Most watch guys are interested in timepieces that are luminous, especially on the sport watch front. However, it’s a feature that’s often misunderstood. Today, we’re going to shine some light on this topic, while also rounding up our seven favorite timepieces, the best men’s watches that glow in the dark.
By learning a thing or two about glow in the dark watches, not only can you make better decisions about which types of glow are right for you, but it’ll help you take more discerning approaches when it comes to replacement parts and old watches.
Let’s start by highlighting a few timepieces!
The Best Glow in the Dark Watches: Seven of Our Faves
Here are our picks for the best men’s watches that glow in the dark
- Timex Men's Expedition Scout 40 Watch
- Luminox Navy Seal 3500 Series
- Tudor Pelagos LHD
- Casio Pro Trek
- Seiko Prospex Padi Samurai
- Victorinox Swiss Army Night Vision Watch
This rugged casual watch comes in a few colorways. The face is a bit crowded, but doesn’t take away from its legibility, and it looks exquisite when lit up with the greenish-blue Indiglo backlight! Press the crown to get a 3-second light up, or hold it down for a few seconds to activate the Indiglo night-mode, which can last around 3 hours.
Loved by the tool watch community because of its multi-layered dial and bulky but lightweight carbon construction, the Luminox Navy Seals boasts a tritium tube-powered glow. It doesn’t need recharging like a photoluminescent watch, and it sports an exciting mix of blue and orange glows.
The Tudor Pelagos LHD is a handsome diver and a certified chronometer. It sports one of the brightest glows in the Rolex family thanks to its fully lumed bezel insert. Of course, it’s equipped with Rolex’s signature blue Chromalight for its bezel markers.
A genuine survivalist watch with a fun maximalist aesthetic, the Casio Pro Trek has a double LED light for its face and backlight. It’s impressively specific, illuminating all of the precise details on the dial. With its auto-illumination feature, you can activate the glow by simply turning your wrist to look at the display. The Pro Trek also has a beautiful afterglow.
Seiko’s Lumibrite is a lot like Super-Luminova. It lasts a good five hours in the dark and is environmentally friendly. The Prospex Padi Samurai is special because it features fat rhomboid indices, a triangular 12 marker, and the iconic samurai hour hand. All generously sized, they can carry far more glow than the average diver.
The Victorinox Swiss Army Night Vision features a practical but chic soft blue light to match its sleek and functional design. A unique addition is its SOS mode, which causes the light to strobe at 150 per minute. This is definitely a useful security feature, but also a pretty cool party trick.
What makes a watch glow in the dark? The history of luminous watches
Radium on Vintage Watches: Are they safe?
Radium was discovered in 1898 in Paris, and by the 1910s, it was used to add glow to watches. Painting radium watches became a glamorous gig for women in the ‘20s.
Of course, we would later discover the negative effects of radium, and it was fully banned by 1968. Until then, Panerai provided the radium-lumed Radiomir to the Italian Navy. Rolex gradually started lowering radium levels starting in 1957.
If a vintage watch has been on and off the market, the radium-painted parts could have already been replaced. Watch dials with aggressive radium will leave small stain specs, or even eat up the top layer, leaving it rusted looking.
As recently as just a few years ago, the universal understanding among vintage watch collectors is that radium-glow timepieces are mostly safe, even safe enough to be tinkered with from the back. “Just don’t sniff or lick it,” we were told.
However, new studies show that if these radium-glow watches aren’t kept in a well-ventilated area, it may produce a radioactive element called radon.
Though, it’s worth mentioning that people who collect vintage watches don’t necessarily get sick at higher levels than those who don’t.
If you want to be extra careful, you can do one of three things:
- Invest in a radon detector for the room where you keep your collection.
- Invest in a device called a geiger counter, which you can use to measure radioactivity in old watches.
- If you’re not in it for the investment value, simply get the radium painted parts replaced with a new and safer glow.
If you’re anxiously waiting for your new devices to arrive and need some peace of mind, here’s a quick and simple radium test:
Overnight, keep your watch in a perfectly dark room.
Then, expose it to some sunlight before taking it back into the dark room. If there’s just a faint gradual light or even none at all, it’s radium, which doesn’t need sunlight to charge and loses its glow over time.
This is assuming the watch is meant to light up. One without any form of glow will, obviously, not glow either.
If it glows extra bright when you take it back to the dark room, your vintage watch likely features a light-charged type pigment and isn’t radioactive.
Tritium Watches: Two Forms of Glow
Tritium is much less radioactive than radium. In fact, it has almost zero radioactivity when under a watch glass.
Tritium watches that came out after the 1964 radium ban have a cream yellow undertone to its glow, while radium emits a tan undertone, sometimes described as “cappuccino-like.”
While radium’s glow can last anywhere from a few years to several decades, the glow from tritium lasts 12.5 years.
Even safer glow alternatives came out in the 1990s, though tritium recently made a comeback as a gas. Tritium in gas tubes releases electrons that react with other materials causing the watch to glow.
Unlike photoluminescent glows (which we’ll cover next!) tritium tube-powered light won’t fade after a few hours, which is effective for tool watches. However, it’s still tritium and most watches will start to lose their glow after 12.5 years.
Photoluminescent Dials: Today’s Go-to Lume
The most common type of watch glow, photoluminescent paint is 100% non-radioactive and non-toxic. It absorbs light, then re-emits it creating that familiar green or blue lume.
This technique was brought into the mainstream watch industry by the Super-Luminova brand which started in 1994. Today, they’re still one of the largest suppliers of watch lume.
Photoluminescent watch glows will fade after three to seven hours, before needing a recharge. In the long run though, they aren’t prone to fading or discoloration like tritium gas.
Electroluminescent Dials: Light at the Press of a Button
The electroluminescent glow comes from an electrical current by way of a conductor mounted behind the dial. By pressing a button, the current is activated and your dial lights up like a torch.
Timex’s Indiglo was patented in 1992, and is especially notable.
They even use it on their analog watches, with the “crown” serving as the activation button. Indiglo does use a lot of battery power though. It can last anywhere from a couple of years up to seven years, depending on how often you use it.
Common Questions About Luminous Watches
What do you call a watch that glows in the dark?
The most common glow in the dark watch is called a phosphorescent watch. Whether the watch light comes from electroluminescence or tritium tubes, most techniques rely on an element called phosphor to achieve its glow.
How long does a glow in the dark watch last?
In the short term, tritium tube watches are more practical since they don’t fade, while photoluminescent watches (like Super-Luminova or Rolex) need charging after a few hours.
In the long run, tritium tube watches and electroluminescent watches will eventually fade, while photoluminescent watches aren’t prone to fading or discoloration.
What watch has the best lume?
If you’re working in the dark, a tritium-powered sport watch like our Luminox choice will stay glowing without needing to be turned on. For pure brightness, you can’t beat that Tudor Pelagos.
The Best Glow in the Dark Watches
If you’re looking for a lume that will last forever, go the photoluminescent route.
If you need a glow that you can activate at a moment’s notice, then electroluminescence or a tritium tube might be your best bet.
Maybe aesthetic is your priority, and you just love the cool blue glow of Rolex’s Chromalight or the huge indices of a Seiko Samurai.
It’s all about thinking about what you want specifically.
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