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Review: Lüm-Tec M33 Phantom Chronograph

Featured | Review | 07.12.2011

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Where do I even begin to discuss the M33? When I first saw the Lüm-Tec M33, lurking in a watch forum somewhere, I immediately knew that I had discovered something special. When browsing watch sites and forums one tends to see similar trends played out in only a handful of ways, but the M33 really stood out as a unique take on the phantom watch. At the time, I had not heard of Lüm-Tec, and upon surface digging about the brand, I was amazed at what I saw. A small and relatively young Ohio based brand dedicated to affordable and unique limited edition watches built with the highest standards. A brand that posts designs on forums, takes feedback directly from consumers, and tweaks their designs accordingly. A watch brand that, in ways, embodies what we here at W&W believe watches are about: style, quality and value.  So, I knew this was a watch I needed to add to my collection.

Case: 316L Stainless Steel with Titanium Carbide dark charcoal PVD hard coating
Movement: Miyota OS20 Quartz Chronograph w/ date and 24hr dial
Dial: Matte charcoal gray w/ black index and MDV Lume
Lens: Double sided AR sapphire
Case Back: screwdown 316L Stainless steel
Strap: Black Genunine leather, Black rubber and PVD 316L Steel
Water Res.: 10atm (100m/330ft)
Dimensions: 46m
Crown: Screwdown with double diamond sealing system
Thickness: 12mm
Lug Width: 24mm
Warranty: 1 year limited warranty, lifetime battery replacement

Even before you see the watch, the M33 leaves a lasting impression. First, there is the presentation of the boxes. The M33 arrives in a nice, clean branded white cardboard box that is simply the gift-wrapping for the black leather presentation box inside. Upon opening the presentation box you are presented with your watch as well as various documents: a hand filled-in international warranty card, the CEO’s business card, the owner’s manual and a sort of birth certificate. On either side of your watch are two compartments, which store the two alternate bands that are part of the package. To be honest… this was the first time I had received a watch from a brand that went to such extents, and it really gives the watch extra personalized charm. As a small apartment dweller, I try not to hold on to packaging, but the presentation case for the M33 is not only useful for storing all of its extras, it feels like it is part of the watch.

But enough about presentation and on to the watch! The first thing I noticed about the M33, and everyone else who has picked it up has noticed too, was its weight; it is deceptively heavily, but in a good way. The screw-down crown is 8mm in diameter, has a very nice ridged texture, and very smooth threading action, adding to the sturdiness of the body. The chrono pushers are stiff and take a proper amount of force to engage, which they do so with a satisfying click. The all-stainless body, the shape of which closely resembles the style of a certain luxury Italian brands save a few details, is coated with the darkest matte PVD I have seen and is genuinely a solid piece of metal. Basically, the watch feels like it is absolutely solid; drop proof, perhaps bullet proof (do not test that theory, thanks).

And then there is the face. Underneath an anti-reflective coated sapphire crystal is genuinely the most interesting phantom watch face I have seen. Unlike most brands that attempt a phantom by just making everything black, Lum-Tec went for a more intelligent combination of matte charcoal gray, matte black and their oh-so-vibrant MDV lume. What you get is a face that is dark and stealthy but very easily readable in any light condition. The numerals, which are in a font is reminiscent of the Blade Runner poster, and index markings are super crisp black that stand off of the gray face in normal to mid light. The date wheel, which white text on a black surface, is displayed through a small hole between the 4 and 5 positions. I happen to really like this simple style of showing the date; it is effective without disrupting the face. The sub-dials are stamped circles with a texture of fine concentric circles, which breaks up the otherwise flat gray nicely.

The hour and minute hands are lumed outlines of “roman swords”; they are extremely cool looking. During the day the slightly yellow color of the lume makes them pop off of the face, and at night they seem almost ethereal, like holograms projecting from the center axis of the watch. The hands of the three sub-dials are small, stout, coated in lume and glow nicely as well. The detail, however, that really draws my attention whenever I look at the face, is the seemingly simple lume markers at the twelve hour positions. Head on they might seem like flat dots, nothing special, but that is wrong. These markers are actually half-spheres that stand off of the surface. The dimensionality of these dots makes them project light more effectively as they are viewable from many angles. They are also just really neat looking and a detail I have not seen before that reminds me of a heli-pad at night.

What is so cool about M33’s use of MDV lume, which is a proprietary 8-layer application of superluminova, is that watch seems to have two faces in one: a day face and a night face. The day face is all business in a dark pallet. The information is extremely clear and readable at a glance. At night, the numbers and index markings fade away and the watch becomes this abstract tract of glowing orbs and hands. Though still easy to read, the watch becomes infinitely more mysterious and intriguing when the face drops away and all that is left are the glowing outer markings, the sub-dial hands and the ultra-thin outlines of the minute and hour hands.

The M33 also comes with 3 straps standard for its 24mm lugs. 3! As someone who is rarely satisfied with the straps that come stock with watches, and changes the straps on his watches very regularly to suit different moods, I was very excited about this.

First, there is the leather strap. It is a 4mm thick black leather strap with gray stitching that is 24mm at the lug and about 20mmat the tip. It has a black PVD buckle branded with the Lum-Tec logo. The strap is very nice looking and compliments the look of the watch well, but, despite being genuine leather, it does have a slightly plastic feeling to it. Regardless, it is very wearable and lends a slightly more fashionable presence to the watch.

Second, is the anti-static molded rubber strap. The strap is matte black and has a nice beveled design to it. It also has fairly large Lum-Tec logos running down the center of each side, and the same PVD buckle that is on the leather strap. Though I am not usually a rubber strap person, this has quickly become my favorite strap for this watch. The deep matte black of the rubber really adds to the density of the face and body and seems to tie everything together. It also very light weight and comfortable; definitely the right choice for hot weather and use in an active setting.

Last is the 24mm 316L stainless bracelet. Make no mistakes about it; this thing is a piece of body armor. Made from no-nonsense rectangular links that are nearly 4mm thick, and coated in PVD to match the body, the metal bracelet is as sturdy and heavy as the body itself and adds a distinct “bad-assness” to the watch. The weight this adds to the watch is really quite striking, even after removing 4 links, the strap and body together weighed nearly half a pound. That is a lot of metal to have on your wrist. The bracelet closes with a good quality deployment clasp that also has the Lum-Tec logo on it.

Also, as a bonus, I tried my 24mm Gray Maratac 4 PVD buckle Zulu with the M33 and it looks really cool as well. The shiny gray nylon makes the black of the PVD seem darker, and all of the bulk of the strap gives the whole thing a very masculine feel (not that there is any shortage of masculinity in this watch).

The M33 is powered by the Miyota OS20 movement, which Lum-Tec refers to as “heavy-duty” in their literature. Some people moan about quartz vs mechanical an awful lot, but I am of the camp that thinks that there is a time place for both. This is a perfect place for a quartz movement. This is a rugged watch that beckons to be taken with you on an excursion, and as such, needs to be able to take a smack or two. Mechanical movements, though more “charming” what with their spring driven hearts, add artistry to a watch, but also add preciousness that doesn’t always belong.

Furthermore, the amount of functions of the OS20 adds value to the watch beyond time keeping. The OS20 is a chronograph with date and 24hr functions. That is 3 substantial complications in an inexpensive and reliable package.  And if battery changing concerns you, Lüm-Tec has you covered with lifetime battery changes.

Wearing the M33 is deeply gratifying in many ways. At 44mm by 12mm, the body is big but slender, making it comfortable to wear for long periods. The weight of it lets you know it is there and that you have a real watch on, but doesn’t get tiresome. The face is mysterious and fascinating; great to ogle when bored at a train station, or your work desk, and certainly gets marveled at when it is noticed by people around you. The variety of straps that are shipped with it allows you to vary the watch for your needs and tastes, and really adds a lot of value to the watch. Regardless, the watch will look great with all sorts of straps; after all, black does go with everything. Most of all, the M33 is simply great looking, and I found that it pairs well with just about anything I put on.

So, in case it isn’t clear, I think the M33 is a fantastic watch and I certainly recommend it. At $475 it really is an amazing value considering it has 3 straps, a sapphire crystal, lifetime battery changes, is built like a tank and is a limited edition. My experience thus far would suggest that Lüm-Tec watches are worth every penny…in fact, they seem to be worth far more than what you pay. As a side note, I contacted Lüm-Tec with some questions and literally 3 minutes later I got a very friendly email from Chris Wiegand, the CEO, addressing my questions. Customer service like that is rare and tells you that this is a company that really cares about their products and stands behind them.

Scroll down for a large gallery of this extremely photogenic watch

  • http://octopiwwc.wordpress.com/ Jay

    Great review! Those hands!!! Wow!

  • http://pretenseofknowledge.com/ Speedmaster

    Not bad at all.

  • http://BalloonRidesUSA.com Ron K Miller

    Received mine today – a great looking watch – stealthy enough for every day wear. I don’t like bling or watches so insanely large they catch on everything, but wanted a “man’s” watch since I’ve got big wrists and hands.

    Love the extra bands and went with the ss link, very nice. My local jeweler sized it for me. The silicone band went to another watch which was in need. The leather band is cheese. All the bands are nicely sized for my 8.25″ wrist!

    Excellent value, we’ll see how the black coating lasts. It’s a keeper.

    • http://www.zachstarrweiss.com Zach

      Hi Ron,
      So far, the black PVD on mine has seen no wear, except for a little mark where I struggled to get the spring bar in when putting the metal strap on. I still am mostly sporting the rubber strap, which I just find so comfortable. The leather strap isn’t as high quality as the other two, but considering the m33 comes with 3 straps, and doesn’t cost a small fortune, I still find it a welcome addition. And, it does look really nice on the watch.

      Thanks for the comment!
      -Zach

  • Leon

    I found this watch to be a bit of a disappointment. It is a truly handsome watch in the daylight. But for a maker called “Lum-Tec” that sells watches based on their “Maximun Darkness Visibility” Technology and promises “…incredibly bright illumination that will remain very readable all throughout the night” you’d expect the lum on the hour/minute hands to last as long as the rest of the dial. In my case the main hands disappeared after about 40 minutes — also the spring bars are crap, the band keeps popping off and the sweep seconds hand is slightly off. I feel duped somehow — think I might return it.

    • http://www.zachstarrweiss.com Zach

      very sorry to hear that Leon. The hands are definitely weaker than the rest, which I imagine is due to the thinness of them. Also, compared to other Lum-Tecs I have played with, the lume is surprisingly weak overall. When i first saw it I was impressed, but less so now. I haven’t had a problem with the spring bars myself, but I have heard of people having problems with quick release bars. I tend not to use the leather strap that came with it, favoring the rubber or a third party strap. Honestly, if you are unhappy or second guessing, return it. I know I would if I felt that way. For me, the watch is just unique, very attractive and well built. THough, for a quartz chrono, a bit pricy.

  • Rob

    Zach:

    Thank you for such a thorough review on the M33.

    There wasn’t alot on the internet about this fine timepiece, but your review and accompanying photos helped “seal the deal” for me, and I ordered this last week, having worn it for several days now. I’d like to springboard off your review and add a couple of things I’ve noticed about this amazing timepiece, and my experience.

    (1) Yes, the hands fade first on this watch, leaving those little lume-covered “half-orbs” at each hour glowing wildly in the dark, but due to the size, contrast between the hands and dial, I can still read this watch in any light, and as one Lum-Tec employee commented in a forum somewhere, Lum-Tec sells other non-stealth watches that don’t have cutout hands, and are more packed with lume than the M33, but this watch purchase, for me, was about the simple, no-nonsense subtlety of the dial, when viewed at-a-glance, and the attention to detail and luxurious features, when viewed with more of a detailed eye. With that in mind, I have had no trouble telling the time quickly, despite the additional three smaller dials, which, in other watches, usually “clutters it up”, making instant time telling more difficult. Not with the M33. I can view it at a glance, see the large hands, and not be distracted by the smaller sub dials. This is the only chronograph watch I’ve ever tried that achieves this level of instant readability with genuinely-useful complications.

    (2) Price Point: When i discovered this watch a few weeks ago and read the specs: thick sapphire, 24-hour dial, THREE included wearing options, limited-edition, my mind’s eye said “$800-$1000″. What a pleasant surprise to discover that in fact, this watch is $475 directly from Lum-Tec, who not only sent my M33 immediately (mine is number 190/200), but when I included a note in my order to “please install the stainless band prior to shipping”, had a response from the General Manager, welcoming me and promising to have the stainless band installed, as it was upon receipt 2 days later. I dare say I’ll never have communication with someone from Tag Heuer, Seiko, Citizen, or many other brands, when purchasing a watch at this price or beyond. The personal touch was a bonus far exceeding the price of the watch.

    (3) Quality. Although the pics of this watch show a beautiful timepiece, they don’t bely the attention to detail and quality that are apparent, until you actually see and hold the M33 for yourself. I notice that the dial “changes” color, based on the angle of viewing and varying light. At night, I see nothing but a simple black dial (it’s really Gray) and contrasting light-colored hands. In some light, the AR coating reflects a violet, purple-like color. There have also been times I’ve question my eyes…greenish? Olive? It may be for an instant and at an angle, but I see something new in detail or color I hadn’t seen before, which make this watch more than just a stealthy-black utensil. It is formal enough and with enough options to wear to any occasion, always looking like… a thousand bucks!

    (4) Limited Edition/Exclusivity: I’ve had watches with serial numbers and without, but never a limited-edition watch. Chances are, I’m not going to be running into anyone I know, (or don’t know) wearing this watch, since the 2010 model brought 200 M33s. I’m going to be wearing mine (daily), but I’m quite sure no one else in my zip code has one. You don’t usually get that at this price point.

    In closing, so far I am very pleased at the Lum-Tec M33, and now that I have written far more than I intended, feel I should just do my own review hahaha. I look forward to many more Lum-Tecs, and look forward to more of your reviews.

    Rob

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