A Guide to Watch Luminescence

Buyer Advice and Information

It may seem obvious, but luminescent dials and bezels mean that your watch will work in the dark. This is an especially important feature for non-digital, traditional style watches, as it means they are valuable timekeepers at all hours – and in any location.

It seems simple enough but watch luminescence has had a remarkably interesting development history.

A Brief History of Luminescent Time…


Radium Lights the Way

Back in 1898, radium was discovered by the infamous Pierre and Marie Curie. Just over a decade later, Guido Panerai, a watch pioneer from Italy, patented the very first luminescent substance called ‘Radiomir’ in 1914, for use in watches. This material glowed from the radioactive decay of the material (radium bromide). A decay so slow, that essentially allows the material to glow forever.

This made it a highly effective method of lighting up dials on watches, applied as a luminous paint; however, little was understood about the health implications of radioactive materials at this time. The First World War expanded the popularity of wristwatches with radium luminescence as they were essential tools on the front lines.

Tritium and Tritium Gas

It later emerged that radium bromide posed health risks. Not so much to the wearer but, during the manufacturing process, it was documented that the brushes used to apply the radium luminescence were often moistened in the mouth to help with the paint application. This resulted in unfortunate consequences for many of the watchmaking staff.

This type of luminescence was banned in the 1960s and replaced with tritium luminescence. Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen which undergoes beta decay and emits electrons.

When these come into contact with a phosphor layer, luminescence is produced. This type of luminescence is still used to this day. Whilst it is a radioactive compound, beta decay is far less penetrating and easily contained within the watches.

The main downside to tritium gas is that the half-life of the beta decay is short when compared to radium bromide.

The lifespan of this type of luminescence is only 10 to 20 years depending on the concentration of tritium gas originally used and, even then, fading can be seen during that period.

Afterglow Pigments (Super-LumiNova)

In 1993, LumiNova pigments were invented by a Japanese limited company called Nemoto & Co. The brand, Super-LumiNova, is now widely recognised and used in luxury pieces, such as OMEGA watches. The material is a replacement for radioactive materials and uses strontium aluminate.

When exposed to sunlight, the material acts like a ‘light battery’ and, in darkness, can illuminate for prolonged periods. LumiNova is also incredible as the material does not degrade with time, meaning the cycle of charge and luminescence can go on and on, making it perfect for use in wristwatches.

A Spotlight on Banks Lyon’s Luminescent Watches

With watch luminescence being essential for those who need to tell the time in the pitch black, it is no surprise that our watch ranges with luminescence are geared towards the adventurous.

Bremont Supermarine Watches

The Supermarine watch range by Bremont is true to the brand’s nature and exhibits luxurious properties whilst being one of the world’s best diving watch ranges. The collection is named after the precursor aircraft to the Supermarine Spitfire that reached fame during World War II. The range comes with assorted colours and design options to choose from.

The Bremont Supermarine case is a triptych case; it has a DLC (diamond-like-carbon) scratch-resistant barrel, a stainless-steel or transparent case back (for the Chrono variations) and a faultless upper casing. The watches have arching lugs on the bezel, with a mixture of brushed and high polish finishes.

There are ceramic inserts on the 120 click bezels and laser engraved numerals. Covering the face is domed sapphire, a scratch-resistant crystal for all your daily adventures. Bremont Supermarine watches also have a vintage style, a throwback to early aviation, with Super-LumiNova on tapered syringe hands.

This Bremont Supermarine S2000 Yellow watch can be purchased for £4,195 or from £62.93 per month at 0% finance.

IWC Pilot’s Watches

IWC has been making dedicated pilot watches for almost one century. Designed to reflect the watch brand’s relationship and expertise for the aviation industry, IWC blends function with a luxury aesthetic.

IWC Pilot’s watches have anti-magnetic properties, can withstand temperature fluctuations, and have multiple features that make perfect for use in the cockpit.

The stylisation reflects cockpit dials, instruments, and has luminescent numerals and dials.

The watches comprise of a stainless steel (or transparent) caseback, a sapphire crystal face cover and some of the watches in the range have the EasX-CHANGE system which allows for easy strap exchange.

The featured IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 is available for £8,000 or from £120 per month at 0% finance.

Tissot Seastar Watches

This watch range provides excellent watches for divers. In the Seastar collection, you will find exquisite watch movement, which is both dependable and durable. The watches have clear sapphire crystal faces (with the same for the caseback for some of the watches in the range) and 300m water resistance due to the screwed-in caseback and crown.

The watches have scratch-resistant ceramic bezels, helping the watches look newer for longer and have luminescence on the dials and hands. The Tissot Seastar watches are more cost-effective than similar function watches from other well-known brands.

The featured Tissot Seastar 1000 Powermatic 80 Gents watch can be purchased for £620 or from £9.30 per month at 0% finance.

TAG Heuer Link Watches

This watch collection is named after the unusual styling on the bracelet of the watches, which resemble y-shaped, fluid links. TAG Heuer Link watches are the go-to all-round sports watches, with their screwed-in casebacks and crowns for robust water resistance, as well as a double safety clasp for the wearer’s peace of mind, no matter what sport they are participating in.

The timepieces are versatile and attractive with sapphire crystal face covers and a unidirectional bezel. They also feature luminescence on the dial for use at night and in low light.


Hublot Big Bang Watches

This collection, launched in 2005, is an excellent example of Hublot’s ability to strive for innovation. The collection combines carbon, ceramic, titanium, gold, and steel materials and offers a ‘look’ that is perfect for everyone. The watches were designed in a modular fashion which allows for many colour and style variations.

Hublot Big Bang watches have large faces with a modern aesthetic and blend traditional and industrial into one seamless bold design. They have transparent casebacks, sapphire crystal faces, ceramic bezels and faces with Arabic numerals with luminescent properties.

Titanium screws make for water-resistant capabilities down to a depth of 100m and the excess strap is hidden when worn, which makes for a neat and tidy look. These watches perfect the art of fusion.

This Hublot Big Bang Steel Blue 44mm watch is available for £10,700 or from £160.50 per month at 0% finance.

Breitling Superocean Watches

The watches in this collection were originally developed as a diving instrument for military divers. They are now popular amongst professionals and hobbyist divers and have become a statement timepiece worldwide. They have clear sapphire crystal watch crowns with stainless steel casebacks.

Breitling Superocean watches are water-resistant up to an incredible 1000m and have a helium escape valve for saturation divers. They have large numerals for ease of reading, especially underwater and in the dark. The luminescent dials and hands also help significantly in low light conditions. These are essential watches for active deep-sea divers.

You can purchase this Breitling Superocean Automation 44 watch for £3,350 or from £50.25 per month at 0% finance.

Omega Seamaster Watches

This collection provides you with everything you could need from a luxury watch. The Seamaster collection comprises of a long and diverse line of watches pre-dating the 1950s; the Seamaster Professional with its wave blue pattern is instantly recognisable.

The collection comprises of movement from self-winding automatic and C.O.S.C. chronometer to co-axial escapement which offers reduced wear.

Hollywood played a role in the success of these watches when, in 1995, Pierce Brosnan wore the Omega Seamaster Professional as James Bond in GoldenEye. The watches have a unique wave dial, offering a balance of sportiness and dressiness.

OMEGA Seamaster watches have a ceramic bezel (made from zirconium dioxide) which is scratch-resistant. The bezel is also 120 clicks and unidirectional. The face benefits from blue luminescent hour hands and markers and green luminescence for the minutes hand. Most of the watches in the Seamaster collection are water-resistant down to 300m, making them ideal for ocean divers.

Get this OMEGA Seamaster Diver Chronograph 300m 44mm watch for £24,460.

At Banks Lyon, we stock watches with a diverse range of features and characteristics that make them unique and perfect for all preferences and lifestyles.

We have a vast selection of luminescent pieces that are perfect for the modern lady or gent who are passionate about sports and the outdoors, so speak to us if you’d like more information about our watches – we’re happy to help you choose the right one for your or for a loved one with our personal shopper service!