Super-LumiNova has become a ubiquitous name in watch lume, but there is a lot of untold history when it comes to the glowing technology. In this post, we aim to educate watch enthusiasts about the inception of Super-LumiNova, what it is, and where it’s made.
First, let’s get the name right. You will see SuperLuminova; SuperLumiNova; Super-Luminova; maybe even Super-Lumi-Nova. Admittedly, even KeepTheTime was guilty of this in the early days. The correct spelling of this widely used watch lume is capital S, hyphen, capital L, no space, capital N: Super-LumiNova.
History of Super-LumiNova
A Japanese man named Kenzo Nemoto started a luminous paint business in 1941. He was contracted to equip Japan’s military aircraft and submarines with glowing gauges and meters during World War II.
After the war, there wasn’t as much demand for this service so Mr. Nemoto had to find other uses for his luminous product. That’s when he began going to homes to paint the hands and markers of clocks, and later moved onto applying the paint to watches. At this point in time, Nemoto & Co. was born, and went on to further developed new phosphorescent pigment technology. This officially became known to the watch industry as LumiNova in 1993. The invention was patented by Nemoto and is licensed to other watch brands and manufacturers.
In the same year (1993), RC Tritec AG was founded as a Swiss based company that holds the licensing rights to produce and distribute LumiNova under the registered name Super-LumiNova.
So is it Swiss or Japanese?
If you see Super in front of the LumiNova, then it’s 100% Swiss made. Although, be wary of watch brands that are not educated about the history of LumiNova and Super-LumiNova. Newer microbrands may be misinformed by Chinese, Swiss, or Japanese factories that they are using Swiss made Super-LumiNova lume, when in fact it could be something else. This may be ok as far as the quality of lume is concerned, but it could be misleading to consumers with regards to the origin.
Is Super-LumiNova radioactive?
Original watch lume was made from radium and was highly radioactive, especially for the workers hired to apply it to watches and gauges. Some watches even had “No Radiation” signs painted on the dials to indicate the lack of the dangerous substance. Nemoto invented LumiNova as a replacement for this worrisome material after Japan was faced with an aftermath of radiation after the war. This modern lume product is based on a non-radioactive and non-toxic formula consisting of strontium aluminate.
How It Works:
Super-LumiNova is charged by light. Sunlight or artificial light will do the trick, but many watch enthusiasts say natural sunlight garners the best results. When light energy hits the material, the electrons get excited and begin to energize rapidly, creating a phosphorescent glow. As the energy level of the electrons slows down, the brightness of the glow decreases.
No batteries necessary! Nemoto also licensed a form of their product to Seiko for their LumiBrite watch lume, which was released around the same time that Timex launched their IndiGlo line of watches. The backlight in IndiGlo watches was powered by battery, making the Seiko product worth looking at, especially in automatic/mechanical timepieces. You can read more about that in this article: All About Seiko LumiBrite
What is it exactly?
Super-LumiNova is produced and sold as a powder. You can find it in kits which include the luminous powder (pigment), varnish (glue), thinner (dilutor).
You will want to read the application instructions and watch a few videos on YouTube, but the basic idea is to mix the powder with the varnish in a mixing cup until you get the thickness you want. If it gets too thick, add some thinner to thin it down. Then apply the lume as desired. Some methods of applying watch lume include:
Doing it by hand may not yield the best results, especially if it is your first time reluming hands or a dial, so be prepared for some rough edges. If you’re looking for consistency in batches of dials, you will want to explore watch dial pad printing machines like these.
Color coded coolness:
There are a variety of lume pigments available. As you can see in the lumeshot comparison above, microbrand Marc & Sons went with a bluish lume for their pilot watch and a green lume for their diver. Most watches with Super-LumiNova will use one or more of the following color codes:
C1 – White with about 31% brightness of C3
C3 – Yellow with the brightest glow
C5 – Greenish-yellow with 89% brightness
C7 – Green with 84% brightness
C9 – Bluish-green with about 83% brightness
BGW9 – Light bluish-white with about 95% glow of C3
Old Radium – Appears to be aged/vintage tritium lume in the daytime, but glows a bright yellowish-green at night
Old White – Off-white color in the day, glows yellowish-green at night
Currently, there are 8 different afterglow colors in the Super-LumiNova lineup:
BL – Blue Line – blue emission
GL – Green Line – green emission
VL – Violet Line – violet emission
WL – White Line – complete white emission
YL – Yellow Line – yellow emission
OL – Orange Line – orange emission
PL – Pink Line – pink emission
UL – Ultramarine Line – ultramarine blue emission
Although a wide array of color is cool, there is a science to it. Green and blue are the most common colors for most watches because of the way your eyes interpret the brightness of the colors. Rolex claims to have nailed this with their bluish/green Chromalight lume. You can read more in the article: All About Rolex Chromalight
In recent watch lume news, RC Tritec posted this about new colors becoming available:
“For quite a long time only green and blue Emission colours were available for the application on time pieces. We are pleased to present you the latest developments of Swiss Super-LumiNova pigments. For the first time it is possible to use White and violet emitting pigments on watch components which offers a wide range of new possibilities for the design of watch pieces all over the world.”
Aside from the stock Super-LumiNova colors above, RC Tritec is also able to match almost any pigment within the Pantone color system. If T-Mobile wanted to get the magenta they use for their branding on a watch dial, it’s possible. But again, color plays a role in the level of glow:
“Typically, red and black colored pigments show the lowest brightness. Not only the color itself but the intensity as well have an influence on the afterglowing performance. Low colored pigments show therefore a better performance.”
Why do some watches glow brighter?
As you learned in the section above, the brightness level has to due with the color of the lume, but that’s not all. There are different formulas, or grades, of Super-LumiNova.
Grades of Super-LumiNova:
Grade X1 is the newest formulation of SLN. According to RC Tritec, Grade X1 lume shows improvements of up to 60% after two hours. This increase is based on a comparison between Standard Grade and X1 grade. It does not mention what the performance increase is when comparing Grade A to Grade X1.
Note: It appears that not all colors/pigments are available in all grades. For example, C3 (green) is available up to Grade X1, but the BGW9 (white) is only available in Standard Grade or Grade A.
While this newer formula of Super-LumiNova is said to provide a brighter and longer lasting glow, traditionally the more lume material you apply to the dial the brighter it will be. This is why some watch brands advertise that they apply multiple level of lume to their watches. For example, Lum-Tec is recognized in the luminescence arena for their process of applying 6-8 layers of Super-LumiNova over a pure white base to produce a long-lasting, dense glow.
Dial design and lume layout also play an important role in scoring a watch with a good lumeshot. This is one of the reasons we started our LUME WARS! series on YouTube. Not only to compare and contrast the glow and tone of lume, but also to show the difference in the layout. For example, a dive watch next to a pilot watch, or a Seiko next to an Omega.
Full Lume Dials
Some watch brands reverse the traditional dial/markers lume design and offer full lume dials. Others mix it up and use two or more colors on a single watch. The Tag Heuer F1 Grande Date pictured above has both of these features.
LumiNova and Super-LumiNova is not just used on watch hands and dials. You can also find this incredible substance glowing in jewelry, signs, screen printed goods, and other instruments like scales and instrument panels. Below you can see how Elliot Brown inserts lume in the clasps of some of their bracelets.
Here is an example of the brand Phoibos using lume on the crown of their Sentinel model.
Around the same time as the above watch, another brand that lumed up the crown of their first model is Pharos Watches… it was also called the Sentinel.
TL;DR / Super-LumiNova FAQS:
What is the correct spelling of Superluminova? Super-LumiNova
What is the brightest Super-LumiNova? C3
What is the second brightest color? BGW9
What is the brightest grade? X1
What makes one dial brighter than another with the same material? The more layers of lume painted on the dial the more bright it will glow.
Is Super-LumiNova Swiss or Japanese? “Super-LumiNova” is Swiss made, based on a product that was invented in Japan.
How do I know if what I am getting is real Swiss Super-LumiNova? Sometimes you don’t know unless you are getting it straight from the source. Some watch factories may claim to be using the Swiss stuff but they are using something else. This is why you really have to trust your suppliers.
What is the raw material type? Powder.
Is Super-LumiNova radioactive? No.
What do you think about Super-LumiNova?
Add your thoughts and experience with this kind of watch lume to the comments below. Post your lumeshots for others to see. We hope this information was interesting and useful to you. Please consider buying your next watch from our shop.