After writing about five specifications we don’t need everyday as well as the history of luminescent paint, I thought we should spend a little more time discussing lume and whether or not we need it. Lume has become something many watch enthusiasts/collectors obsess over. The more time passes, the more people seem to care about lume. It also seems that every type of watch is expected to have lume these days. I even hear people say that dress watches should have lume in order to be a “proper” watch. Why is that? What does lume do and do we actually need it? Or, to be more precise, who actually needs lume? Source: www.tudorwatch.com
The Genesis of Luminescent Paint on Watches
Not to rehash what I explained in my article detailing the history of lume, but it seems appropriate to first, and ever so briefly, go back in the past to when watchmakers started using lume and why. Since the early 20th century when Marie Curie discovered Radium, a self-induced radioactive compound that glows perpetually, Radium has been applied on military watches so that time could be read at night. The idea was that a watch would be more useful for military operations if the wearer could keep track of time in any lighting condition. This makes sense when we think about covert ops that take place at night. Lume was therefore used on watches like the first Panerai submersible timekeeping devices.
Luminescent watches (on the hands and hour markers) became synonymous with the military. James Bond’s Rolex Submariner had lume as did all professional dive watches of the era. World War II pilot watches had lume so that pilots could read the time easily in the darkness of the night, and infantry could accurately coordinate operations in the middle of the night. This all makes sense, right? Well yes it does, however my argument is that we, normal human beings who write articles or work in an office—and therefore rarely venture at night to conduct clandestine military operations—don’t need lume. We really don’t.
The Fallacy of Luminescent Paint and Tool Watches
I’m a tool watch kind of guy and for a long time, I convinced myself that I too needed good lume on my watches. I thought, just like many other people did and still do today, that a proper tool watch should have outstanding lume. I too started to complain when a tool watch didn’t have an even application of bright lume so that I could—theoretically—read the time at any moment, even when I rarely find myself awake at 4am. I just thought I needed good lume so that it could help me and so that my tool watch was indeed a proper tool. I bought into the fallacy that I needed very good lume for my very ordinary life.
One of the most ridiculous arguments I’ve heard about the necessity for lume is as follows: “I prefer when the seconds hand is fully lumed so that I know that my watch is running when I check the time in the middle of the night.” (A source that it is better to keep anonymous). Really? How often does one need to ensure that his mechanical watch is still ticking at night? If one is worried about this, then one should get a quartz powered timekeeping device. It’s not as if we don’t have smartphones that can tell time in any lighting condition, because we all do. So the question of whether or not to have good lume is not a practical one, it’s just about specs.
What's interesting to me is that most people I know who swear by good lume actually don’t need it. They like the idea of it, just like many watch enthusiasts feel the need to carry a knife wherever they go, or a flashlight that is part of their EDC. Comically, most people (that I know) who claim to need all of this gear live in urban areas and spend most of their time at a desk. The most adventure they get is a hike during the weekends or traveling somewhere. Rarely, if ever, do they find themselves in a life or death situation whose outcome could only be a positive one thanks to good lume.
Who Actually Needs Luminescent Paint
Frankly, not many people do. I can only think of special forces who operate at night and professional and commercial divers who can work at any hour of the day. As I explained before, there is still plenty of light 40 meters deep (the deepest recreational divers can go,) so there isn’t a true need for lume. And even if you were to regularly dive at night, which I’ve done a couple of times, you will probably be more worried pointing your flashlight in front of you than obsessively looking down at your watch. Because when you dive at night, it’s really dark. But that’s just me.
Speaking of professional and commercial divers, they generally don’t dive deeper than 100 meters, where there is still plenty of light penetrating through the ocean. Again, it would only be at night that they would need good lume, but yet again, they are equipped with flashlights so that they can see better. Anybody who goes deeper than 100 meters generally does so in a submarine. I read somewhere that the deepest a person has ever gotten without any sub is 200 meters and I’m pretty sure that this person had better things to do than contemplating his or her dive watch for a good lume application.
I know, this article was mostly a giant rant. I felt I had something I needed to get off my chest because I’ve become unnecessarily frustrated whenever I hear reviewers criticize a watch for not having great lume. I feel it sends the wrong message because it makes too many people look over good watches just because they don’t come with huge amounts of lume.
Realistically, most people who collect watches don’t need lume. Claiming that one needs lume to check the time at night doesn’t really make sense nowadays given the technology we have access to. Even if one prefers to read the time on a watch rather than a smartphone—which is true for myself—I never reach for my watch in the middle of the night to check the time.
What about you? Do you need lume or do you like the idea of having it on your tool watch? Please leave your comments below.
Featured image: www.hodinkee.com