Light Me Up: The Insanely Colorful Lume Of Black Badger James Thompson’s Watches (Lume Fest!)
by Anders Modig
Working with creative makers like De Bethune, MB&F, Stepan Sarpaneva, Bamford, and Linde Werdelin, Gothenburg-based James Thompson – aka Black Badger – has become industry famous as the driving force of a new school of applications of luminous materials.
“You have to stay ahead with materials and trends, ever developing the crafts,” Canadian-born Thompson explains.
But before taking closer looks at those watches and more, let’s find out how Thompson approaches adding another dimension to both haute horlogerie and entry-level watches.
“This is where haute horlogerie treatments enter the stage. When working together with high-end brands, I can for instance suggest some chamfering with which you can lead the light, reflect it, and bounce it around the watch. Another example of purpose-designed componentry is an extra line in a rotor that can be filled in with Super-LumiNova. We also manufacture solid pieces of lume using the Lumicast method, which adds a lot of extra flair. In the end I try to use light as an artistic tool.”
Lumicast is a new method of microcasting components in solid Super-LumiNova instead of coating an existing component. In essence, the component is replicated and molded in the lume material, which provides far greater luminous output than just a topical coating.
Light years: from radium to Badgerite
Luminous watches began with a calamitous history dating from the 1920s and 1930s. Radioactive radium was initially used to illuminate watch dials, which led to the tragic story of the so-called Radium Girls – female factory workers who developed mouth cancer from reshaping the hairs of their radioactive paintbrushes with their lips and tongue.
AGT luminous materials transformed lume from a painted afterthought to milled chunks for various applications. AGT Ultra works very well inside watches, but if used for exterior purposes, as on the rings that Thompson also makes, it can lead to quality issues.
This led to Thompson collaborating directly with the Swiss company Super-LumiNova, with whom he developed Badgerite – arguably the most luminous substance in the watch industry. Badgerite is said to emit up to 25 percent more light than the substances usually used by the big brands.
Super-LumiNova projects: 2019-2021
“Super-LumiNova the base of what I do. Hasn’t really changed that much since the 1990s. It has been refined for sure – but the basic nuts and bolts are similar, and with the collaboration we have been able to develop the material even further.”
Black Badger’s first watch featuring Badgerite was the De Bethune DB28GS Grand Bleu (2019). This was also the first timepiece in which the collaboration was really aiming for the watch to look as good during the day as during the night. Especially when the miniature dynamo-operated LED light at 6 o’clock was activated.
“By mixing violet and blue we were able to come up with a substance that not only matches the iconic De Bethune blue oxidized titanium during the day, by mixing blue and violet we were also able to match the glow color. Augmenting the glow color of something is infinitely more difficult. This was a week of hanging out in their chemistry lab with guys with clipboards and lab coats, me nodding politely pretending I knew what everybody was talking about. What I love about this watch is that while it is watchmaking on the highest level, the light is the main protagonist, the center player, the Zlatan of the watch.”
There are two more Super-LumiNova-based projects planned for release in 2021 from MW&Co and GoS.
The luxurious MW&Co Asset stands out, its pierced case sides emitting three rows of blue light from an interior Lumicast band, while a similar case band on the forthcoming GoS Norrsken is directed inward, adding yet another level to the ripple effect of its Damascus steel dial.
“The overall look is Nordic and mysterious without going all the way toward a Game of Thrones kind of vibe,” adds Thompson. The goal of this watch according to GoS’s Patrik Sjögren was to re-create the Northern Lights on the wrist, working with luminescence in an artistic way without the need for the brightest possible light.
The GoS Norrsken is slated for introduction in March 2021, while the MW&Co Asset will probably be released later in the year, though it is already available for pre-order.
Bamford Watch Department collaborations
Over the last couple of years Thompson has also developed other unusual materials for the watch industry in collaboration with Bamford Watch Department, which has resulted in three limited edition models to date.
The first was the BWD x Black Badger Fordite TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 5, its dial in a material Thompson dubbed Fordite. Fordite is the layered “overspray” that builds up in a car factory’s industrial paint bays over many years. The material used for this unique collaboration originates from Ford’s Michigan factories from the 1970s through the 1990s.
The second was the BWD x Black Badger Coffee Dial TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 5, whose dial’s rusty, nearly tropical appearance comes from ground coffee from Café Da Matteo in Gothenburg, which Thompson fashioned into dial blanks and hand finished.
The third is the BWD x Black Badger Zenith El Primero Superconductor, whose entire case is made of high-conducting silver and copper, which is exposed thanks to a special acid bath and then machined to produce a honeycomb aesthetic. Thompson has been using this process in his jewelry designs for years.
Arcanaut ARC 2
Thompson has recently become part owner of Danish independent watch brand Arcanaut, and for the forthcoming ARC 2 he has developed a new dial material called D’ARC Matter using slate scraps he kicked loose from a public fountain near his Swedish home. “We are keeping it as local as possible,” he quips.
Staying in line with the Scandinavian-style inspiration of these timepieces, he puts the stone through an espresso grinder to form a powder, which he then recasts into a stone composite to form an “honest” dial material in the neutral hue and matte structure he had envisioned.
“When we describe Arcanaut we use food analogies. We are not the Michelin-star, white-tablecloth brand. We don’t want that. That’s not us. We want to be the taco food truck with cold beer where you stand around talking at 11 o’clock at night. And we have a much more contemporary way of working. Why put €500,000 into a brick-and-mortar boutique?” he asks rhetorically.
This rebellious approach seems to work for the new brand. Despite the difficult pandemic timing, Arcanaut has presold more than 20 watches costing just under $3,000. These watches are currently in progress and will likely come out around the second quarter of 2021.
“Lume and other materials don’t necessarily add a massive amount of cost to a piece. What they do add is a lot to the experience. It is all about visual joy, putting a smile on things. That’s my job.”
For more information, please visit www.blackbadger.se.
Quick Facts De Bethune DB28GS Grand Bleu
Case: 44 x 12.8 mm, black zirconium case band, titanium case back and bezel, floating lugs
Movement: manual winding Caliber DB2080 with silicon escape wheel and titanium-and-white-gold balance wheel, triple pare-chute shock absorption, self-regulating twin spring barrels, 5-day power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; elapsed dive time, power reserve, manual dial illumination with dynamo
Limitation: 10 pieces
Price: $93,500 / 91,500 Swiss francs
Quick Facts Linde Werdelin Oktopus Blue Sea
Case: 44 x 46 x 15 mm, ALW (Alloy Linde Werdelin, a mix of aluminum, titanium and zirconium); titanium case back and crown with octopus engravings, water resistant to 300 m
Dial: three proprietary colors of Badgerite lume developed in cooperation with Super-LumiNova; upper dial laser-cut in stencil technique
Movement: automatic Dubois Dépraz Caliber 14580/ETA 2842-2, modified, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, power reserve 44 hours
Functions: hours, minutes; large date
Limitation: 88 pieces
Price: 14,194 Swiss francs/€15,725
Quick Facts Sarpaneva Korona K0 Seasons
Case: stainless steel (Autumn boasts a TiN-coated case band), 46 x 12 mm
Movement: modified automatic Soprod A10
Functions: hours, minutes, sweep seconds
Dial: Black Badger proprietary luminous advanced composite covered by a DLC or TiN-coated stainless steel grille
Limitation: 20 pieces each in four colors (luminous teal, green, violet, blue), only made to order
Price: €10,000 excluding tax for each model
Quick Facts Schofield Blacklamp
Case: 44 x 16.5 mm, Morta carbon fiber
Movement: manual winding Caliber Unitas 6498-1 with seconds modified to hack
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 101 pieces customized with personal lighthouse details or custom text
Remark: comes with aluminum LED flashlight for charging the Black Badger ring of luminous material around the flange
Quick Facts MB&F HMX Black Badger
Case: 46.8 x 44.3 x 20.7 mm, titanium and stainless steel; dual reflective sapphire crystal prisms with integrated magnifying lens
Movement: automatic Sellita caliber with jump hour and training minutes module developed in-house
Functions: bi-directional jumping hours and “trailing” minutes
Limitation: 18 pieces in three colors each (54 total pieces)
Price: 48,000 Swiss francs + applicable tax