After being involved in the jewelry industry as a manufacturer’s rep & retail store liquidator for over 30 years, I suffered a devastating stroke in my left eye in 2006, effectively limiting my reading and jewelry examining vision to my right eye. Although I had worked with many fine watch brands over the years, I set out to determine the best and brightest current watch models for people of limited or impaired vision as well as the general public.
My research led me to conclude that a combination of factors actually created the brightest watch. I found out that most contemporary luminescent watches use “lume,” a phosphorescent material painted on watch dials. Lume, not self luminescent, must be charged from a UV (sunlight/daylight) lightsource in order to glow. Furthermore, the longer the charge time, the longer the lume would glow. The number of painted coats of top quality lume on the dial will also make a difference with around 8 being optimal, according to industry source Jimmy Olmes, of California-based Reactor Watch Company.
While lume comes in many strengths and grades, Superluminova, a Swiss made product that costs $6000 per pound, is by far the best material on the market. In addition, Superluminova can be UV charged repeatedly & never lose its ability to recharge to full brightness.
A second technology using Tritium tubes made by MB Microtec (also Swiss made and licensed by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission) utilizes tiny gas tubes of gaseous tritium (GTLS or Gaseous Tritium Light Source). Although costly - tubes can cost up to $10 each - and having a 25 year shelf life (like radiation, it’s glow will grow less intense over time measured in half lives, but never fully disappear), the GTLS system is superior to Superluminova in that it does not need an outside light source to charge it. This is the source of “Night Vision” watches as well as many similar products made for both military & civilian use.
I then decided to research both specific watch manufacturers as well as the models each produced to find the best current night vision as well as luminescent models. I researched several brands by price point as well as use of current technology to make my list. Although I believe my research is fairly complete, I’m certain that there may be some pieces as well as brands that I may have overlooked.
Here are my conclusions:
$250 to $1200 Retail
Luminox: This company was the industry pioneer in night vision watches starting in the early 1990s with their Navy Seals Dive Watch. Sold originally by LL Bean and several other retailers, the Swiss made Luminox now enjoys wide distribution and uses the T-25 Tritium System in all of its watch models. It has an extensive catalog with many high fashion styles suitable for sports, casual or dress for both men & women.
Reactor: This company was started in 2003 by industry pioneer and entrepreneur Mr. Jimmy Olmes, who continues as CEO of this unique organization. Reactor took the Luminox night vision watch to the next step by creating the now patented “Never Dark” system incorporating both of the illumination technologies. By combining both the top grade Superluminova & T-25 Tritium Gas tubes, each Never Dark watch offers the wearer the advantage of both systems: the initial intense brightness of Superluminova and the constant even light emitted by the gas filled tubes. Depending on the exact model, most Never Dark watches retail from $400 to $600 with a few models somewhat higher. All Never Dark watches come with 10 year lithium batteries and great overall construction using both Swiss and Japanese parts.
Other Brands: Traser H3, Android,Vostok-Europe, and Deep Blue all use the Tritium tubes for their night vision watches, but compared to Reactor and Luminox are minor players at this time. As this illumination method grows in popularity, I expect to see more brands incorporate it’s use over time.
$1200 & up Retail
Although both Reactor and Luminox have more expensive pieces in their lines, the leader in this category is the Swiss made Ball Watch Company. Current owner and president Jeff Hess of Florida is responsible for the 1990s/2000s resurrection of this iconic American brand from a dormant Railroad watch to a now vibrant Swiss Made mechanical timepiece with many unusual styles and complications. While all of his timepieces utilize the MB3 Tritium Gas Tube system, one of Mr. Hess’s main contributions has been to take the T-25 system to T-100 strength having 4 times as much Tritium and corresponding increase in illumination for his brightest pieces. After NRC approval for this product, Ball could rightfully say that they had the world’s brightest night vision watches with the T-100 gas tubes.
Having worn watches from all three (Ball, Luminox & Reactor) of the above major makers of Night Vision watches, I was asked for my personal opinion on my favorite choices:
Under $1200 retail: I chose the Reactor Never Dark system because it truly does what it claims in integrating the two illumination methods for optimal brightness in all conditions. It’s sports oriented styling is good for just about any active lifestyle. It’s heavy duty construction and no-nonsense 2 year warranty are a big plus too. My favorite Never Dark models include the traditional Gamma & Trident for dive styles, the new Gryphon for diving and all around sports, as well as the new field style Atom for casual wear.
Over $1200 Retail: I chose the Ball brand and particularly the T-100 Night Train model. I found that the night glow was almost overwhelming and that it’s styling was not only great for active lifestyles but business dress as well. Since the T-100 was so bright, the lack of Superluminova in this particular piece was not a major drawback.
However, as a long time industry professional, I urge all store owners and buyers to investigate these brands independently and make their own unique judgements on which models to sell and promote for their specific markets.
Finally, it should be noted that regardless which of these brands or products the customer picks, all have been approved for safe wearing by the NRC and in no case will the wearer be exposed to any dangerous radioactive material that could cause physical harm.