From Railroads to Modern Adverse Affairs (Part 2)

The Modern Path Of BALL

Dated Published
May 28, 2022
Author
Samuel Ng
Category
Insight
SponsoredAcme Inc.

The Path To Watchmaking

Here in the watch-sphere, we’re no strangers to the household name BALL. Not simply because they once went down in history by providing its axiomatic systems and timing instruments for America’s railroad industry during its heydays, but mostly from the impressions of their modern horology efforts today. Arguably, from the early adoption of the unremitting glow of luminance to striving to impart excellent shock resistance to be like those of digital G-Shocks – but we’re talking mechanical watches here.

It’s plainly not assembling a Swiss ebauche into a BALL’s watch

This heralded an era now referred to as the “gradation” period for Cleveland’s predominantly jewelry and watch stores. Also, as we’re familiar with (read our part 1 historical take), the once official railroad timekeeper is clearly embracing modernity while still retaining the traditional side of what might be conceived as artisanal crafts. Each of the twenty-first-century collections recalls its past, revitalizing the spirit of precision and reliability while striving for the utmost sophisticated developments and available technologies. In fact, BALL’s watchmaking savoir fairé is definitely executed with aplomb.

In this second part of BALL’s story, I’ll be taking you through the journey of what makes BALL wristwatches true marvels in today’s time. And to demonstrate why watch enthusiasts should pay some attention to what the brand has put into the market, I’ll be touching on its apogee of advanced innovations, which BALL has come up with in modern times. In-between, I’ll attempt to illustrate how advanced engineering is applied in real-life usage by its community.

The iconic tritium gas tubes found in BALL

While the preeminent jeweler solely retailed watches supplied by others, we’ll see how BALL circumvents into the world of horology on its own. Its works espoused some principal elements that get us excited about mechanical timepieces, especially those deemed as dyed-in-the-wool for bulletproof functionality – you’re in for a massive treat.

Innovation For Reliability 

As drawn in the previous article, BALL Watch was under new hands with blessings from the ménage. Still, the company was operating on Native American soil. But now, their watches are indelibly made in Switzerland. Also, it is not unusual for BALL to have their watches Swiss-made. Its history had well-informed us that it started relying on Swiss manufacturers like Vacheron Constantin and Record right after World War II. At this time, every single known timepiece was full-fledged Swiss-made.

Not straying from the founder’s values set in the olden days, the new leadership successfully zeroed in on superior quality watches, both inside and out. As everyone started modernizing, it knew it had to cater to much more than precision timing for the anachronistic locomotive industry. And indeed, it did, as there’s still only a handful of companies pioneering modern mechanical arts while able to withstand extreme conditions.

Ash Dykes, A BALL ambassador, and extreme explorer, cladding his BALL watch during his adventures

When I mentioned extremity, I literally meant what I said. The brand innovates stuff like no others. By the turn of the Millennium, BALL had started developing revolutionary advanced technologies, ensuring each and every one of its timepieces was a statement for robustness and reliability. Resultantly, these “modernly-built” watches would become synonymous with the company’s authentic contemporary designs. 

However, let’s not totally omit its past doings here. The full-fledged watchmaker successfully infused its traditional side into its watchmaking, allowing its wristwatches to still be perceived as timeless in essence. Besides, the founding of the railroad inspection system founded by Webb C. Ball stayed unswervingly in this aspect since the bygone era. Therefore, let us look at several influential innovations imbued into BALL watches, allowing every BALL watch to maintain accuracy under adverse conditions. This, I kid you not.

Self Powered Micro Gas Tubes

When BALL perfected the art of M.G.T., it doesn’t look anything like it, does it?

How can we talk BALL and not talk about these tiny self-powered micro gas tubes? After the world had recognized its lofty contribution to extremely precise timepieces, the watchmaker (finally) turned its direction to conquer new territory: luminescence. Though this challenge was nothing new in watchmaking and might deem meretriciousness often nowadays, BALL rejuvenated this aspect by taking it to a whole new level.

Almost the whole industry relied on several traditional methods. Today, we see this from the application of radioactive radium to tritium paints on the dial and evolved to the non-radioactive Super-LumiNova (Swiss) or Lumibrite (Japanese’s Seiko). All of which enabled their timepieces to light up in darkness throughout the years. This conventional luminosity used in watches required exposure to an external source, such as sunlight, to shine.

However, there’re only minorities that could bravely ruminate and act on this functional allurement. Companies like BALL, Traser, Marathon, and Luminox, just to name the top few, employed advanced technology known as tritium micro gas tubes to illuminate their watches. What exactly is a tritium micro gas tube? In essence, it is a tiny self-luminance tube made of glass material and filled with radioactive tritium gas. The luminous gas, known as tritium H3, is an artificially generated, heavy isotope of hydrogen kept within the glass tube coated with luminescent material. The luminance is then produced when electrons of the tritium gas strike the luminous phosphors inside the glass.

The glass tube is filled with radioactive tritium gas known as H3

So how did the use of archaic radio-luminescent tritium differ from the past one, frequently used in watches? In pretty much every way. We know by now that conventional luminescence would gradually wane dimmer after glowing for about 20 minutes. In contrast, the self-powered micro tritium gas lights up continuously for several decades, all without assistance from any light source. That’s right, it’s self-generating like how Wolverine self-heals from his own lesions. They provide superior, long-life luminance, consistently glowing brightly for approximately 25 years.

Intriguingly, as modish as it sounds, this technology indeed was implemented by the U.S. military as a requirement. On 31 May 1989, the government issued the MIL-W-46374E specification (the specs conformed by many renowned watchmakers like Hamilton and Marathon). The high radiation emission painted tritium was hermetically sealed within vials, for the military watches’ hour markers, and on the hands. Until the martial MIL-W-4637F specs came after, gaseous tritium light sources in watches were still being procured for soldiers.

A Marathon General Purpose Mechanical MIL-W-46374 E Type (Photo Credit: WornAndWound)

At that time, the Swiss company known as MB-Microtec, located in Jura (emerged from Merz+ Benelli in 1968), was the sole manufacturer of this technology, developed for military warfares. It was, and still is today, the only specialist of this type of high-quality adhesives and luminescent materials for the watch industry. Therefore, all the watch companies providing watches for the army have decidedly approached MB-Microtec for imbuing gas tubes into their watches.

Inside the MB-Microtec facility

BALL jumped on the bandwagon in 2001 to get these tubes, finding their way onto the first proper watch collection under the new team. It was the birth of the Engineer watch series in which I’ll get to later on. Of course, the company had to approach MB-Microtec, who ran their own watch brand named Traser in 1989, to fabricate these self-powering light sources for its watches. From there, both companies forged an unbreakable partnership until today, as they continue to burgeon into this technology, evident in BALL watches throughout the years. Such is the case with the latest editions, where the ever-glowing hues come in a spectrum of different shades and sizes.

While defining these micro-gas tubes can be readily acknowledged as apparent, the process itself of making each is definitely not. Since BALL watches are heavily powered by this incredible technology, I will attempt to reveal the byzantine process by creating these miniature tubes glowing on a BALL’s watch dial. 

Glass tubes filled with tritium gas for an everlasting glow

Before we begin, here’s a brief summary of how each glowing tube is made. The glass tubes are first internally coated with phosphor powder, then filled with tritium gas, and last, are laser sealed, locking the gas inside. When the phosphor powder coating on the inner surface of the tube is exposed to electrons from the tritium gas, the phosphor is excited to emit light in different colors. It is this process that creates the light that we see coming from the tubes. Thanks to this chemical process, the tubes glow for over 20 years continuously, without requiring an external power supply, sunlight, or in fact, any maintenance.

“Master” tubes are first sent into a rolling machine

First off, short glass tubes come in the shape of ovals or rounded pieces. Known as “masters,” each piece then goes through a machine process that heats them up and sends them through a set of rolling machines, which help decide the tube’s desired thickness. On a usual basis, the glass tube is as long as 3m and several millimeters in diameter.

Once done, personnel would check on its overall (Photo Credit: ABlogToWatch)
Ready to be sent down for coating (Photo Credit: ABlogToWatch)

The tubes are further shortened to approximately 30mm short pieces and are bundled up to be sent over to a coating department. The tubes would receive their inner phosphor coating. Before getting on, the inner section of the tubes has to be “sticky” throughout for them to have a perfectly even coating which results in a desired glowing effect.

Once they were prepared, the department would insert the tubes into an acid funnel, blowing this adhesive solution through the entire length using air pressure. Excessive acid will be burned over from one end of the tube, all that by the hands of personnel. This would result in the tubes being hung and filled with tritium gas later in the process.

The excess acid be burned off
The glass tubes and filled with the acid coating, and in green here
MB-Microtec specialist inspecting the just coated glass tubes

Once filled with the acid, the tubes are bounced up and down several times to ensure that the adhesive inside is evenly distributed. One thing to note is the acid color would determine the illuminating glow that one will see, and there are currently around eight primary colors available: green, blue, red, lime green, yellow, pink, orange, and white.

After receiving the inner coating, the tubes are, once again, sent to another department, where the main show begins. There, they will be filled with tritium gas. The process is executed by large machines which hang up around 30 tubes each from the coating burned side, and the process of inserting takes another 20 minutes.

Each machine hanging up around 30 tubes and ready to insert the tritium gas
A staff heating up the tritium container (Photo Credit: ABlogToWatch)

When it begins, the tubes are emerged into extremely cold liquid nitrogen, with one member heating up the tritium container below with a blowing torch. So when the gas within is heated up, it could find its way into the glass tubes, filling it entirely. And with the polarising coldness during the cooling phase, the gas would cool down almost immediately. 

Once the gas is filled, the tubes would be individually sliced down by hand again, using a small blow torch that melts the glass material. Each tube would be sealed on both ends and locks the gas within for good through this step. The sealed tubes will then make their way to the next station, where they further sized down the tubes into the ideal size for a watch.

Sealing them up for good
Each gas tube is checked and picked by a machine onto a tray

During the sizing process, the tubes would be laser cut, while a machine would check for evenness and closure. The personnel would later pick up these tiny tritium gas tubes and arrange them neatly onto a tray. These would then be ready to be installed onto the watch dials and hands. Installation of these tubes on the dial is done through an advanced machine. It would be used to insert them with precision in the facility. Whereas the handset of a watch is usually done separately, it needs to be installed manually.

The laser-cutting process
MB-Microtec could assemble the tubes onto dials for brands, including its own Traser brand

So how do we attach the tubes onto those watch hands? First, another adhesive layer is applied to the back of the hand. The watch hand is then flipped over right side up, where an assembler would have to place the just-filled gas tube into a cut-out where the adhesive is exposed, securing the gas tube firmly onto the hand. And that would be the swan-song on how the micro gas tubes come about.

An assembler inserting tiny tubes onto a second hand

One some level, I’m aware some people might be wary of the “mildly-radioactive” tritium gas. The truth is its radioactivity is relatively weak enough to even be a potential hazard. The gas is a half-life of 12.36 years, which is much less than the over 1600 years half-life of the highly radioactive radium. And with the extreme care is practiced by experts in the field like BALL and MB-Microtec, the tritium gas is kept safely within its glass tubes.

Admittedly, when watches themselves are concerned, labeling the “life” designation on their watch dials is necessary. For instance, most watches would have the “T≤25” label right at the bottom of the dial. Indicating a radioactive level below 1GBq (giga-becquerel) is far lower than our radiation exposure annually. Some of the BALL’s heavy-duty watches are bestowed with “T≤100,” which is under 4GBq. These are still officially safe to encounter even when it’s exposed, but the odds are low if this is supposed to happen in a real-life scenario.

These tubes are safer than those found in your “EXIT” signboards

With the persistence of the adaptation of small and precise micro gas tubes found on the whole range of BALL watches, we’ve been assured by the genteel watchmakers who persist in the tradition for superior watches that are ready for use in any environment. Both professional and civilian wearers like us could definitely appreciate the always-readable dial in any lighting conditions. 

To that end, while this is still a big part of what the brand is, that’s far too many words on a single innovation, so let’s move on to the rest of BALL’s equally important developments that further evinced its vision for a well-made mechanical watch.

Toughness is Not the Absence of Fear – Shock Resistance

With BALL encompassing new advanced technology for improvements, it’s certainly a more sophisticated entity. It has been perceptible since back in the early twentieth century when they pursued the already robust pocket and wristwatches. One common factor that both epochs encountered was to explore the potential of shock resistance within timepieces. Also, since back then, the company relied on external expertise, where conforming handheld watches with shock protection such as case-backs and hunter case-lids. The company now stands on its own to improve extreme resilience.

The pendulum shock-resistance testing at BALL

To show its commitment, BALL went all out. Every BALL watch we see today was designed to undergo rigorous testing to validate its impeccable shock resistance of up to 5000G. Yes, you heard that right, that amount of impact to a mechanical watch, and it had to survive with flying colors. According to the international ISO 1413 standard, one must withstand impact from a 1m fall onto a horizontal wooden floor on the 9 o’clock side and on the crystal itself. BALL simulates the process using a pendulum impact testing machine, setting off a weighted pendulum in a circular motion, and hits the specified sides on the watch from a 1-meter distance.

All, of course, have to pass this test to be considered a “BALL” watch, with some exceeding further. In 2004, BALL got game with its newest collection, which set out to the toughest one: the Engineer Hydrocarbon series. With the Hydrocarbon, the shock resistance attribute is raised up a notch to 7500G. They are often tested by a literal hammer strike at a further 1.5m. And if you think that’s done for BALL, and you’ve just underestimated the watchmaker’s prowess. A third impact side was added for this test, taking place at the 3 o’clock crown position. As we know now, the weakest part of any watch got to be the small frangible adjusting mechanism that sets your time.

Thicker 4mm crystal and the iconic crown protection system

BALL patented a crown protection system that became a signature for the series to overcome the harshest test on the most fragile part of the watch. A protective plate is placed around the crown. It ensures the crown must be screwed into its original secured position. It protects and secures the crown to boot, sporting exceptional water and shock resistance – clinching durability to endure the 7500G shocks.

A notable thing to consider is that a crown protection system is by no means a new discovery. Very little can compete with BALL’s state-of-the-art system, both in terms of money and tenacious capability. Finally, the Engineer Hydrocarbon series further clad a specially made 4mm sapphire crystal for better protection and greater water-resistant. BALL has the right to boast about its innovation as its watches were proven in a real-world application. Before we get down to some examples, I’d like to complete the invaluable developments on what’s inside these watches.

DuraLOCK® 

Apart from having an exterior protection system, BALL has put its work into the crown itself. Patented as the DuraLOCK®, the brand developed a more robust winding-stem-sealing system to ensure the movement remains clean from any dust and moisture. Alongside it provides better waterproof sealing, which helps with the overall water-resistance of its watches.

Engineer III KING is the first to receive the DuraLOCK system

Implemented first in 2017, the Engineer III KING models were the ones that featured first the DuraLOCK® system, sans the Hydrocarbon’s beefy crown-guard protection. The winding stem also delivers its user an easy and comfortable time-setting and manual-winding experience. Subsequently, this tech would slowly find its way into other modern BALL watches. 

AMORTISER® Anti-Shock System

The focus on the balance wheel and spring

Moving from the external protection to within, the “engine” of a watch is equally or more indispensable. The first development was realized six years later, after BALL’s crown protection system was patented as the AMORTISER® Anti-Shock system – a rotor-locking system. Basically, it consists of a protective ring around the mechanical movement that acts as a shock absorber. Situated in-between the movement and the case, the ring also provides anti-magnetism protection, just like the soft-iron cage found in well-engineered pilot watches.

The case-back activates or deactivates the rotor-locking system

Also, an inventive “ON/OFF” switch comes in the form of a propeller located on the watch’s case-back. It enables the rotor of the automatic winding to be either locked, which protects the movement in case of shock. In this setting, the watch operates like a manually-wound watch. Once the wearer ensures the watch is out of harm’s way, they can disengage to the “OFF” position, and the winding rotor will again spin freely on the wrist and winds up the movement. 

Simple as it sounds and operates, the anti-shock system is well thought through, an idea that came into fruition. This ingenious technology can be found within several BALL collections, including the Engineer III, and of course, the Engineer Hydrocarbon series.

SPRINGLOCK® Anti-Shock System

Three good years later, BALL patented yet another protection that relates directly to an automatic movement. Known as the SPRINGLOCK® Anti-Shock system. To understand why BALL needs to have this, we must first learn what it addresses. Although the telltale name of the system does hint at something, it’s essentially an additional “cage” system that protects the balance-spring of a mechanical movement. 

The focus on the balance wheel and spring

A balance spring is familiar as the heart of a watch movement. Its task is to regulate the “breathing” of the watch’s movement, ensure that it keeps accurate time, and, most importantly, keep the watch working. Since its inception, the importance is clear, yet it is one of the most fragile parts of the movement. Consequently, a bad shock impact can derail the accuracy to vary by up to more or less 60 seconds a day (which is quite a bit).

The SPRINGLOCK® is located in-between the balance wheel and plate, acting as an absorber through the unfurling of the coils. It considerably diminishes the risk of breakage of the balance spring’s link to the balance bridge, or deforming the shape of the spring itself.

SPRINGLOCK® absorber is the middle piece in this photo

The caging system perpetually reduces the impact of shocks effectively by up to 66%, thus ensuring that the caliber remains accurate. Best yet, with watches clad with the system now, wearers can freely engage in various sporting activities that have high impact, like golf or tennis. This innovation could be found within the Engineer III, Trainmaster, and Engineer Hydrocarbon series. Intriguingly, the last I heard of such brands that enable this is indeed paltry. At the highest echelon, we have the brazen Richard Mille, and the other end (based on pricing) is once again the Japanese G-Shock, while in-between is where BALL sits.

Remember, I’d mentioned briefly that BALL’s watch was put in real-life application, so here’s one example that I couldn’t resist sharing. You might assume it is of that philanthropic personnel from the Explorer club, but in an actual sense, it’s someone that’s polarising and rebellious, at least the way he projects himself on stage. That guy would be the one and only drummer from the heavy-metal rock band known as “KISS.” Yes, that’s right, it’s Eric Singer, the man himself. Known in the horology realm as an aficionado who digs and nitpicks on the slightest details found on watches, he owns a BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon Airborne. 

Ready to rock and roll (Photo Credit: ABlogToWatch)

The drummer didn’t baby it by wearing it only before and after a concert. No, not even close to that. He actually wore it quite frequently while performing for at least a few shows. His intense drumming on the stage would, in fact, create a constant disruptive vibration that would be disastrous on accuracy as the balance spring would be bouncing all over. 

But thanks to the SPRINGLOCK® Anti-Shock System, his BALL pulled through undoubtedly with flying colors. It still works with incredible precision, and this is by no means a small feat. This is what you devised of real-world testing when it comes to BALL and its durability feature. Seemingly just like back in the days with BALL’s official railroad pocket watches for the industry.

Eric Singer drumming away with a Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon Airborne on his left wrist (Photo Credit: ABlogToWatch)

Throughout BALL’s development, the SPRINGLOCK® Anti-Shock System was upgraded once more in 2016, resulting in better shock-protection for its array of watches up till now. This simply unveils BALL’s relentless pursuit of its craft in bettering its own watchmaking as well.

Add-On – SpringSEAL Patented Regulator Anti-Shock System

Similarly, a new “armor” was implemented in 2019, which enumerates the protection against the sudden impact on the balance wheel and spring through the Engineer Hydrocarbon Original. It is essentially a redesigned regulator assembly located on the regulator section on top of the balance escapement, ensuring the adjuster does not alter its position upon impact.

The small regulator assembly that increases the shock-resistant towards the adjuster

It is considered as an add-on to the SPRINGLOCK® Anti-Shock System, working in tandem to create a better shock resistance to the movement. By ameliorating even better accuracy without the need for additional adjustments following a harsh impact. The first model for gathering both the Anti-Shock systems was the Hydrocarbon Engineer dive watch, found in its caliber RR1102-CSL, essentially an ETA 2836-2 day/date movement chronometer-certified for more precise daily accuracy than the status quo.

The 2019 Engineer Hydrocarbon Original Diver

Both the SPRINGLOCK® and SpringSEAL Regulator Anti-Shock systems are designed onto Swiss ‘workhorse” calibers like those from E.T.A.s and Sellitas. These are the world’s proven Swiss engines that are already robust, well-tested in the fields for several decades. You can read more about it in our in-depth article on them right here: (INSERT ETA VS SW ARTICLE). Now, these additional in-house upgrades from BALL simply are orchestrated in polyphony.

Tackling The Depths – Water-Resistance

Speaking of dive watches, when we mention shock resistance, it relates to water resistance to a certain extent. Water-resistance is simply conceived as how much of the atmospheric pressure can be imparted on a fully submerged watch without showing any evidence of leakage. Like impact shocks on land, BALL watches come accrued with resistance to the depths in the ocean, thanks to the heavy-duty built from the beginning.

Water pressure check within BALL facility

The BALL watches are tested by simulating the watch entirely in distilled water or a pressure chamber. Either would contain or mimic a wetting agent of 1% by weight, under the prescribed atmospheric pressure of each for at least 5 minutes. Once the watches show no sign of leaks anywhere, they are officially qualified by the manufacturer.

The watchmaker set about accomplishing both on-land and aquatic terrain with its typical slavish devotion towards perfection in functionality. That shows from all of their watches, including the typically neglected dress ones. BALL made sure that their elegant Trainmaster and Conductor series kicks off with a water resistance of at least 30m/100ft, allowing their wearers to at least handle some splashes at the beach or pool. 

(Water resistance photo 2)

Ball Fireman Night Train III Black 43mm Ref. NM1092C-S5-BK2 with 100m water-resistance

The Engineer II, Engineer Master II, and Fireman series range a proper water resistance from 100m/330ft to 300m/1000ft. All of which are BALL’s pursuit of the ultimate act of horological finesse to render the purest expression of a daily-beater – catering to anybody living in this watch-wearing world. These fundamental endeavors of a well-built timepiece no doubt reinforce our love for BALL and its savoir fairé.

Another Deep Quest- The Helium System

Subsequently, what about the big boys in the Hydrocarbon selections? Since the unabated series also boasts a special crown protection system, it already further ensures incredible water resistance in rough environments. The series ranges from 300m/1000ft and goes up to an insane 3000m/ 9850ft. That’s approximately 27.3 times an average football field’s length! 

BALL’s patented helium automatic escape valve situated within the crown itself

In professional diving, from a depth below 60m/200ft would be considered one. It’s also a depth that requires particular types of equipment and procedures. One of many requirements imposed on watchmaking is to allow the escapement for helium gas. Due to a diver’s descent deeper, the pressure gradually increases, and therefore, the diver’s watch is prone to tiny helium molecules penetrating into it. When the diver ascends from depth, there is excessive internal pressure in the watch due to those heliums trying to escape. This often led to the burst of a watch crystal and resulting irreparable damages.

To overcome this, BALL adopted the helium release valve system pioneered by the dive watch industry. Almost all these deep-diving watches clad a release valve on the case side, allowing gases to escape when resurfacing, but BALL up the ante in this system. A world first, the watchmaker does its magic with verve by incorporating an automatic helium escape valve directly into the crown. 

BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon NEDU Chrono was the first dive watch with the Helium system

This patent was deemed both deft and ingenious, as it eradicated the potential surface liable to warp under the effects of water pressure. The innovative helium system thereby improved the watch’s water resistance even further. In 2012 came the first diving watch by BALL with the helium release system. BALL goes a bit further by adding a monumental story to the release – it was a tribute to one of BALL’s contributions to the U.S. Navy Experimental Diving Unit (NEDU) in improving diving safety. BALL fabricated the Engineer Hydrocarbon NEDU Chronograph.

Elastomer Ring

The elastomer ring within the case

Since I’d recalled a tribute model for a particular U.S. military division, how about another one starting from the early design process. Unveiled in 2017, BALL worked closely with the SEAL team six on the Engineer Hydrocarbon Devgru. It’s a watch chock full of anti-shock techs. 

Note the elastomer ring extends to its sapphire crystal

Already listed the majorities above, the new member here would be a redesigned elastomer ring that suspends and protects the entire movement, along with its upper dial, against impacts. It acts as a giant cushion within, absorbing and releasing any impact energy thrown at it. Also, it rises all the way up and past the dial to further support the watch’s sapphire crystal. This innovation is akin to those shock absorbers in a car, where it endures and absorbs all the impacts of those uneven grounds.

Anti-Magnetism – A Watch’s Kryptonite

Onto the topic itself, never has there been a more excellent time to have timepieces improving their defenses against magnetism. Mechanical watches are frequently susceptible to magnetism, mainly due to metallic materials for the gear-works within. Especially the balance hairspring, when magnetized, prevents a proper “breathing” where the coil starts to stick together. Once a watch gets magnetized, it coughs out an unusual overly fast timekeeping symptom which may further deteriorate into a complete stop.

Ferrous fluid revealing the magnetic field surrounding a magnet

Nowadays, our increased usage of electronic gadgets and appliances generates a higher magnetic field that might unconsciously affect our watches. Immediate caveats would be your smartphones and televisions, producing up to 60gauss. Worst, a Macbook Magsafe charger produces 123gauss, which can easily cause an average watch to go haywire.

It’s deadly for most of your mechanical watches

Since BALL watches are naturally fitted with functionality, its pursuit of watchmaking encompasses anti-magnetism. Most of its watches boast anti-magnetic elements, with some built to surpass the status quo. For a start, watch cases are constructed with corrosion-free ferritic stainless-steel materials. As a Swiss manufacturer, it took the old-school route by enclosing the watch movement with a soft iron jacket, consisting of a backplate and a ring wrapping around the movement and the dial. This unique alloyed jacket, reinforced by the case’s flexure, prevents magnetic fields from penetrating the movement.

The Engineer Hydrocarbon Spacemaster Captain Poindexter LE is one of those Anti-Magnetos

With the above built, the watches meet the existing ISO standard 764 for magnetic resistance. They could typically perform under the exposure to a magnetic field of 4800 A/m (60.192gauss), not deviating for more than 30 seconds per day which BALL outperforms. Not satisfied with just meeting the requirement, BALL even had several Hydrocarbon pieces engineered to withstand up to 12,000A/m (150.48gauss)! 

A fine example would be the Engineer Hydrocarbon Spacemaster Captain Poindexter that paid tribute to an American astronaut. Alan Poindexter had taken one of his homages practically into space and aboard the International Space Station. This watch packs all of the BALL goodies, from applying 80 micro gas tubes to withstanding 7500G of shock resistance and, of course, the 12,000A/m magnetic resistance. It’s a horological badass.

 A-PROOF® Patented Anti-Magnetic System

Speaking of which, BALL had another trick in its sleeves. In 2015, the watchmaker developed and patented another revolutionary protection against the influence of magnetic fields. Through the deliberate selection of mu-metal, a superior nickel-iron soft ferromagnetic alloy that clads high permeability, BALL can protect watches with it up to an astonishing record of 80,000A/m (1003.2gauss). 

The movement within the mu-metal protection cage

Made out of nickel, iron, copper, and molybdenum, the protection cage is fabricated into a trench box that sits inside the watch case, imprisoning the movement entirely. With that, it’s capable of attracting and deviating static or low-frequency magnetic field lines. Then, an ingenious diaphragm mechanism can extend or retract the whole mu-metal case manually through simple turns by the bezel. In a closed position, the diaphragm locks the just 0.006mm thick mu-metal protection cage, hiding the visibility of the movement from the case-back exhibit. This allows the watch to be protected from magnetism up to the insane 80,000A/m. Call that overkill.

The mu-metal protection cage is also executed in another blasé format, which is more practical in my opinion. So that is basically in a cage/lid form, similarly designed like a traditional soft iron jacket. It’s more minimalistic in appearance but perpetually protects the watches with the same equal 80,000A/m. And this could be found more sparingly in some BALL watches, like the 

Yeah, the Engineer Hydrocarbon Submarine Warfare Ceramic befits the warfare scenario
The avant-garde BALL Engineer II Volcano

This system was later upgraded through the Engineer II Volcano, which was designed with a straightforward goal: to build one timepiece capable of achieving precision, all under the harsh volcanic setting. Unfamiliar to some, in a volcanic environment, you can expect high earth’s geomagnetic exposure; therefore, the idea to fabricate such a timepiece is befitting. So, instead of only the interior having all the fun, BALL made the entire case out of its patented mu-metal and carbide composite. This will allow the watch to be perpetually protected against the disruption by a high magnetic field up to 80,000A/m, thus ensuring the accuracy of time reading. Not only is the watch built robustly, but it also sports a black-looking carbon textured case that’s just sleek and super cool.

Below Zero

BALL explorers at the extreme ends of the world

So what’s more, since we have now covered most of those tool watch elements? How about the development for BALL’s explorers in their endeavors in the coldest part of the world. BALL’s researchers have engineered extraordinary lubrication for watch’s movement, suitable for tackling those expeditions in the North and South Poles. Heck, or even if you forget your watch in the freezer of your refrigerator.

“Movement oil plays a vital role in every mechanical movement. It acts as a lubricant that reduces the friction between contact surfaces of the different small components. Without the lubricant, the friction created would wear out the movement and adversely affect its accuracy,” as BALL declared. Naturally, the team tackles this essential component in a beeline.

Most Engineer Hydrocarbon clads the movement lubricant for frigid temperature

The engineers practice blending oils to modify the lubricating and thickness properties until combined in the perfect mixture. This process is critical, as when they considered just how thick the lubricant needed to be at the coldest temperature, the timepiece would be subjected to while still functioning in the general state. BALL can achieve an ideal movement lubricant through the specially blended Swiss watch oil that suits temperatures ranging from -40°C to 60°C (-40 to 1400°F). Almost all of the BALL Hydrocarbon watch timepieces have these specific blend watch oils, suffusing throughout some others selectively. 

T.M.T.

Like the above innovation, which often goes unnoticed, the next step was to develop watches not only to endure the cold but to measure precisely how cold. Known as the BALL T.M.T. movement, it powers a pioneering mechanical complication that imbues a mechanical thermometer. It allows measuring temperature from -35°C to 45°C (-31 to 113°F). To make the measurement, it uses a spiral bimetallic coil thermometer system. This allows for a more accurate temperature reading as compared to others in the past.

The BALL Trainmaster Kevin Ref. NT3888D-PG-LLJ-SLC (Photo Credit: Hodinkee)

However, it is an arduous feat to clad the thermometer within a wristwatch’s confined space. The goal was to have the entire TMT module merely 5.1mm. The bimetallic coil must fit perfectly into the limited space of the automatic movement. To overcome this obstacle, watchmakers re-milled the height of the movement’s main plate and bridge, thus allowing clearance for the thin coil to fit within.

A sportier one, the BALL Engineer Master II Diver TMT Ref. DT1020A-P1-BEORF (Photo Credit: ABlogToWatch)

Also, they redesigned the regulation system by using fine regulating screws for the TMT (similar to free-balance) that don’t impede the bimetallic blade. The advantage of this patented system is, on the one hand, to precisely adjust the position of the temperature indicator. And on the other hand, to hold the bimetallic spiral coil at its extremity.

The BALL Trainmaster Kelvin’s case-back bears a scale for converting the units to Kelvin  (Photo Credit: Hodinkee)

After all that is accomplished, several extra rounds of measurement tests are implemented to control the vibrations. Followed by the usual BALL affairs of shock-resistance tests. The atypical movement is placed within several watches, including dress selections like the Trainmaster Celsius, Fahrenheit, and Kelvin, to sporty ones like the Engineer Master II Diver T.M.T. Though different in design aesthetics, the temperature indicator is located at 6 o’clock on the watch dial in a retrograde manner.

Around the World In Style

While temperature measurement is seen as a novelty, the GMT function is yet another quintessential function for BALL – a traveler’s affair within its collection. In horology, a GMT piece is vital to wearers who travel frequently or are fascinated by tracking two or more timezones. If you’d like to find out more on what GMT watches and the work-how, check out our in-depth take of the complication over here: WHAT MATTERS #1.

The Engineer Master II Diver Worldtime Blue LE. Ref. DG2232A-SC-BE is both a traveler’s and a diver’s buddy

In two primary forms, the formal one is known as a “world-timer,” which features an internal bezel displaying 24 world cities, each representing a different time zone. Next to this often is a 24-hour ring or hand that makes one complete round a day. To track the ideal timings, the wearer would then set the timezone bezel to align their home time zone with the correct hour of the day on the 24-hour ring. As time passes, the 24-hour ring or hand rotates. The point where the 24-hour ring lines up with the time zone you’re looking for shows you the hour of the day.

Alternatively, the second one would be a more casual take. The complication excels an additional 24-hour hand and works correspondingly with the primary hour hand, each enabled to read one timezone based on an hourly basis. Although it’s on a less grand scheme, this is widely adopted by most GMT watch manufacturers, as it’s not too “complicated” as compared to the real deal, the former world-timer.

The latest Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT II Black 40mm Ref. DG2118C-S11C-BK

As for BALL, well, they went with both. For a start, the “casual” ones by BALL aren’t that nonchalant. Instead, BALL introduces new ideas, which generally are audacious. The conventional GMT function is not only found within its toughest Engineer Hydrocarbon series – like the Aero GMTs with bi-directional sapphire bezels – but also in ways that can be adjusted efficiently. 

The Roadmaster Marine GMT LE with the ingenious GMT pushers

In 2020, BALL had unveiled the Roadmaster Pilot GMT. The salient point lies with the additional pushers on the 9’o clock side of the case. This allowed its wearer to adjust the local hour hand (main) on the fly by pressing these pushers. Each pusher enables the hour hand to jump front and back in one hour increment or decrement with ease, but without removing it from the wrist to adjust through the main crown or even to stopwatch.

Yeah, we got gas tubes, day/date, diving bezel, world-time bezel, etc.

BALL didn’t settle for only the “casual” ones. The watchmaker was shrewd enough to combine a world-timer within its Engineer Master II diver. Developed primarily in-house and grafted onto a standard caliber, an additional world-time module drives a disk engraved with the names of the world’s main metropolises rotating automatically in the reverse direction to the hands to simultaneously indicate the time in 24 different geographic zones. Now the Engineer Master II Diver World-Timer allows its wearer to have legible world time readings and is durable enough to take it for a dive or swim.

The watch additionally incorporates an additional day/date function, thus packing more functionalities that are practical for everyday use. Oh, and how can we forget its signature luminance in them? The watchmaker loaded a crazy amount of tritium gas tubes resulting in more excellent legibility for every GMT watch – a cohesive design and excellent quality built – the complete oeuvre of BALL.

In-House Movement Manufacturing

For the longest time in BALL’s story, the company relied fervidly on ebauche movements from renowned watchmakers. But things finally turned in late 2017, where the brand finally released its first in-house manufactured caliber 7309. It is considered one of the most significant achievements as the century-old entity – famous for offering one of the world’s most reliable timing instruments – had finally produced its own movement.

Caliber 7309, BALL’s very own in-house Swiss movement

The caliber 7309 treads the watchmaker’s ethos by thriving with precision, efficiency, and reliability. As a Swiss-made COSC certified movement, the timepiece has undergone rigorous testing by the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute, achieving accuracy within -4 to +6 seconds of variation per day. It also boasts an 80-hour power reserve, doubling the ordinary autonomy while beating to a frequency of 28,800 beats per hour or 4Hz. Of course, it wouldn’t be complete without BALL’s innovative elements. The movement is equipped with the patented Amortiser anti-shock system, increasing its durability significantly.

 The first model that reigns the in-house movement, Ref. NM2128C-SCA-BE
Engineer M Marvelight’s exhibiting the caliber 7309

And with the debut of the Engineer M Challenger models in 2018, the in-house movement came into the market, stoking a roaring fire within the industry and its community. At long last, BALL joins the fraternity of watch manufacturers, producing at least one in-house movement from ground zero. 

Not Forgetting Aesthetics

While vaunted as excellent value for the great mechanics that defined its quality watches, BALL has also spent considerable time and resources to innovate better case materials and finishings. Yes, I know the company does produce certain 18k yellow or rose gold models that pack luster, but those usually are saved for formality. So what about fabricating something that gleams ritziness and yet is suitable for daily wear without being ostentatious? A demanding task as it seems, but BALL was determined. A year after the caliber 7039 came in the market, BALL built several of its daily-pounders using the inferior 904L steel for more than sybaritic purposes.

Yes, I have a 904L Marvelight Blue Ref. NM2026C-S23J-BE – 904L steel, check that high-polishings

Due to chromium, molybdenum, nickel, and copper composition, 904L steel has a high polished visual while aging exquisitely well, similar to those precious metals. Sadly, for most people who’re not exposed to different steel alloys, 904L steel is relatively rare to be found in watchmaking. The first adopters of this high-grade steel were Omega and Rolex in the late seventies, and the latter has since manufactured all of their steel models. Apart from these two giant manufacturers, the next in line was BALL. 

But why would others only adhere to the industry standard, which is the 316L stainless steel? One compelling factor would essentially be the special machinery and production process requirement to be shaped into the watch making. And while the 904L steel features better resistance to corrosion, rust, and acid than 316L, it’s not economically logical to replace the 316L as both are ultimately just another stainless steel.

BALL Engineer III Pioneer Ref. NM2026C-S15CJ-BE clads the first 904L steel material

However, the skookum watchmaker went the extra mile to incorporate this superior steel within its collections. Hence allowing its watches to withstand extreme conditions with the additional hardness, along with the prospect of executing better finishing for higher shimmering polished surfaces. And hey, there’s a reason why the crown has stubbornly used it within all its watches. With that, the 904L watches always seem to feel and look more premium than their 316L counterparts. BALL debuted the superior steel material with the Engineer III Pioneer series in 2019, subsequently into the other collections.

Even For Bracelet And Clasp

Many of us admit that a handful of watchmakers somehow only focus on what lies in the watch case itself. Many times things like the bracelets are an afterthought. But not for BALL. The watchmaker pays equally as much attention to the accessories attached to its watches. Several designs were manifested to fit each collection’s theme and are equally impeccably executed as the watch cases that each supports.

If one has owned or tried on a BALL piece, its bracelet quality would immediately be felt from the ergonomic fitting around the wrist with ample heft and the immaculate quality in execution. For the dressier ones from Trainmaster and Conductor series to the Fireman and Engineers, their bracelets often were designed seamlessly throughout sans the conventional clasp design. This way, the bracelet doesn’t feel out of place, blending in together with the watch head itself. The folding mechanism is neatly tucked underneath the bracelet, allowing the wrist to rest nicely upon it.

The double drilled-lugs holes to sturdily hold the bracelet

Also, the already heavy-duty bracelet on Hydrocarbon ameliorates through the use of double screw-bars for each lug side. Instead of the conventional spring-bars, we’d know that a full rod screw-bar type is far more reliable. And BALL insisted on doubling up the quantities of these minute accessories, which other watch manufacturers often neglected. 

Seamless in design

In similar veins, the metal bands are made according to the watch’s material and often an amalgam when finishing. Each bracelet is polished with multiple finishes on each surface of the links. Now that’s what I call paying the most minor details through and through, and BALL didn’t disappoint.

There’s a need to have a sturdy and equally rugged clasp system for its lusty Hydrocarbon collection. BALL shunned those run-the-mill clasps and instead came out with its own. The company released a patented triple folding buckle that includes a 22mm extension on each side, allowing an ergonomic fit on most common types of sportswear. The buckle is, in fact, manufactured in a unique block of stainless steel, and the outcome is well done. Each corner is sharp looking, and it is as functional as all other innovations – purposefully built and work flawlessly. 

The overly built yet ergonomic Hydrocarbon clasp

With that in mind, the buckle and its extension are designed to be manipulated only with one hand. When both sides are clipped on, the closure works with a mechanical lock that resists powerful traction forces, preventing accidental moments where might open up. Now that’s what I called a perfect combination of excellent resistance and extreme comfort.

Purposefully Built

It seems like for an extended period, the brand might be considered an old-timer who only focuses on only old-world stuff that’s archaic and irrelevant to today’s consumers. It seems complicated to imagine how many modern breakthroughs were laid in the twenty-first century from where BALL stands today. Since then, a vast number of interests, once again, arose among watch aficionados, paying much attention to the watchmaker’s savoir fairé. It spurred on both new and old generations of collectors, who started to look at those brutish beauties that peddled the same vision that was once laid by the founder Webb. C BALL.

The signature largish luminous gas tubes is a charm for any watch enthusiasts

When we talk about mastering our own craft, we invariably arrive back at passions and traditions. Through this segment, we could derive that BALL has been clever at that, and the spirited brand from Cleveland is not halting any time soon. No, the people within did not hang up their coats and call it a day. Indeed, BALL has spent a substantial amount of resources and time to pursue what would be the ultimate format for precision timing instruments. The watchmakers periodically return to finessing its mechanical development to fractions more accuracy, embracing its unique avant-garde methods to hone the afore. Housing a range of complex and compelling innovations, the brand displays a high degree of mechanization for practical differences from other watch brands – BALL watches are genuinely individualistic in appeal, pervading a sense of higher quality.

The undying pursuit for better watchmaking

Tremendous efforts are evidenced through its watches, which many of its wearers today could vouch for. Hell, even Eric Singer wore one while drumming away to I Was Made For Lovin’ You. Each innovation was only a point en route, bringing the brand closer to its goal, ensuring the tech and craft are every bit worthy of being used in real-life scenarios in which its watches are designed to thrive. So much so that these upheavals and marvels have become icons themselves. When one thinks of micro gas tubes’ luminance, they will deduce watches from the BALL of the 21st century; just as historians or pocket-watch collectors respond to its railroad watches, relating back to the entity from good old 19th century.

BALL watches are ready for action with their signature glow

All of these are to say that BALL has, once again, demonstrated tenacious efforts of what the respected company has done best since day one. And it’s the continuous pursuit of new innovative ideas that puts BALL watches at the forefront of watchmaking. Although modern BALL pieces are unlike any pocket watches of yesteryears, each underscores its classical temperament. BALL’s tough-as-nails watches are an ode to its very own legend. It succeeded in creating something that not only emulates the horological expression of an era, when the Maison once governed the railroad safety through its watches but now are all the more apparent in an extensive way. 

Today, BALL watches are functional art pieces, and the technologies express a singular taste and the brand’s legacy. Its watchmakers are beholden to the founder’s principle, tying to the history of their design ethos. A legitimate contriver flex, if you will. The company currently holds more than 30 empirical patents, and as mentioned afore, with relentless signs to endow more. 

One of the world’s most robust mechanical watch

As such, I strongly hope that this section will amplify the awareness and interest for BALL wristwatches. And as a result, a deeper appreciation and understanding of what it takes to create genuine watches to be used in real-life scenarios – balancing robustness and elegance adored by watch collectors. Most importantly, while all of these convert as a substantial collectible value in this emotional-driven hobby. As BALL adopts various unique contexts in pushing innovations and developments, it becomes more interesting.

In the later Part 3 of BALL story, I’ll be going through several of its current works and partnerships, which staples the brand into the horological realm.

Gnomon Watches first opened her doors for business online in early 2002, founded by bona fide horology suitors who share a profound passion for watchmaking and fine craftsmanship.
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