Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Somewhat Disturbing: History of Glow-in-the-Dark Watches

It seems that virtually all things can be transformed into “glow in the dark” these days. When it comes to watches, this feature has been around for quite some time. Many pieces offered illuminated dials and bright faces to make underwater and dark time-telling a breeze. You may find that the history behind this type of accessory addition is somewhat interesting and to some a little disturbing.

Did you know:
  • In the 18-19th centuries, watchmakers boiled down volcanic rock and painted the dial to create sheen on the face of timepieces
  • Radioactive radium was added shortly thereafter, as it would emit particles that would give off a glow-like effect
  • Radium infused paint was created in the 20th century and added to dials and hands of the watches, green was the color of choice
  • In 1914 an American company (U.S Radium Corp) began to mine radium and produced radium paints
  • Thousands of US workers, mainly women, were hired to apply the paint to hundreds of dials a day
  • Not until the 1990’s was a non radioactive product introduced to the market

Although these basic facts give us a timeline, there is a history behind glow in the dark watches. Unfortunately, it was discovered that when workers would lick the tips of their paintbrushes to create a pointed edge, the dangerous material (radium) would be ingested. Many workers would become very sick and there were deaths as a result of this. It was some time into the 1920’s that a group of employees banded together to bring a lawsuit against the company. These ladies were known as the “Radium Girls”. As a direct result of this, the factory was ultimately shut down and new regulations were established.
Radium was no longer used as a form of illumination and another material called tritium was introduced. Although this is also a radioactive material, it is far less harmful and much more regulated. Ultimately though, the use of any matter that is radioactive in nature was prohibited. Chemists and engineers worked on an alternate source for glow in the dark painting and illuminating products.
Super LumiNova was revealed to the world in the 1990’s. This amazing product had the ability to glow at night while being “charged up” in the sun during the day. This is composed of a form of phosphorescent pigmentation, also called lume. This is the brand that is used to this very day.

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