I have a love/hate relationship with watches. I go through months-long stretches where they gather dust in a drawer, as well as equally-long periods where I feel naked if I don’t have a band snugly wrapped around my wrist.
My most expensive watch was a $99 G-Shock that I got my senior year of high school and promptly lost in the ocean that summer. Because of this, I have never felt the need to venture into the territory of “nice” watches. Aside from my ill-fated G-Shock, all the timepieces I have owned have cost between $10 and $35 and have been perfectly functional.
But when I had the chance to test out a model from American watchmaker Luminox, I jumped at the opportunity. You see, Luminox has bragging rights in the watch world not because of stratospheric prices or gimmicky features, but because of who their watches are designed for: U.S. Navy SEALs.
The story goes that in the early 1990s, Nick North was in charge of research and development of gear for the SEALs and was testing a number of different watches. The only timepiece that could stand up to the rigorous abuse it was put under was the Luminox.
Fast forward a quarter-century and I’m opening a box containing the Luminox 4221. It’s part of the ANU series, meaning that it’s “Authorized for Navy Use,” which is just about the coolest thing a watch can be authorized for.
The first thing I noticed about the watch was that it’s heavy. The stainless steel build is solid, and it’s readily apparent that it was designed with America’s fiercest warriors in mind.
With a 45 mm case diameter and a 13.20 mm case height, it’s safe to say that the 4221 is bulky. However, the 22 mm silicone rubber band has a generous number of size increments, and I was quickly able to find a comfortable fit.
The crown was screwed on tight, and took some effort to twist, but once I had it loose, I found that setting the date and time was simple. The unidirectional rotating bezel clicks solidly, and stays exactly where you set it.
This watch was designed to withstand just about anything I could throw at it, and that toughness was evident as soon as I put it on.
Whereas with other, flimsier watches I would worry about accidentally knocking against something or getting the watch wet, I had no such concerns with the 4221.
I wore the watch while swimming, hiking and running, as well as throughout my regular day-to-day. The quartz movement kept the time perfectly, and at no point did I feel like I was approaching an activity that was too tough for it. It’s built to withstand depths up to 200 meters, so I doubt I will be pushing this time piece to its limits anytime soon.
But the real draw of any Luminox model — and where the company gets its name (from the Latin “lumi” and “nox,” which mean “light” and “night”) — is the self-powered illumination system.
The phosphor-coated tritium tubes are placed on every hour marker, as well as on the hour, minute, and second hands. I was surprised by how brightly my watch glowed in the dark, and even had to place it facedown on my nightstand when I was sleeping.
According to Luminox, the glow is guaranteed to not lose brightness for at least 10 years after purchasing the watch, and can last for as long as 25 years.
When it was finally time for me to remove the 4221, I found myself not wanting to. Suddenly, my cheap Casio seemed even flimsier than I remembered, and I missed the feel of the sturdy stainless steel weighing on my wrist.
You can find a 4221 model online for around $500. I’m not sure that I’m quite ready to spend that much money on a timepiece just yet, but when I am Luminox will be among the first places I look.
After all, if it’s good enough for the Navy SEALs, it’s good enough for me.