There’s a burst of luminous colour in watch design at the moment, with sober blue and black dials conspicuously absent from recent launches. The luminescent watches trend has been bubbling up over the last year or so but now seems to have hit full Night Fever mode, as a number of the watches intended for this autumn’s now postponed Only Watch sale took the event’s ‘rainbow’ theme to heart.
Behind the trend are two developments: the creation of new luminous pigments, and renewed interest in the sort of post-modern Memphis vibe that informed early Swatch designs and the watches of Alain Silberstein (who’s having something of a revival himself).
When Super-LumiNova (an illumination product now used by many brands) first appeared as a replacement for radium, the colour palette was limited to shades of green, but under pressure from the likes of James Thompson of Black Badger, the pigment maker RC Tritec (who ended up working with Thompson) has developed a whole spectrum of luminous colours. Thompson is now co-owner of Danish brand Arcanaut, which has made a specialisation out of the innovative use of colour, with dials made of Fordite (derived from the layers of paint in spray-paint bays), Super-LumiNova composites, and even mussel shells, as in the new Arc II Havender watch, which has a lavender tint on the dial derived from the shells’ natural markings.
Luminescent watches lighting up our world
Thompson also has regular collaborations with other watchmakers, usually to striking effect, as in the Hautlence Vagabonde x Black Badger from earlier this year, which uses blocks of 3D Badgerite, a Super-LumiNova-filled ceramic composite in Hautlence’s signature orange colour. Set against a frosted black dial and clear sapphire time discs, the effect is impressive – even in daylight, the blocks glow eerily.
The BR-X5 Green Lum from Bell & Ross takes matters a step further with a new 41mm case that glows in the dark thanks to a composite material made of quartz fibres and shot through with luminous pigment. The new composite, LM3D, is sandwiched with a black-coated grade-2 titanium chassis for excellent strength and lightness. Bell & Ross has been building up to this over the last few years with lume editions of both pilots’ and divers’ watches, including several ‘full lume’ dials, but the X5 is a game-changer both conceptually and technically. It’s also a serious watch, using the BR-CAL.323 calibre from Kenissi, the Chanel / Tudor joint venture.
The approach taken by Roger Dubuis, a brand that seems to imagine it was conceived in Studio 54, needs a fluorescent light source to make its magic work, relying on both Super-LumiNova and neon type pigments that only activate in the presence of UV. These are watches that only fully reveal themselves fully after dark – hand-wound, monobalancier movements have never looked so good. The future’s bright, the future’s any colour you want.
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James Gurney has written on watches for over 25 years, founding QP Magazine in 2003, the UK’s first home-grown watch title. In 2009, he initiated SalonQP, one of the first watch fairs to focus on the end-consumer, and is regarded as a leading horological voice contributing to news and magazine titles across the globe.
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