of course,, restrict the number of aftermarket straps you can put on it. However, we are going to do a strap showcase for this watch later this week, so look out for that where we have some outstanding alternative 24mm options which really complement the watch.

It is important to flag up to potential buyers that the rubber strap issued with the Luminox must be cut with a sharp knife for a perfect fit. Luminox UK did give us permission to do this; however, we decided against it because we knew the watch might have to go on to someone else. I did, however ask Gemma at Luminox UK if she could provide me with Luminox ‘s own instructions for the cutting of the strap, and a detailed PDF was dispatched to me. Looking at it, if you take your time and take a deep breath, there's no reason you shouldn't be able to do a decent job. There is also a tutorial video on YouTube.

Initial thoughts

My first hands-on with the Master Carbon gives an overwhelming sense of quality. The watch is superbly built and feels like you could do anything with it. It is very welcome to find a watch made without compromise, and we feel confident in saying that Luminox probably could not have improved much on this model. That said, this is not a cheap watch at nearly £1000. How many buyers who have £1000 to spend will go out looking for Luminox? It's a valid question. Equally, how many of the traditional Luminox demographic of customers are looking to spend £1000 on a watch? For sure, the business end of Luminox will have asked these questions.

It makes sense that the 3860 costs more than the previous Master Carbon because, obviously, we have an automatic movement in this watch, and the price differential between the two is not unreasonable. So whilst my first impression was, “,Gosh this is an expensive watch,” perhaps the reality was that the current Master Carbon, which is equipped with a simple Ronda quartz, was a tad overpriced. Answers on a postcard...

Luminox Master CarbonLuminox Master Carbon - Credit WatchGecko

RB’s Conclusion

Suppose you're looking for full-size Spec Ops style tritium watch that has the unique ability to be worn in any circumstance and offers highly contemporary styling elevated beyond the simple military issues. In that case, the Luminox Master Carbon SEAL Automatic must be very close to the top of your list. However, to come full circle, the fundamental question is whether the watch is worth £564 more than the wonderful Luminox Navy SEAL 3501, which I own.

If I put myself on the spot, I'd probably have to say ‘yes.’ But it's far from a cut-and-dry ‘yes’. My 3501 is in every measurable way an outstanding watch, and I have literally put it through hell, but it does feel very light and, dare I say, mass produced compared to the sophisticated and quality feel from the Master Carbon. This leaves me with the conclusion that both watches are really good; I can't say one is better than the other however, one is unquestionably of higher quality. But that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the 3501.

It's just a question of whether you want to spend the extra money and for what reason you want the watch. Either way, the deployment of the 3860 has only served to boost my enthusiasm for Luminox, and I will always encourage every watch enthusiast to have a tritium-dialled tactical watch in their collection.

Latest News

Richard Brown

About the Author: Richard Brown

I truly believe one of the best partners in exploration and adventure is a fine watch. Over 30 years of collecting, my fascination with the technical capabilities of both vintage and modern timepieces has never abated and it is a privilege to be able to share this passion through writing.

More Articles from Richard Brown