The King Of Lume And His Magical World Of Super-LumiNova
Watchonista talks to Canadian-born, Sweden-based designer James Thompson, aka Black Badger, about the world of horological luminescence. If you think Super-LumiNova is just paint, read on!
Black Badger's / James Thompson's journey into watchdom started in his native Canada, where he was studying design. He hated the course, struggled with drawing, and didn’t understand why everything had to look pretty. After chatting with a classmate from Sweden about how they approached design in his country, Thompson decided to leave The Great White North for The Elongated Country and moved to Sweden. There he graduated with a master’s degree in design from the HDK Design School in Göteborg, and he hasn’t looked back since.
The Introduction Of Moonglow
Thompson professes that he has never been good at sketching. At university, he always preferred to be building and modeling things in the workshop and started making rings for friends and family. Adding luminescence to his jewelry came much later, and it almost didn’t happen. “John Gonzales, a friend in the U.S., sent me a message about how I should add Moonglow to my jewelry and sent me a screenshot,” shares Thompson. “I told him that I didn’t want to do ‘glowy’ things, that I thought it was really corny, but he insisted. So I eventually made one for him and posted a couple of pictures. Things went crazy from there. I don’t think I've ever been so catastrophically incorrect!”
The First Forays Into Watchdom
From there, he started to visit the watch shows such as SalonQP in the UK and Belles Montres in Paris and began chatting to people in the watch industry. “I have never had a portfolio, and my degree is in the pages of a cooking book somewhere, but these were the early days of social media, and I kind of found the back door to a party I wasn’t invited to!”
Collaborations With The Independents
If you have ever met Thompson, you will know what a likable guy he is, and his friendly nature and newly found expertise at working with luminescent materials quickly led to collaborations with some of the top names in independent watchmaking, including MB&F, DeBethune, Sarpaneva, Schofield Watch Company, Linde Werdelin, MW&Co, and Bamford Watch Department.
Different Ways To Work With Lume
What makes Thompson’s work unique is his fascination with luminescence as a material that serves the design, researching the best ways to both create it and apply it. Where most companies purchase Super-LumiNova straight off the shelf in paint format, Thompson works hand-in-hand with the Super-LumiNova and RC Tritec companies to develop new materials. He has not only found solutions to cast lume into solid 3D structures, liquid fill them, and screen print the dials, but he has also developed his own proprietary formula called Badgerite.
Badgerite is a modification of Super-LumiNova engineered from the same base chemical level to have enhanced properties such as a brighter, more powerful glow. It can be engineered to have specific daytime colors too. “With a lot of colors of lume, you tolerate the daytime color, but you don’t love it. It looks a bit like greenish old toothpaste in the bottom of the sink,” he laughs.
The De Bethune DB28GS Grand Bleu
“With the DeBethune watch that we collaborated on (the De Bethune DB28GS Grand Bleu), for example, we were searching for a blue that was the perfect match for their thermally oxidized titanium. I sat down with the chemists at Tritec to create a new lume at the base chemical level (called Blue Moon). After four days of being locked in a lab near Zurich, we had a glass bottle of 2g of the stuff. I jumped on a train and headed to the DeBethune workshop and handed it to Denis Flageollet like I was Jason Bourne!” says Thompson.
The Blue Moon lume was engineered to be the on-brand color of De Bethune, but it also had properties to make it glow similar to the brand's iconic blue hue. Getting something to glow a dark color is, "pure Jedi" says Thompson.
When asking Thompson what the inspiration behind the name Blue Moon, he remarked, "Many De Bethune watches take their names from the music industry. Kind Of Blue is the famous Miles Davis album...Steel Wheels is, of course, The Rolling Stones. I had no idea of this connection until I was having dinner with Denis Flageollet near the DB manufacture and he tells me. His wife instantly remarked, “ahh Blue Moon, just like the Billie Holiday song!”
The Latest Project With MW&Co
His latest project is with MW&Co and its Asset collection. Without knowing it, MW&Co had the perfect design for Thompson to experiment with. “I discovered MW&Co at Baselworld last year. I was walking past their booth when I saw a disassembled watch in their showcase. It stopped me in my tracks with its shock absorbers and micro-engineered details,” explains Thompson. After discussions with the brand’s founders, Alain Carrere and Romain Mussato, during the fair and then via email, Thompson went to visit the small independent brand in its hometown of Toulouse to better understand their “Made in France” philosophy.
From there, the project quickly took off with Thompson filling the small perforations in the case with Badgerite. “We had to find a new machining process for the lume on the case,” explains Carrere. “For the dial, two application processes were required – lumicast for the indexes and chrono counters, and liquid fill of Badgerite for the brand logo, crown and pushers, and the edges of the rotor. This timepiece is the first creation of the next generation of lume for timepieces.” Thus was born the MW&Co Asset Black Badger.
Palladium Blue And Iron Man
The Badgerite Thompson developed for MW&Co is an innovation called Palladium Blue. It gives off a gray color in daylight and a bright blue glow at night. “When we saw it for the first time, we were like kids, hiding away in the dark for hours,” laughs Carrere. “For me, the definition of this watch is just cool. There are no other words for it, not even in my native French! It has that wow effect that takes the lume game to a whole new level, you just can’t stop staring at it.”
Palladium is also a bit of a wink to Iron Man franchise and the fact that Robert Downey Jr. wears Thompson’s rings.
Back To Childhood
"There is something about lume that brings out the child in us. “It is like chocolate milk, the toys out of a gumball machine, the glow-in-the-dark stars on your bedroom ceiling, it is an instant throwback to those childhood memories,” says Thompson. “I charge up my ring for my kids at bedtime, but I also showed it to a man at SalonQP who must have been 175 years old, and he just stood there and giggled. Gold just doesn’t make you laugh like that!”