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Luminox 3200 Review

Luminox 3200 Series Review

Way back in 1978, for my eighth birthday, my grandmother gave me a shiny new mechanical Timex watch. Most of my memories of this watch are foggy--I know it was black and sporty, and I know it had a strap rather than a bracelet. I do, however, have one vivid memory of this watch.

Late one night, or early one morning, when the house was silent and my bedroom was completely dark, I woke up for one reason or another. I was completely startled and in awe when I discovered that my wrist was glowing brightly. As a young tot, I wasn't very familiar with concepts of night vision or tritium, so this was a magical sort of event. I recall rationalizing at the time that during the day, the luminous material must soak up light and then release later in the evening when it is most needed. A neat concept, and one that made perfect sense to my young mind at the time. The watch didn't glow during the day, after all (it did, but I didn't understand how night vision increases the ability to distinguish very faint light sources).

I now have a keener grasp on physics and what happens to the eyes at night, but the event sticks with me. I recall how bright and legible the markers were and I'm jealous of this memory. I have several tritium-based watches and none of them live up to what I saw that night. Perhaps watch companies were more generous with the tritium back then, or perhaps my eyes are just getting old. Regardless of the reason, the event was so moving that to this day I still consider very luminous dials to be somewhat magical and highly desirable.

I own a variety of watches that employ a variety of luminous materials. Some are tritium that do glow throughout the night, albeit dimly. Some are department store quality that last for a few minutes before becoming dark. And some are decent achievers, such as those that use Super Luminova and other similar high-tech materials. Unfortunately, all exhibit the same sort of low-light problem: when it's dim out, but not dark, it's difficult to read the time. I don't know why it is, but I seem to want to read the time in dim situations quite frequently.

Timex did address this years ago by coming up with their Indiglo technology. In fact, I have a little analog Timex with Indiglo that I absolutely love. You can find a review for it here. There is a problem though, and I will confess that it might just be my ego getting in the way. I feel that when I wear my $20 Timex watch that it speaks of my financial situation and taste in watches in a negative way. For this reason I don't wear it much. If only Timex were to come out with a high end line.

A short while ago the need-to-find-a-better-glower started to build in me, as it does from time to time. I knew of Luminox and their sealed, tritium-filled, phosphor-coated, glass capsules that the company says are 100 times brighter than conventional luminous material. I nearly took the plunge with a Luminox watch a year or so back, but was very put off by all the Navy Seal fluff that Luminox sprinkles on its watches. For what it's worth, Navy Seals don't wear these watches and laugh at and ridicule those who do. I don't think anyone wants to be laughed at or ridiculed by a Navy Seal, I certainly don't.

I shifted my attention to Traser, which is UK version of Luminox. Same company, largely the same watches, but no Navy Seal stuff. But man, the prices. It would cost me $350 to get a decent Traser watch. Aside from the glow capsules, there's really nothing special about a Traser watch. The ones I was looking at use a Swiss quartz movement and have a sapphire crystal. Without the capsules, this sort of watch can be found for less than one hundred bucks. I don't buy it that the capsules are worth the difference, nor do I buy that Traser is such a recognized name that it can command such an inflated price.

I also looked at Ball Watch, which is based in China. Ball has some interesting looking but pricey watches. Again, a bit too pricey for what is being offered. Besides, Ball ruffled some of my feathers the wrong way with its highly annoying Flash-based web page that never seemed to work right.

So my thoughts went back to Luminox. The price was right, that was certain. The Seal stuff? Hey, that could be removed with a Yao dial. I wasn't really convinced though. I was still afraid that someone might recognize a stealthy black Luminox on my arm, tsk to themselves, and think that I was a poser of some sort. An unlikely scenario, of course, but it's the kind of thing that's hard to shake. Fortunately, I discovered the 3200 series.

The 3200 series of Luminox watches do not have Navy Seals splattered on the dial and have a silver bezel that I think makes them significantly different in appearance than the black-bezeled models to the extent that no one will think I'm playing Navy Seal or stealth pilot.

I tried to do some research on the 3200 series, but it seems that this series, and indeed Luminox watches in general, are not well represented on the web. There are no significant reviews and people seem to be clearly cleaved into two distinct groups, those who love the Luminox watches, and those who dismiss them as being cheap and laughable. Ignoring this as a warning, I went ahead and ordered a 3203 dive watch.

Although this review is specifically for the 3203 that I purchased, it applies equally well to the other models in the 3200 series, such as the 3202, 3208, and 3211.

When I received the 3203, the very first thing I did was take it to a dark room. Its glow power, after all, was the number one reason for buying the watch. I was immediately disappointed. It does glow and is definitely visible in a dark room, but not to the extent that I was led to believe. The pictures of Luminox watches that can be found show a very strong glow, and my watch was definitely not glowing anywhere near close to this.

Fortunately, the hands and face are visible in dim lighting, but again not to the extent that I was led to believe, and perhaps only marginally better than my Seiko diver. The plus side, however, is that while the glow to my Seiko diver fades away, the Luminox's gas capsules keep on glowing. So I'll credit Luminox to living up to its word about the strong glow, but it loses some points for the deceptive marketing that's employed to describe the actual brightness.

There is one aspect of the gas capsules that I really do enjoy. All of the markers on my watches that use the traditional painted-on luminous material method are fuzzy at night time. This can make it a chore to read because the eye is trying to focus but just can't. The Luminox gas capsules are crisp, legible, and highly visible. A definite night-time winner.

First the bad stuff.

Of course, glowing gas capsules are just one small part of the whole package. There is the watch itself to consider. It's nice enough to look at, but when it comes down to it, there's really just one word that comes to my mind: amateurish.

I think it's important to bear one thing in mind about Luminox and that is that it is not a watch company that decided to make use of glowing gas capsules, but rather it is a glowing gas capsule company that decided to make watches. This really shows in the construction of the watch.

The face of the 3203 is gloss black and at first glance is gorgeous. Closer inspection, however, reveals that the inked border that surrounds the holes in the face through which the gas capsules are visible is uneven, suggesting that the holes themselves were cut out imprecisely. While many people wouldn't notice this sort of thing, it's definitely something that I as a watch guy noticed right away.

The ratcheting bezel floats on a plastic ring. The ratcheting action is achieved by teeth on the back of the bezel and springy teeth on the ring. The use of plastic here just seems wrong. Given that there is teeth-on-teeth action, it seems very logical that on a watch where the bezel is turned frequently that the softer teeth will wear out. Because the softer teeth are plastic, I can't help but think that they will wear out amazingly fast.

I wouldn't be privy to any of this plastic teeth knowledge if it weren't for the fact that there is a significant amount of vertical play in the bezel. It can be raised a good 1/16th of an inch from the body of the watch, and it is through this gap that the plastic teeth can be seen. When the bezel is raised this high, there is an unfortunate side effect--it can be rotated clockwise because the teeth are completely disengaged.

When the bezel is sitting flat against the case, it is near impossible to turn it in the proper direction. It is far too firm. With we hands, it is completely impossible to move.

The bezel is made out of aluminum, which I guess I knew before I bought the watch, but wasn't paying much attention to. Aluminum doesn't oxidize like iron in that it breaks down, but it does tarnish. The bezel on my 3203 has areas of tarnish, particularly on the edges, in the coin-edge serrations, and under the gas capsule. It looks like an effort was made to de-tarnish the entire bezel, but either laziness or sloppiness prevented this from happening.

Although the dial of the watch is free from Navy Seal markings, there is a hint of it on the case back, with the familiar trident marking. It's subdued and hidden from normal view, so I don't mind that much. Still, I wish Luminox would forget this Navy Seals stuff entirely.

And now the good stuff.

The hands of the watch are white, and look really nice against the glossy black dial. Even without glowing gas capsules, this watch would be much more readable in subdued lighting than other watches because of this contrast.

The second hand ticks exactly on the second markers. It always lightens my mood to get a new watch and see this happen.

The case is nicely constructed and has a general brushed appearance. There's excess metal that hangs out on the left hand side of the watch that I suppose is there to balance out the appearance of the crown and crown guard. I'm not sure if I mind it or not, but it kind of reminds me of one of those Citizen dive watches with the depth sensor.

The screw down crown is unsigned, but it does screw down very smoothly and it feels like rubber is being engaged to form a water-tight seal.

The crystal is sapphire and has an anti-reflective coating. The coating has the side-effect of making the dial appear blue when the sunlight hits it at just the right angle. I really like the effect, though others may not.

The 3203 comes with an Italian rubber band. I've been into rubber lately, and like feel of this one a lot.

So, OK, maybe I was being too harsh when I said amateurish. The bezel really puts me off though, and I'm tempted to send it back to Luminox for replacement. However...

Luminox is a warranty tyrant. This seems to be a common thing with the watch industry, but Luminox seems a hair more tyrannical than the rest. There is no warranty if the watch is purchased from an unauthorized dealer. That's game over for me right there. I can't figure this practice out. If a company makes something, it should support it. If it sends out something that is new and defective, the company should definitely support it.

Of course, even I did have a warranty, I wouldn't be able to get warranty service anyhow because the warranty specifically excludes the bezel from warranty claims. I suspect Luminox's intention here is to prevent people from getting a free cleaning job whenever their bezel gets scuffed up.

Am I happy with the watch? Which is to say, will I wear it and enjoy it? Sure, I think so.