TAWATEC (TActical WAtch TEChnology) was founded in 1993. It is a Swiss company located in Biel, Switzerland, a city at the foot of the first mountain range of the Jura Mountains area. The city and its neighborhoods thrive on precision and micro mechanics and have long been known for their manufacturing of highly-specialized, production-oriented machinery and tools, and as the home to many high-quality Swiss watch manufacturers.
TAWATEC was started to create superior time pieces specifically geared towards the rigorous requirements of law enforcement, military and firefighting professionals. We create products that not only meet but exceed the operational needs of our customers, providing functional innovation while delivering exceptional value.
Driven by this vision, TAWATEC watches were developed by both watch makers as well as those within the operational community. Each product is designed not just to look good, but to function in the field. The products are continually evolving with input from customers and operators in the field. The goal of TAWATEC is to not simply create watches for the tactical community, but rather with the tactical communityóto put the concentrated technological knowledge of TAWATEC to work so that we can continuously reinvent ourselves, develop new applications and tap new technologies. That is the lifeblood of TAWATEC.
History of tritium watches: Since 1989 the U.S. Army has specified the use of tritium gas light sources for military watches destined for troops to ensure that they are visible in low-light conditions. Among the best known and most popular models are the SandY 490 Type 1 and the SandY P 650 Navigator. Their lighting system is based on permanent light technology produced in Switzerland by MB Microtec. Microtec is the only company in the world that manufactures light elements in such a miniature format. Unfortunately, the original illumination materials used in these watches posed significant problems.
In April 1988, the security officer on duty in the New Cumberland Army Depot, Pennsylvania, was shocked when a Geiger counter in one of the depotís storage halls indicated considerably increased radioactivity. Upon closer inspection, the cause of the contamination was quickly found: the SandY 184 military watches in the hall were emitting an unusually high dose of radioactivity. The hands and markings on the dials of these watches were coated with traditional tritium phosphorescent paint. The radiation levels of this paint were in some cases one hundred times more than the 50 dpm level considered safe for human use. The large stock of watches in New Cumberland was therefore both a security and health risk. The security officer immediately informed the proper authorities at the Department of Defense.
Thomas Chleboski, Head of the Standardization and Specifications section of the U.S. Army, acted immediately, deleting the watch supplier Stocker & Yale from the Qualified Product List (QPL-46374). That list identifies the companies that are qualified to supply wrist watches to the U.S. Army.
The news was quite a shock for Jim Bickman, President and CEO of Stocker & Yale in Beverly, Massachusetts, as his company had been delivering orders for the SandY 184 for over four years. Bickman, however, had an idea as to how a permanent solution could be found for the problem of radioactive leaking in illuminated watches. For several years his company had been supplying the army with compasses that used a small glass tube filled with tritium gas to supply their illumination. The tritium gas light sources were produced by the Swiss company MB Microtec in Niederwangen with the help of a special laser. These new light sources were proven to not release any measurable radioactive material at all. Could this groundbreaking lighting technology be used for watches as well?
In order to make this possible, the Mil-W-4637 specification relating to the manufacture of military wrist watches would have to be changed. As Bickman recalls, "I decided to convince the relevant departments in the U.S. Army to create new specifications for the production of military watches. I wrote a draft version of this modified product specification myself." With the adoption of that specification, a completely new generation of military watches was born.
Intensive cooperation between America and Switzerland: MB Microtec, the only manufacturer of these tiny tritium light elements in the world, was also keenly interested in the idea of launching such a watch. The two companies, which had been business partners for many years, quickly reached agreement. They decided to focus intensely on the production of prototype watches using the new enclosed illumination system. These sample watches were built in Switzerland, by general contractor Montres Constructa S.A., Bettlach. Another member of this prestigious team was the company Terna S.A. Fabrica Orologi in Mendrisio, which was responsible for the assembly of all the individual watch components including the plastic casing, movement, dial, hands, etc.
Use of Tritium gas light sources: On May 31, 1989 the new Mil-W-46374E regulation was officially adopted in the U.S.A. This standard not only brought about the change from tritium illuminated paint to enclosed tritium illumination, it also marked the complete redesign of the dial and the hands of military watches. The new dials also included the symbol for radioactivity as well as the marking «H3» to indicate tritium gas. The new standard strictly limited the volume of tritium gas enclosed in the tube to no more than 25 millicuries of H3. More very importantly, no radioactivity whatsoever could be measurable on the surface of the watch.
The light system itself consisted of sealed glass tubes filled with tritium and coated on the with a fluorescing substance. While these devices contained a radioactive substance, the tritium presented no external radiation threat when encapsulated in non-hydrogen-permeable containers. This is due to tritiumís low penetration depth, which was insufficient to penetrate intact human skin, much less the tritium vial and watch case.
Today this light system, still regarded as the state of the art in self-powered and persistent illumination, is called GTLS (Gaseous Tritium Light Source). Various preparations of the phosphor compound are now used to produce different colors of light. In addition to the common phosphorus green, red, blue, yellow, purple, orange, and white lights have been produced.
Development of prototypes for qualification tests: According to new regulations, all military watches procured in the future were required to have tritium gas lighting elements. Any supplier wishing to tender for a military order needed to first submit qualification samples of finished watches which then had to be subjected to a series of extremely rigorous tests by the Department of Defense. Only when these tests were successfully completed was the product to be included in the Qualified Product List. The development and submission of qualification samples was a calculated risk on the part of the manufacturer, with no guarantee of passing the evaluation or receiving subsequent orders.
Continued Evolution: Things changed once again in November 1999 when the new "performance" specification of the MIL-PRF-46374G standard was issued. Per that specification, tritium illuminated devices were no longer an absolute requirement for visibility of the watch face in the dark. With the subsequent decrease in orders from the U.S. Department of Defense, in 2000 Stocker & Yale withdrew from the military watch and compass business and sold their timekeeping division.
The Swiss company TAWATEC Watches has since taken it upon itself to continue the evolution of tactical watch technology with the use of newer tritium-illuminated light sources, lighter and stronger case materials and better, more functional designs. The result of this process was the first generation of the E.O. Diver watch, which was released in 2006. Since then TAWATEC has continually improved its offerings by constantly updating both materials and designs to create some of the best tactical timekeeping products available.
Benefits of GTLS:
The use of tritium gas light sources offers other benefits besides optimal insulation of the radioactive material. These light sources are self-illuminating and do not require batteries or exposure to other light sources to charge. Their luminance is almost one hundred times that of watches with traditional tritium phosphorescent paint. The hands and markings are also extremely bright at night, so bright in fact that soldiers in the field occasionally wear a cover over the watch in order to avoid accidentally revealing their position in low-light conditions.
The major difference between tritium and the Superluminova used in most traditionally illuminated watches is that tritium doesn't have to be "charged", whereas Luminova, Superluminova and its other versions have to be "charged" by a light source in order to glow. In other words, tritium doesn't fade at all over the course of a night. Superluminova will last roughly 1 to 5 hours, depending on how much of the material is applied and how full «charged» it is while tritium lighting will last well over 12-25 years. Another difference is how bright the different illumination substances are. Tritium tends to be less bright when compared to a freshly charged Superluminova application but while the Superluminova will dim noticeably over the first few minutes of darkness tritium will stay light at the same intensity for years. Of course, this can vary depending on how much tritium is in the tube and how much Superluminova is applied. All TAWATEC watches use the T25 GTLS system from MB Microtec which is currently the most advanced tritium illumination system available.