Monday, July 24, 2017

MEET THE WATCH: Lum-Tec Combat B18 Bronze Automatic Watch

Lum-Tec Combat B18 Bronze offers great style and value
To wear a watch is to know a watch and today, I will be reviewing one that I personally have worn for over a year. Long-term wrist time has nuanced my insight of the watch and has given me a greater appreciation for it. The Lum-Tec Combat B18 Bronze is a limited edition like many Lum-Tec watches. Only 250 were made, which puts us owners into a relatively small group.

American ingenuity at its best!!!
The Combat B18 Bronze was made by Ohio-based Lum-Tec who is best known for making watches with a patented 12-layer lume process. Their technique has a catchy acronym of "MDV Technology®," which stands for Maximum Darkness Visibility. Lum-Tec's MDV lume paint essentially is built up into a thick mass by precisely applying it repeatedly. Lum-Tec has earned a great reputation for itself by offering a wide variety of interesting models that use this proprietary tech. Theoretically, the more lume that a watch dial has, the brighter it will glow and the longer the glow will last. The formula of the lume pigment also matters.... I would suspect high-grade SuperLuminova is used.

Lum-Tec's MDV lume technology is applied to hands and dials. Photo:
While the type of paint used on a dial and hands may not seem that important to some people, there is a segment of the watch community that I affectionately call the “lume-a-holics.” Because I am one, I can tell you that if we had our way, all watches would have ridiculously strong luminescent markers that glow like tiny flashlights without fading. Would it be too much to ask to have lume that we could use for some late night comic book reading? Most lume-a-holics would think that would be perfectly sensible.

A young lum-a-holic in the making...
The lume on this Combat B18 Bronze lives up to the company's claim. With a good charge, the numerals, indices, and hands will glow like little green fireflies. This is incredible in a darkened theater or when you hear a bump in the night.

Lum-Tec generously lumes their dials and hands with MDV Technology
This strong lume also makes a statement in half-light situations such as coming from a sunny environment into a dim room. The lume is strong enough to glow green. It is a stunning effect and one that I never get tired of.

A Lum-Tec Combat B18 Bronze in a low light setting shows how strong the lume glows.
From all of Lum-Tec's watch designs, the Combat B series of watches is one of my favorites. The details, dimensions, and build quality come together perfectly to make a high-quality timepiece that is a pleasure to wear. While the materials and movements may change for the different models in the Combat B series, the cases have similar traits. Lum-Tec has used stainless steel, PVD-coated stainless steel, bronze, titanium, and carbon for the cases with a variety of hand-winding and automatic Swiss and Japanese movements.

Lum-Tec's current offering in the Combat B series. Photo:
Starting with the case, Combat B watches measure 43 mm wide, not including the 4 mm screw-down crown. More importantly, Combat B watches have a sensible lug-to-lug measurement of 52 mm. While this may sound wide for some wrists, the short horn-shaped lugs make the fit feel compact.

Lum-Tec Combat B18 Bronze profile.
The case height is roughly 13 mm, which I would consider average for a watch with an automatic movement. These specs define a sweet spot for many watch enthusiasts because it is not overly bulky, yet it still has great wrist presence.

Lum-Tec B18 Bronze on my hairy wrist is a "just right" size
A key design feature of the Lum-Tec Combat B18 Bronze is the coin edge (like a dime) on the bezel that may be inspired by fliegers of the 1930s. This decorative treatment can be found on historic German aviator watches of World War II from Hanhart and Tutima. I think the coin edge adds a certain historical vibe to it without trying to look like those watches. Even though this is a modern timepiece, it has been designed to look much older than 2013 (or so), when it was released.

The B18 looks vintage without being an homage. It is uniquely Lum-Tec.
There is a popular trend with manufacturers today to apply a vintage aesthetic to their current watches. This means the wearer can enjoy the look of a retro watch but have modern reliability and a larger size. Many vintage watches were much smaller than we wear today, and modern movements promise low-maintenance and almost worry-free wearability. It's really the best of both worlds for consumers.

Notice the short lugs that help to make the Lum-Tec Combat B18 Bronze wearable for many wrist sizes.
Bronze, however, was not a metal that was commonly used as a watch case material in the 20th century. While we may think that bronze watches look "vintage", they just did not exist "back in the day." This material is used to imply age and it works so well doing so. You can read more about the bronze watch phenomenon here at The Riddle of Bronze - How Nostalgia Is Fueling a Desire for Bronze Watches.

The Combat B18's dial suggests a time-worn appearance through clever typographic design and "aged" lume
Lum-Tec's choice of typography also makes this watch appear vintage. The numerals are rendered in a rounded typeface with a hand drawn look. The lack of sharp edges implies the passage of time, kind of like the way that sharp glass shards eventually become smooth sea glass with rounded edges. The font may also imply an era of days gone by, but the decade is somewhat ambiguous (perhaps timeless?). The use of a warm cream lume implies aging, and bright white lume would not have had the same effect.

The Lum-Tec Combat B18 Bronze on the original tan strap. I think a perfect match.
Lum-Tec also managed to design a highly legible dial that is pleasing to the eye. They enlarged the 12, 3, 6 and 9, which makes the dial easy to read at a glance. The logo and model name are tastefully proportioned and are printed in a light mustard. The dial is a matte black or maybe a very dark charcoal. All the parts work together in balance with no one element overpowering the others.

Crown pulled out. Vintage without being an homage. It is uniquely Lum-Tec.
The sword hands are well-proportioned with the hour hand reaching the numerals and the minute hand reaching the small dots underneath. The second's hand is a stick with a hammer counterweight. I think that the sweeping second's hand brings more drama to the watch dial than perhaps a small seconds sub-dial would have. This was the right choice in my opinion. I like that parts of the hands are blacked-out with matte paint. The difference between the hands just works.

Circular graining on the outer edges of the dial has an interesting reflective quality like record grooves
I want to focus on part of the watch that might easily be overlooked. Towards the outer edge of the dial, you will see small indices and numbers indicating the minutes. These numbers are printed over the only sculptural part of the dial... in this case circular graining. These concentric circles affect how the light reflects and bring visual interest to the dial. The rings are some times reflective when light skims the ridges. If you have ever looked at the grooves in a record, then you might be familiar with the effect. If you do not know what a record is, then go ask your grandparents. I also like how the bronze inner walls of the watch are exposed making a visual bridge from the outside of the case to the inside.

The B18 is part of the Combat B series of watches from Lum-Tec
The date window is a small circle and has a matching black date wheel. The circle cutout is a nice detail to match the other rounded features of the watch. A typical square date window might have been visually incongruent, and it certainly would have not matched the typography.

I think Lum-Tec found a perfect balance in this design
If you have not experienced a Lum-Tec watch from the factory, they usually come in a nice presentation case with a selection of extra straps or watch bands. The Lum-Tec Combat B18 Bronze is no exception and comes with 4 straps including a beautiful tan leather watch band and 3 NATOs – white (for sailors in dress whites?), plus black and olive drab green for everyone else. Lum-Tec could sell these as accessories, but they are included giving you more bands for your bucks.

The contents of the Combat B18's wooden display box.
All of the watch bands included with the Lum-Tech Combat B18 bronze have matching hardware.
Each Lum-Tec strap has matching bronze-like buckles. The hardware is not actual bronze, but a bronze-colored stainless steel. This is a good idea because real bronze can leave green oxidation on your skin. This is also why the case back is stainless steel and glass as you will later see.

The leather watch band with bronzish buckle is excellent.
The Lum-Tec Combat B18 Bronze is ready to be personalized to your own sense of style with just a simple strap swap. The design of the spring bars that come embedded on the Lum-Tec watch bands makes changing them a 10-second operation instead of using tools. Just compress the spring bar with your thumb and remove it. Reverse that process to put it back on. Easy as pie. I think more manufacturers should adopt this spring bar innovation.... they might sell more watch bands too.

Lum-Tec's spring bars are embedded and have a slider to unlock and lock them into place.
If you are using your own watch bands, then you will have to change them the old fashioned way with a spring bar tool, but that is not a big deal. A good Bergeon tool will prevent you from scratching your watch lugs. I have worn it on Bell & Ross style canvas bands, bund style cuffs and most recently on an olive canvas strap from my Steinhart bronze watch. All looked good proving the versatility of the watch, and how well it can adapt to your tastes. I will be keeping mine on the muted canvas strap with a real bronze buckle.

Lum-Tec Combat B18 Bronze on Bell & Ross style textile watch band

A Lum-Tec Combat B18 Bronze on a Steinhart canvas watch band from a bronze Ocean One is a great combo.
The case back on the Lum-Tec Combat B18 Bronze is stainless steel and glass to show off the undecorated Miyota 9015, a reliable Japanese automatic movement running at 28,800 BPH. The second's hand has a wonderfully smooth sweep thanks to this caliber. This might be a good time to mention that all Lum-Tec watches have a lifetime battery change or movement adjustments. All you have to do is send it back to them, and they will take good care of you.

The window in the display back shows off the undecorated but reliable Miyota 9015
Other reliable technologies in this watch include a thick non-reflective sapphire crystal, a screw-down crown and a water resistance of 300 meters. Those specs are no joke making this watch a hardy companion for weekend adventurers. You can sweat in it and get it wet knowing that exposure to the elements will leave a unique patina on the watch that is like a souvenir of your activities.

A screw-down crown makes the Combat B18 a watch capable of 300 meters of water resistance
Apparently, I already left my own mark on the bezel by adding a small flattened section of the coin edge. I only discovered while photographing it at extreme magnification. The coin edge hides it at normal viewing distances.

The B18 is meant to be worn!
A watch that tells a story is an interesting one indeed. As the surface of my Lum-Tec Combat B18 Bronze oxidizes to a unique patina, there will not be another one that looks exactly like it. This is because the catalysts and conditions that cause the patina can be unpredictable. Think of it like a fingerprint (just like the ones I left on the bluish anti-reflective coating in some of my photos. Oops!)

I purchased the watch devoid of patina. The bronze is more golden and brassy looking.
Above is a photo of the watch that I got from the seller. He had removed his patina with Brasso to give me a clean palette to start with. I appreciated this, and this is how you will receive your bronze watch from Lum-Tec. Below is after having it a few months. It looks decades and not just months older. Enjoying this slow evolution of the bronze coloration is the key to owning a bronze watch. If you don't care for this look, then maybe try a rose gold or more stable metal... or just be prepared to constantly polish it.

The bronze patina on my Combat B18 is completely natural.
Even though I have chosen to let my watch develop a natural finish, you don’t have to accept what nature gives you or even wait. The patina on a CuSn8 bronze watch can be artificially forced for a wide variety of colors from blacks, to greens, to burnished gold with brown details. The coin edge bezel and smooth sides of the case make a wonderful canvas for experimentation. The patina will tend to build up stronger in the crevices first, such as on the bezel and crown. Raised edges can become burnished (they can look lighter where the patina gets rubbed off). The end result is that the bronze case has an appearance of depth that many "inert" watches simply don't have.

Bronze can patina into a variety of interesting colors
A quick Google search will reveal a group of daring bronze alchemists with their own special patina formulas and techniques. Bronze is forgiving so if you get unwanted results, you can easily polish your watch back to the shiny brass-like color that it left the factory with. The possibilities seem endless, and the risk of ruining the watch is low making this the perfect customizer’s watch. 

As mentioned before, people interested in the Lum-Tec Combat B18 Bronze may tend to appreciate what I call anti-bling and a different sense of style. At a watch get-together that I attended, it was the watch that people most asked me to see... and some of these guys were wearing some expensive timepieces on their wrists.

There are other bronze watches competing either above or below the Combat B18's price point. On the higher end costing much more, there is the Tudor Black Bay Bronze, the Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 68 Bronze, and the  Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Bronze, among others. There are also watches in a similar price category from Ancon, Archimede, Benarus, Halios, Helberg, Movas, Steinhart, and Raven. The similarities are only in the bronze used to make the cases, and not the designs because the models mentioned run the gamut from chunky dive watches to a retro field and aviator watches. The Lum-Tec Combat B18 has refinement where some of these others just have sheer bulk.

The coin edge seems to patina first.
The Lum-Tec Combat B18 Bronze offers incredible vintage looks but leverages it with modern technology to make day-to-day life with the watch a joy. It is a stand-out in my collection that always brings a smile. A bronze watch is still not that common to see in the real world and has a warmer, less flashy appearance than gold so the Combat B18 Bronze scores high on presence. Bronze watches are hot right now so they are on trend too. I would wear it even if it was considered nerdy. Lastly, Lum-Tec’s attention to detail, thoughtful design choices, and excellent manufacturing quality makes any of the bronze Combat B watches very desirable. I am smitten by mine.

I just can't get over how cool this watch is!
At the time of this writing, the Lum-Tec Combat B18 Bronze was not sold out, but rest assured that Lum-Tec will have different versions to entice you when it does. Prices are $1,095 from the web site so check it out if you are interested.

Lum-Tec Combat B18 with a bronze case. The quick change watch band has bronzed hardware

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