What Watches Do Navy SEALs Really Wear? Watch Ads vs. Real World

When picturing a job that could also be a synonym for “tough,” two words have to come to mind: Navy SEALs. These military figures have earned in almost mythical stature due to both larger-than-life media portrayals and the fact that they really do have one of the hardest, most dangerous jobs on the planet.

It’s exactly that toughness that makes a Navy SEAL’s (ahem) seal of approval so impressive. If a member of this elite military team vouches for a piece of equipment or is shown to use one in real life, people take notice. One such product that has long enjoyed a reputation for toughness due to its association with the Navy SEALs is the Luminox brand of watches.

Generally considered the official watch of the Navy SEALs, Luminox watches (including the Luminox Men’s Original Navy SEAL Dive Watch) are all designed to be nearly indestructible, much like the military members for whom they’re built.

But, do Navy SEALS really wear Luminox watches?

Who are the Navy SEALs?

navy sea with wrist watchAll divisions of the US military have a special forces unit. The SEALs – short for Sea, Air, and Land Teams – are home to the Navy’s most elite personnel. Though the Navy is technically the nation’s naval warfare division, the SEALs are bound by no terrain.

The history of the Navy SEALs stretches back to World War II, but the official launch of the squad was January 1, 1962. Following the Korean War, and with the Vietnam War still in its relative infancy, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Arleigh Burke, recommended the creation of a force that could operate under increasingly unconventional situations where battles were fought in new and unpredictable ways.

Some of the areas in which the original SEALs were trained included underwater demolition, hand-to-hand combat, and high-altitude parachuting. As the decades have passed and newer conflicts have changed the face and formulation of warfare, the SEALs have adapted to remain one of the world’s most specialized and dependable military teams.

The path to becoming a Navy SEAL involves one of the hardest training and testing trials of any military division in the world.

The official SEAL Qualification Training, which is the final portion of a more than year-long regimen, lasts 26 weeks. The SEALs were formed as an all-male team and remain so now, though in 2015 the official rules were changed to allow women to join the team so long as they pass the requisite training.

The Navy SEALs have had a role in every military conflict that the US has fought in since the squadron’s formation, though much of their activities remain unknown to the public. On rare occasion, their actions do gain wider attention. For instance, on May 1, 2011, the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (known as “SEAL Team 6”) were responsible for the successful operation that led to the death of Osama bin Laden, founder of al-Qaeda and mastermind of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Luminox SEAL watches:

The history of Luminox

close up of Luminox watch
Photo Credit: Jametiks

Compared to the most prestigious watch companies, Luminox is a relatively new watchmaker. Opening up shop in 1989 in California, the brand has built its reputation on making durable watches. Not only do they cater to the Navy SEALS, but they make specialty watches for the Air Force, Coast Guard and other military and law enforcement groups.

In 2006, the brand was purchased in part by Swiss watchmaker, Mondaine, which has helped the company expand its reach to over 30 countries. Despite this global expansion, Luminox has made a concerted effort to be associated with the US military, going so far as to base some of their watch designs on the look of various US Air Force fighter aircraft.

What gives Luminox watches distinction – and the brand its name – is their “always visible” technology. The hands include tritium, a radioactive hydrogen isotope, which has natural luminescence and doesn’t require another light or energy source to charge. For this reason, the watches can be read even in the darkest environments without an external or separate internal light source.

How strong are Luminox watches?

Luminox’s propriety luminescence technology has obvious benefits for those in combat conditions, but the brand’s main claim to military relevance is the strength and durability of their watches. So, just how strong are Luminox watches?

In the early 1990s, the Navy SEALs put one of their own, Nick North (see video interview below), in charge of researching and developing a watch that was as tough as the military elites who would be wearing them. They tested a number of watches in the kind of conditions that SEALs could be expected to experience – deep sea dives, parachutes jumps, field operations – as well as under extreme conditions like ovens, freezers, and pressure pots. You get one guess as to which watch was the only one to survive all the tests.

Luminox watches were created to be impressively resilient and in the nearly 25 years since the first official Luminox Navy SEAL watch was released, the brand has only continued to up their game. Starting in 1993, the SEALs and Luminox have worked together to develop watches specifically for the elite squad’s use, and that partnership continues today.

Types of Luminox Navy watches

The original Navy Seal 3000 watch has birthed multiple varieties in the two and a half decades since its introduction. The style and features have been updated, but underneath it all, these watches maintain the same durable soul that first impressed Nick North. Within this series of watches, the differences are fairly negligible.

Luminox Men's 3001 Quartz Navy Seal Dive Watch
Luminox Men’s 3001

For instance, the 3001 Navy Seal Dive Watch and the 3051 EVO Navy SEAL Colormark Watch are quite similar in look and features. Both are made out of durable Polyurethane with white, luminescent digits on a black face. They’re each water resistant up to depths of 200 meters (or 660 feet). They also both have Swiss-quartz movements, which means they are incredibly accurate. The only appreciable difference is the size and weight: the case diameter of the 3051 is bigger than the 3001, but its thickness is considerably thinner which makes the weightless, also.

Luminox also has the Authorized for Naval Use (ANU) 4200 series.  These watches are stainless steel rather than Polyurethane, but otherwise, they’re consistently durable and reliable.

In terms of specifics, the 4200 series is not terribly different from the 3000s, though they tend to retail for a few hundred dollars more.

Do SEALS wear Luminox watches?

Now we have arrived at the crux of the issue: do Navy SEALs actually wear these watches? There are plenty of websites that promote the Luminox brand as the official watch of the SEALs, and almost certainly there are special forces members that do wear them. The idea that Luminox is the preferred watch of military personnel, though, is mostly promotional hype.

Luminox Evo Navy Seal Blackout Mens Watch 3051.BLACKOUT
Luminox Evo BLACKOUT Edition (See on Amazon)

If you ask most people who have served in one of the armed forces, what you’re going to hear almost unanimously is that their preferred timepiece is some cheap plastic watch they picked up for $15-30. There are a number of reasons for this, though the first is the most obvious: money. The men and women of the armed forces aren’t paid particularly well especially considering the job they perform, and what income they do make goes to other necessities.

Also, the armed forces generally don’t issue watches to their members anymore. Though there is still a standard for military watches, it is far more common practice for military personnel to provide their own. For that reason, while the Navy brass may believe the Luminox ANU series are the ideal watches, individuals will make their purchasing decisions on personal preference.

Another reason that a SEAL or any other military member might forgo a Luminox is that, while they are strong and reliable, they are also thick and heavy. That extra weight can be a burden on some missions or when already loaded down with other heavy gear. Sure, it’s only a few extra ounces, but life-and-death decisions can come down to even less.

What watches do SEALs actually wear?

Again, if we go straight to the horse’s mouth, so to speak, what you generally hear is that expensive watches are very rare. In the field or during training, no matter how strong a watch is, it can still be lost or misplaced. It doesn’t matter how many ovens a watch can survive if it’s left in a forest somewhere.

On the forums, you’ll see a lot of mention of low-cost Casio watches, the same kind you might see on any teenager or blue-collar worker. It seems that these days, Casio has an underwhelming reputation, but in fact, they tend to be reliable watches that consistently do their timekeeping job. That’s the minimum of what anyone really wants from a watch.

Another name you’ll see mentioned a lot is G-Shock.

G-Shocks are made by Casio, but the name has gained such a specific reputation for strength and power that they tend to be thought of as a brand in and of themselves. Like Luminox watches, G-Shock watches are often hyped as the choice of timepiece for men and women in the military.

What’s so great about G-Shock watches?

Casio Men's GW-9400-1CR Master of G Stainless Steel Solar Watch
Master of G Stainless Steel Solar Watch

Casio’s G-Shock watch predates the Luminox brand by more than a decade. The original design team for the watch was headed up by Japanese designer, Kikuo Ibe. Ibe had a grand vision for a watch that wouldn’t break if it was dropped or struck by a large object.

His idea involved the “Triple 10” test: a watch had to be able to survive a 10-meter drop, be submersible up to 10 atmospheres (100 meters), and have a battery that could last 10 years.

A lot of factors go into making G-Shock watches so durable, but the unique genius of these watches is their hollow case with the internal mechanisms suspended in a pocket of air. By having the mechanical parts “float,” the watch can be almost completely shock absorbent. With a combination of urethane and scratch-resistance external materials, a G-Shock watch can handle almost anything life throws at it.   

G-Shock watches and the Navy SEALS

Of course, when Ibe and his team were designing the G-Shock, they were thinking about day-to-day life and the normal types of impacts and collisions that happen to everybody. They probably weren’t giving much thought to the US Navy SEALs.

Whether or not the designers of the G-Shock were thinking about the SEALs, the watch quickly made an impact on them. In the 1980s, G-Shock watches were issued to members of the elite team. Since then, the SEALs and G-Shock watches have shared a close association, even if the Casio watch isn’t the “official” SEAL watch.

Casio Men's G-Shock DW6900-1V Black Resin Sport Watch
Casio G-Shock DW6900

The watch that was issued to SEALs in the 80s and remains a popular military watch to this day is the DW-6600.

While this particular model is no longer made (replaced by the G-Shock DW-6900), it represents a standard of toughness that has never fallen out of favor. You’ll still see many SEALs and former military personnel wearing their original G-Shock.

The 6600 and 6900 are water resistance up to 200 meters and include a number of useful features, like a stopwatch, world time clocks, alarms, and dual 12- and 24-hour time formats. The watches are also lightweight and powered with extremely accurate Japanese-quartz timekeeping.

Are G-Shock watches better than Luminox watches?

Like Luminox, G-Shock watches have positioned themselves as the makers of the best watches for military personnel.

They’ve even released entire military collections and their Master of G series (click to see entire line on Amazon) are broken up into three divisions, one each for land, sea, and water-based armed forces.

We covered a detailed breakdown of these three separate watch lines in this separate article about the best G-Shock watches for the military so if you’re considering any of the models from the “Master” series you’ll want to check out our recommendations. 

G-Shock Rangeman Master Of G Series Stylish Watch - Green/One Size
G-Shock Rangeman Master Of G

Both G-Shock and Luminox watches are incredibly strong and resistant to wear and tear. In fact, short of a close-range explosion, both brands of watches are capable of being a constant companion for anybody in the armed forces, even a Navy SEAL.

The main difference, then, is price. As discussed earlier, Luminox watches tend to retail in the $200-400 or more price range, while many of Casio G-Shock models sell for less than $100. Even the more expensive G-Shock series, like the Rangemen Master of G can often be found for under $200.

For that reason, it isn’t so much a question of which watch is better, but which watch fits your budget and your style.

The great thing about both brands is, whether you’re a Navy SEAL or just a parent with a rambunctious two-year-old, you can count on your watch to survive and fight another day.


Conclusion:

navy seal with watch and other gear
Can you spot the watch? Photo Credit: jamiecat

 

While Luminox watches are marketed as the official watch, and you may find them on the wrists of some real SEALs, like many other things we see in flashy advertisements – they do not always reflect the most accurate reality of everyday life.

The price of the watches can be prohibitive, especially on a military salary for men and women that are supporting a family and have other more important priorities. 

While the high-end Luminox Colormark models and even the G-Shock Masters series by Casio can run into the hundreds of dollars, both of these brands have more basic models of tactical watches that can be found at more reasonable prices, especially the basic model G-Shocks- some of which retail for under $100. 

So while many SEALs would probably love to have one of these quality timepieces, many of them use a much more affordable option as their everyday carry.

If you’re still interested and want to read more about military watches, see our article on special ops watches– including other options from Marathon, Seiko, and others.