ProTek Founder Barry Cohen Returns in Pursuit of Timepiece Perfection

Knowing what it takes to make a good watch, the Luminox creator and tactical wristwear pioneer charges forward with his 'Rugged at Heart' all-terrain brand.

By Devin Pangaro | February 21, 2024

When there’s an ever present feeling of unfinished business still palpable, going quietly into the night tends to not be an idea that one so easily embraces. After sitting down for a conversation with GOVX, it can be said that this rings especially true for wristwear visionary, Barry Cohen.

After over a quarter century establishing Luminox as the premier illuminated operations ally of servicemembers and law enforcement officers alike, Cohen knew that his professional journey – much like his watches, would inevitably evolve for the changing times.

“I founded Luminox with my partner Richard Timbo in 1989, with the intent to bring a proprietary superior self-powered Swiss illumination system to the consumer arena, where it had predominantly been limited to military channels prior,” said Cohen. “This lume technology is truly enabling, allowing one to see time-at-glance in any light condition, including complete darkness, which is why I thought it made good sense to bring this to consumers. Nearly three decades later, I left the company but carried on making watches under my Time Concepts banner. After a few years, I yearned to be back in the space I helped to create. I wanted to come back and do it my way this time.”

ProTek founder Barry Cohen poses next to a SR-71 Blackbird.

Focused clearly on absolute top quality, Cohen grabbed a clean sheet of paper and penciled in two phrases – No Excuses and No Compromises. This soon became the working ethos of ProTek and marked an official re-entry to familiar territory.

Focused on the future but mindful of the past, the lessons of yesterday were not lost as he sought to establish his new enterprise. “Over the years, I’ve set foot in more than 30 factories all over the world, and you can’t help but learn after visiting these facilities,” he added. “Subpar products are something I simply will not tolerate. I always believed in the Field of Dreams line... 'If we build it, they will come.' But we must build quality in order to accomplish this. With ProTek, we set out to pursue perfection, knowing full well perfection is unattainable, but my thinking was and is if we pursue perfection, hopefully we can arrive at excellence in the watches we create and sell."

To achieve this, every ProTek watch is built with a technology that should be familiar to any American that’s ever strapped on one of his watches to their wrist. Equipped with the self-powered tritium lume, the proprietary technology is what empowers each timepiece with the ability to create ultimate visibility for up to 25 years in any conditions. This soon became the blueprint for many companies seeking to emulate his success. During the early days of Luminox, it also caught the interested eye of the Navy SEALs, paving the way for a longstanding relationship that Cohen still holds today.

“When we had the distinct honor of speaking with Navy CPO Nick North at an Outdoor Retailer show in Reno many years ago, he proposed that we make a watch for the SEALs and suggested this might also resonate with the public,” recalled Cohen. “One thing that always struck me was the intelligence of men like North. This helped forge my deep belief in our Special Forces and our military in general, and an appreciation for service that goes well beyond what it was before any of these connections. I was fortunate that what we began to create met the lofty standards of the SEALs, and most of what came afterward was refining designs and improving them over the years.”

Building off his strong reputation with the military, Cohen recently received the honor of having ProTek designated an Official Watch Brand of The United States Marine Corps. This is an affiliation that he doesn’t take lightly, and in many ways is a testament to the collection's quality and functionality. Not to mention a decent amount of good timing.

ProTek Official USMC Series 1016D

“While at Luminox, the Marines came to us to ask if we might like to add a USMC program, and while we have the utmost respect for all branches of the Armed Services, I politely declined thinking it would possibly dilute our Navy SEAL story and message,” said Cohen. “After the ProTek release, word on the street got out that I was back in the tritium watch game, and before long conversations were reignited. I couldn’t be happier.”

When you break it down, ProTek is really the genesis of Cohen masterfully crafting the wristwear collection he’s always envisioned. Without restrictions or limitations. An opportunity that convinced him to get the band back together (including pulling his former designer out of retirement) and get to work.

Each watch is engineered to the exact specifications of his expert team. If you turn the bezel on any dive specific model, you’ll feel how tight it is immediately. Like how it should be. These aren’t your $49 department store specials. This is watchmaking done right. Heavily replicated, but never outdone. The designs are classic, restrained even, but 'Rugged at Heart'. While first responders and servicemembers remain the target audience, there’s plenty of room for adventure seekers who embrace the more rigorous parts of life.

“We very happily live in the category of what are called 'beaters', watches created to take a beating, get banged around and remain unscathed, excellent for all active endeavors from extreme to just working in the garden, and we've found that even the well-heeled that own top-end watches do and should own a beater to wear during their active pursuits,” said Cohen.

“A watch that you don’t have to worry about getting banged up.”

The ProTek Dive Series 2002.

Ultimately, Cohen foresees a promising future for his new brand. One that will continue to take form as the company grows “My vision is to keep making excellence in timepieces and in terms of the product mix itself, expand our current collection with the addition of automatic mechanical movements and bracelet models, and eventually some chronographs too,” stated Cohen. “Given some of the dynamics at play in today’s world, and because I don’t have as much time to build up ProTek as I had when I was younger, we will need to do some things differently."

"The main thing is I'm back to doing what I love," he added. "Creating the type of watches I've always enjoyed making, working diligently to ensure we build them to a very high quality standard, and hoping that we can supply consumers that appreciate the passion and effort that goes into every watch we make in the ProTek brand."

No excuses. No compromises. Barry Cohen is back like he never left.

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