Test Driving the Lum-Tec Combat B38 GMT on a Honda Grom

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Flight is the first thing that comes to mind when I think or hear GMT. Greenwich Mean Time’s origin comes from the need for increased timing efficiency in the United Kingdom during the 19th century as the nation became an increasingly powerful naval force and adopted rail travel on a broad scale. But while water and rail travel certainly increased the need for precise timing across time zones, nothing could compare to the breakneck time zone changes brought on by the advent of jet travel in the mid-20th century. That drove the need for pilots and ultimately travelers alike to easily track multiple time zones around the world, and with that, the GMT watch complication was born.


To learn more about GMTs and other watches that allow one to track multiple time zones, click here.


As someone who loves to travel and roam wherever and whenever the opportunity presents itself, the GMT has always been my favorite complication in a watch, albeit one not often within my price range. While in reality, the GMT function is only occasionally useful, just looking down at a GMT is an invitation–a challenge to put it to use and to book a last-minute flight and wake up somewhere new. Still, I never felt the need to hunker down the cash to buy one given that most mechanical options fetch a small premium.

The opportunity to test out the Lum-Tec Combat B38 GMT was one I jumped on for all the reasons above. Plus, after years of writing about and testing watches, I’d never had the chance to handle a Lum-Tec in person. They’re an enigmatic brand in my mind–watches assembled in Ohio, a parent company that largely makes parts, and a name that literally brags about their luminescence. With designs ranging broadly from aggressive cases in aggressive diameters to tamer “field watch”-inspired pieces, I’d always had a hard time getting a feel for the brand and ethos. The Combat B38 GMT finally provided an opportunity to delve a bit deeper. And though I wasn’t taking any extended trips, I wanted to gauge the overall versatility of the design and execution.

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Out of the box (a nice, blonde wood one), the B38 appealed to me because of its smaller (for Lum-Tec) diameter of 43mm. Normally my upper range of watch diameter is 41mm or maybe 42mm. I have a tendency to smack into door jambs with even sub-40mm watches, so you can imagine what happens when I throw on a tuna can-style watch. That 43mm turned out to wear nicely on the wrist and a bit smaller than expected–likely due to the lack of crown guards and the black case.

The bezel is fairly narrow given the diameter of the watch, and it’s a fixed coin-edge style that brings to mind US issue watches from WWII–not surprising given the “Combat” moniker. The case is machined from 316L surgical grade steel and on my test version, it’s coated with a titanium carbide PVD for an excellent matte black finish. Inside ticks a Swiss Ronda 515.24H movement in GMT format. While most of my watches are mechanical, I did find it nice to put the Lum-Tec down for a few days and then rotate it back in days later without needing to reset the time or date as I ran out the door. As far as operation goes, it’s not a GMT in the Rolex sense. Here, you can quick-set the GMT hand (as well as the date) in the first position of the crown.

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The dial packs in a lot of information, but in spite of that, the B38 deftly leverages a few different colors of printing and various text sizes to arrive at a functional and legible design. Along the lines of legibility, the Combat B38 GMT truly lives up to the “Lumin Lum-Tec. In a dark room, the 12, three, six and nine, as well as the hands, were easily read from over two meters away–a welcome feature during an abrupt, middle-of-the-night time check.With no flights imminent during my time with the watch, I decided the next best option was the closest thing to a terrestrial flight I’ve found yet–two-wheel transport. After listening to some Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone,” the watch, a Honda Grom, and I hit the road for some twisting miles and hopefully some good barbecue for lunch.

The Lum-Tec fit well under the cuff of a riding jacket and didn’t grind into the wrist much even after hours on the road. At stop lights, its big, legible dial made it easy to time check even through the face shield of a helmet, which was nicer than trying to dig out an iPhone or flip up the visor with gloves on. The PVD coating didn’t pick up any scratches or scuffs even after a number of run-ins with zippers, snaps, and some roadside tinkering on a finicky fuel system.

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The only negative of the whole time with the watch came at the end of the ride when a spring bar popped off leaving the B38 flopping around on the green suede mil-strap. Later examination showed that the watch had a set of 20mm spring bars on a 22mm lug width from the factory. Fortunately, it was an easy fix and a good reminder to wear a pass-through strap when things get interesting.

In summary, the Lum-Tec B38 Combat GMT is a solid watch all the way around. There are a few things I might change as far as the design goes,  but they’re nitpicks and not true complaints. To me, one of the best things about this model is that it’s a GMT at a very approachable price point ($495 direct from Lum-Tec). It would make an excellent travel watch to keep a low profile; it easily tracks time zone changes; and if lost, damaged, or stolen it’s not the end of the world or irreplaceable. Plus, it’s good for a little bit of adventuring. The quartz caliber is resilient (the Ronda 515.24H is designed to be repaired if damaged and not simply discarded), as is the watch case and finish, and the design is practically meant for a pass-through strap, which is all the more welcome when you’re getting down and dirty. All of us could find good use for such a watch when the time calls, and even when it doesn’t. Lum-Tec


For our past reviews of other watches in the Combat series, check out the B23 Carbon and the B19 Bronze.

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Jon is a native New Englander who enjoys traveling as much as returning home. He has a passion for watches that his significant other kindly tolerates whilst shaking her head in consternation. A tendency to plow through life with little finesse has led him to appreciate and pursue the utility of a good tool watch.
jongaffney
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