The pursuit of manufacturing expertise or distinct visual design are distinct approaches to becoming a great watchmaker. One might choose to be either aesthetically inclined, such that each watch grasps the attention immediately. Or instead, opt to explore the mechanical works in traditional formulae, then tweak them out of altruism in the name of refinement respectfully. However, very few were able to strike a balance in pushing both approaches together as one. Such a case might be in the purview of BALL watchmaking.
In every BALL watch, there is a certain undeniable sensibility that bestows the art of modern mechanical works, with captivating designs that speaks to both young and old collectors alike. These pieces indeed offer a glimpse into how things evolved over time within the company, often a product of real-world influences. To us, BALL is considered one of the top brands that push the boundaries by building extremely well-made timepieces – aesthetically transformative yet with a rugged élan – all for real-life excursions.
To that end, its ability to produce award-winning innovations, packed in its identifiably different watches, is appreciated throughout the industry as a solid value proposition. Although BALL often quietly introduced its works, few people outside the community circle would have heard about them. Many of its offerings are still unknown in its current lifespan due to the lack of raves by publishers or online media coverages, which I feel is a shame. Every single example is deservedly respectable for its development and reliability.
Therefore in this article, I will comprehensively detail BALL’s current watch collections, based on what is available to us right now. Many pieces have come and gone from the past, so many will undoubtedly not be listed. That being said, I’ll attempt to highlight those bygone models that are prominent to us through either their developments or tying up certain partnerships, cinching a greater recognition for its other affiliated models.
On top of the introductory of these watches from the twenty-first century, I’ll also cover the continuity of its partnership with different organizations, not forgetting BALL’s very own Explorer Club members that include some of the world’s top adventurers. These rugged watches were supposed to aid in a real-life context, remember?
But before we proceed any further, be sure the check out our previous two articles where I’ve touched on BALL in its early beginnings (PART 1) and most of its groundbreaking innovations that are fitted into its modern portfolio (PART 2). The latter, especially, will give you great hindsight in this article.
A Watchmaking Tribute to Railroad History
The modern BALL consists of nine distinctive collections. According to its railroad era, each group is titled, whereby the monikers were laid upon the individual’s occupation involved. They once again prove that, despite the brand’s effort in progressing forward, it certainly does not forgo its past – instead, the watchmaker respects and pays tribute to it.
We have the “Engineer” series that was once responsible for the insights and technical “engineering” aspects; the managerial position as “Roadmaster”; the “Fireman” who in charge of the running of a boiler or steam engine; the “Trainmaster” who supervises the locomotive operations; and lastly, the train “Conductor” with his operational and safety duties. From here, the brand modernizes with time.
While retaining the essence of each occupation’s functionality, the watches manufactured today look different from the bygone days to match consumer preference. Yet, the brand strives to retain the original details and design guidelines laid down by the founder. Consequently, this ensures accuracy and precision timekeeping, despite changing times and demands. The collections are all housed with their own mechanical wizardry, both hidden and displayed through the watches themselves.
The Engineer collection feels like a prominent place to start. The Engineer is the influential aristocrat, encapsulating the brand’s prowess and its finesse. There are a few categories subdivided into five individual series, where the watches are categorized into their tiers in terms of functionalities and stylings. First, we head on to the sport-elegant collection: the Engineer II.
Today, these BALL watches are the “classier” bunch among the rest. They comprise the modern interpretations of BALL historical models into rather sport-chic ones. Designed appropriately as daily-beaters, each model clads shock-resistance technologies, resisting up to 5000Gs, while marrying an anti-magnetic protection of up to 4800A/m.
We start off with the “dressier” looking ones, like the Engineer II Ohio models, which come off at 40mm case size balancing perfectly as an all-arounder. The elegant elements are derived from their applied trapezoid markers and the cross-hair Arabic numerals. The case gets a clean fixed bezel with high polishing matching their solid bracelet’s middle links.
Following through is the Engineer II Powerlight 72 Ref. NM2126C-S1C-BK. It almost possesses the same styling, but now with tritium gas tubes applied for the hour markers, including the Arabic Numerals, in a fashion-forward manner. What further makes it unique is the in-house movement within. The Ball caliber RR1107-C is a 72-hour automatic Swiss-made caliber with a Chronometer-certified COSC accuracy. The long power reserves are the genteel works of BALL, tuned by lowering the frequency of the ubiquitous 4Hertz to 3Hertz, without the slightest compromise in accuracy. Oh, and it coddles the new SpringLOCK technology too!
Things got whimsical when BALL implemented its own moon-phase design into the collection with the Engineer II Moon-phase models, alongside the limited edition Rainbow Ref. NM2028C-L28CJ-BK. The afore gets a pleasing moon-phase complication in its inner-top section of the dial, whereas the latter has applied tritium gas tubes in different “rainbow” hues as its hour markers.
Though the above models came with good 100m water-resistant, BALL released its sixties-inspired skin-diver models. The Engineer II Skin-diver Heritage takes inspiration directly from the first “BALL Skindiver” timepiece, conceived in 1962, in response to the increasing popularity of underwater diving in the United States, the original homeland of BALL watches. BALL was not unfamiliar with dive watches. It had played a pioneering role in designing diver’s watches for many years, with later sections to cover more exclusively. But what sets the halcyon Skin-diver heritage apart is its transformative vintage re-issue which emanates overarching craftsmanship.
As if that’s not enough, BALL included a “casual” world-timer, as such things go, combining it with chronograph functionality. The Engineer II Navigator World Time Chronograph simply incorporates these sophisticated complications while advocating retro stylings, such as the piston-styled pump pushers to start-stop and reset the chronograph, with mini grooves on the bezel which together, evoking an aviation affair of yesteryears.
The Engineer numero III is a collection relatively similar to the II but packs more techs. One consistency that can be drawn across the watches is they’re finished with more streamlined silhouettes, bringing the sports-elegance theme to the next level. For a start, the Engineer III comes in a singular case shape, gussied up with an entire array of finishings. This collection exemplifies BALL innovations through different case materials while staying true to the all-arounder aesthetics.
One example would be the series of Ohio models but now executed in the latest 904L stainless steel material. If you haven’t read my Part 2 article, 904L steel basically flourishes with better-polished surfaces for watches and is deemed rare as not many watch companies tapped into it. True to Ohio’s nature, the dial clads the applied markers with Arabic numerals, with enough tritium luminous right at the periphery and hands. Together with the shimmering 904L case and bracelet, these adornments put Ohio as the most elegant within the bunch.
Next up, we’ve got the Engineer III King models. These can be compared to the automotive BMW’s five series, as they are the reliable “sedan” that belies all the innovatory goodies. I kid you not. The Kings took the Ohio dial and added a dash of sportiness, where all the hour markers include large tritium gas tubes, as with the minute markers, which are a tad smaller. Although some might contend both case and dial might seem like a pedestrian sports watch, they’re more than meets the eye. That’s because what is contained within is chock full of shock resistance and protective systems.
The Kings were the pioneers of the revolutionary DuraLOCK crown protection system on the exterior, while the movement gets its idyllic patented Amortiser anti-shock system. Coming in at both 40mm and 43mm, the Kings has the Mu-metal shield, gaining resistance to magnetism up to 80000 A/m. As a result, this could be one of those over-built yet flying under-the-radar mechanical watches.
Similarly, BALL has the Engineer III Starlight models, perfectly positioned to bring these two worlds together. Now, the dials are all Arabic numerals, creating a sort of Pilot with a dressier theme. Once again, the devil is in the detail. The watches also featured both the Amortiser anti-shock system and Mu-metal shield inside the watch case.
Heating things up, Engineer III consists of verifiable pilot watches presented in two different case materials. For the first time in 2019, the Engineer III Pilot Bronze Star models were equipped with patented SpringLOCK and Amortiser systems and a complete bronze case material. Made of CuSn8, which gives it a warmer yellow-gold tone that will progressively incur patina, the main highlight. The juxtaposition between the warm case metal and the cool pilot theme is intriguing and eye-catching. These bronze watches aim to attract enthusiasts who love the process as it is a genuine natural material that patinas away uniquely.
Another thing to note is the use of gigantic tritium gas tubes for their hour markers, increasing the glow intensity in dark environments. Adhering to the pilot theme, including the newer Engineer III Aviator – Leather Ref. NM2182C-N11J-BK is BALL’s take on the “Type-B” Flieger format. The dial reads the minute markings on the outer segment, and the hours are indicated on the inner side. This particular model packs both the patented SpringLOCK hairspring anti-shock system and the SpringSEAL regulator anti-shock system – and it’s possibly one of the toughest out there in the market for pilots and watch lovers.
The popular Marvelight models solidify the theme and are found within this collection on the leitmotif of extra-large tritium gas tubes. Now coming in at both 40mm and 43mm, the Marvelights are coined as “lume monsters.” Some are powered by Swiss chronometer movements; BALL also ornates the “rainbow” effect for its Caring Editions.
To sum up this Engineer III chapter, the CarboLIGHT Limited Edition comes in the most fabulous blackout case: the patented Mumetal & Carbide composite. This resulted in ameliorating its magnetic resistance for the mechanicals while flourishing with sleek “carbon” texture on the exterior, lending the sportiest take for the collection. This is further elevated with its sporty 43mm case size.
Engineer M And Master II
Moving on to the Engineer M collection. The letter “M” undoubtedly stood for the “Manufacturer” movement that BALL had recently developed. There are only four models (as of now), with two color variants, in 40mm and 43mm. The design takes the form of the coveted Engineer III’s Marvelight but hoods the caliber 7309 automatic movements, developed in 2017. The birth of this collection with the implication of its new caliber – after relying solely on supplied mechanical movements for more than a century – indeed solidifies the apogee of BALL’s heritage and pioneering spirit.
Since the 80 hours power reserve movement is the main highlight point, BALL scripted its dial with the “chronometer” in cursive typeface at the bottom six o’clock, reminding its wearer that the COSC certified in-house movement is contained within. This approach shows why a specific label on the otherwise sober dial can play a vital yet subtle role in drawing our feelings about a particular timepiece.
Produced to be BALL’s second “ultimate” sports watch, the “Engineer Master II” collection is quite the feat. As masters in their own field, these mettled sports watches are further categorized into two further distinct series: the diver and pilot watches. The former includes yet another team of modern re-interpreted skin-diver heritage models, ones with world time complication, and a modernly designed diver sub-series with an internal bezel system. Whereas the latter sky-farers behold appropriate thematic chronographs and aviators with huge gas tubes.
Let’s start with the purposeful dive watches. Again, we’d have several sixties-styled Engineer Master II Skin-diver models, punching a notch higher than the afore “casual” Engineer II peers. In terms of built, the Skin-divers heritage series proffer a better 300m water-resistance along with paramagnetism property of up to 80,000A/m, thanks to their Mu-metal shields. Furthermore, the Swiss day/date caliber inside is once again COSC standards, allowing its wearer to keep super-accurate timings.
That’s not all. BALL offers a quaint version of its heritage dive watch with a beastly 500m water-resistance. Known as the Engineer Master II Skin-diver II tackling the ocean more profound than a mere skin-diving watch – named and made solely for recreational diving – as it could withstand up to those saturation depths. To be fair, the overall case profile is elementally a skin-diver guise, with the L-shaped lugs with slopping flat-sided lugs topped with an unprotected crown located at the 3 o’clock position.
BALL occasionally embarks on a more adventurous project, and its Dive Worldtime watches are quite the examples. They’re a big change-up to what we perceived as a traditional world-timer or a dive watch. In this case, the watchmaker hurled the very essence of a professional diver – holding 300m water-resistant and the ISO 6425 standard rotating bezel – fitted ingeniously, blending an actual world-time complication.
In this collection, BALL incorporates a modern-looking diver, the Ref. DM3020A-SAJ-BK. Its uniqueness lies in the nifty rotating bezel system, whereby the external grooved bezel allows the wearer to adjust and rotate the inner diving elapsed bezel. This format enables BALL to implant its de riguer micro gas tubes onto each important minute marker, embodying an enduring yet innovative look, reflecting the brand ethos.
While it is already a challenge to make it as utilitarian as possible within the complex yet highly legible dial, we can identify another practical complication: the day/date function. Though often overlooked by wearers, this meticulous input allowed the Dive Worldtime watches to be worn daily, as it enables one to keep track of different time zones and the day and date of the week. With the inclusion of the micro-gas tubes on the markers and hands, they provide the wearer with clear legibility, even in harsh conditions.
Now we take a look at the sky-farers. BALL included two versions of the Aviators, cladding oversized luminous gas tubes even in the form of the pilot-oriented Arabic numerals of “3”, “6”, and “12” hour marks. With the conventional big case size that befits a classic pilot watch, the Aviator series allowed a day/date calendar on the side, displaying an appropriate triple-date display.
And how could we not have a pilot Chrono in the collection? The Engineer Master II Normandy is a paragon of functionality and classicism. From its stainless steel bi-directional bezel with intricate grooves to its pump-pushers and tri-complex layout, the Normandy chronograph has an undeniable sparkle that’s akin to the historical pilot watches during the warm days. In addition, it has a Chronometer certified COSC (now seemingly a usual move by BALL) and the aviation’s slide rule bezel that works as an analog computer. This particular piece is the correct figure and more than you need if you’re in the market for an unassailable pilot watch.
This collection is where things get a big change-up from the other Engineer collections. Introduced in 2004, the Engineer Hydrocarbon is where BALL distilled all of its whims and predilections. It is deemed the ultimate explorer’s watch benefiting from exceptional resistance through all of the brand’s innovations. They could be seen as paraphernalia for those obliged to don one during their most trying endeavors.
I’ll start from those that tackle the ocean depths, though the whole collection is capable. Unsurprisingly, the Engineer Hydrocarbon Original models are more of the “traditional-looking” ones, but arguably not in the case of BALL watchmaking. Why? The first model incorporates the patented SpringSEAL anti-shock system, protecting the movement’s escapement. Apart from that, it further imbued almost all of BALL’s signature protective developments, resulting in a 7500Gs shock-resistance, 80,000A/m anti-magnetism, with the signature crown protection system.
Intriguingly, if you’ve paid much attention to its markers, none of them look anything like in the form of luminous gas tubes. BALL ingeniously redesigned the gas tubes to be compact yet strong enough, placing them right underneath the bezel insert and the primary black dial. Now, what we have is a conventional-looking dive watch with an ever-glowing luminescence that one can enjoy without feeling too tacky or contemporary in design.
Similarly, the Hydrocarbon Submarine Warfare series are pithy in different formats and materials. Basically, the same watches as the Hydrocarbon original, at least in terms of the aesthetics. Instead, they have been revamped with other technical content. For a start, the Submarine Warfares Ref. DM2276A-S3CJ-XX is deemed the simplest in form among them. Fabricated with a titanium body and a uni-directional steel bezel, the 42mm dive watch still percolates with 5000Gs resistance and 80,000A/m while enabling one to dive it till 300m.
Moving up the echelon, we have the Hydrocarbon Submarine Warfare Ceramic models. This time the COSC certified professional divers packed in parallel with a smorgasbord of high-end finishing and innovations as the previous, but now executed in a classic stainless steel case with a ceramic bezel insert. All that blossomed in the name of greater resilience, literally.
While reenvisioning an iconic product through BALL’s cultural distillation is an additive exercise, the Submarine Warfare Ceramic extends to the chronograph. The 300m dive watch, coming in at a wearable 42mm wide case, now features two additional screw-down pushers, flanking the iconic crown guard of the Hydrocarbon.
Now it wouldn’t be the ultimate if it couldn’t face the exhilarating depth of the ocean. This was when BALL created its Hydrocarbon DeepQUEST series. The watches welcomed a concentrate of horology advancements that push its water resistance to a minimum depth of 1000m. Made out of a single titanium block, divers can enjoy the heavy-duty diver with lightweightness without compromising its durability.
Also, it encapsulates the patented automatic helium valve inside its crown. Since it’s a single-block mid-case, the bezel of the same material is directly screwed onto, allowing a much lesser point for water or particles to penetrate in. The emboldened DeepQUEST sets forth as the ultimate diver series one could acquire from the budding watchmaker.
As we recount the use of ceramic material, BALL has sparingly implemented it on a few unisex Hydrocarbon watches. The Engineer Hydrocarbon Ceramic Midsize Ref. DL2016B-SCAJ-BK and Ref. DL2016B-S3CAJ-WH areas such. Manufactured with an appealing 36mm case size, both models cater to the wrists of a man or woman, especially those with smaller wrist sizes. While the latter reference stokes a beautiful pink ceramic bezel, paired along a dial made from mother-of-pearl and pink second hand, it would cater more towards female clients with the feministic ornaments.
I’ve mentioned before in other articles that watches with built-in forms, and a unisex size would benefit both genders greatly. It is especially so in current times where the emerging female consumers are gaining track in the market. Likewise, the current trend of having a more vintage sizing (from 34-39mm) in general is not slowing down either. Therefore BALL concurs with my opinions, which we can see more in its later collections.
Moreover, the Hydrocarbon series packed several thematic complications that are either whimsical or practical, with anything in-between. Exemplifying the afore is the Engineer Hydrocarbon Moon Navigator. This quaint moon phase featuring a tide-reader piece allows you to track the high and low tides during 14 days. Using the specially engineered external bezel, rotate counterclockwise to set the day of the week on the inner ring, then turn clockwise to position the corresponding tide markings on the bezel itself correctly. Complementing the complication is a sparkling moon-phase located at the top of the dial.
We also need to recall the seventies and eighties era, where racing chronographs were the rage for the apt complication. Like many classic designs over the decades, the Hydrocarbon Racers are BALL’s take on the genre, gently evolving in the technical side but primarily faithful to the theme. They have a bi-complex layout with contrasting sub-dials against the back-drop, resulting in the nostalgic “panda” layout that allured many chronograph fans. These racer chromos are further powered by a COSC (see a familiar feat here) automatic caliber Ball RR1401-C. Some featured a black ceramic tachymeter bezel insert – a period-correct racing chrono element.
And in-betweens, we got those for peripatetic jet-setters: the Hydrocarbon AeroGMTs. Coming in fashionably with several colorways for the bi-tone bezels and dials, the AeroGMTs made their debut initially in 2015, then again in 2019 for the second series. As now BALL only retails the “II” models, these are heavy-duties GMT watches playing in the league. The bi-tone bezels are made out of sapphire material, reflecting the “bakelite bezels” hey-days but fitted below the modern-tech micro gas tubes to illuminate the 24-hour markers. The AeroGMT II is done in 40mm and 43mm sizings and is powered by a COSC certified caliber BALL RR1201-C to boot – having a quick setting for the GMT hand – allowing a dual/triple time zones reading instantaneously.
Of course, all the Hydrocarbon models usually coincide with a sturdy yet enticing metal bracelet. Each is fitted with BALL’s patented triple folding buckle that includes an extension on each side. Punctiliously, it is milled out from a single piece of stainless steel block and executed with sharp-looking corners while providing ergonomic wearing on the wrist or over any occupational suit when it calls for one.
There are a handful of ideal watches, though considering almost zero perfect ones. Then some behold many valuable and constructive elements, doing things well all simultaneously. These timepieces deliver more than expected that they undoubtedly exemplify the “perfect tool watch” for any swashbuckling suave wearer.
The Hydrocarbons are indeed the pinnacle works directed to people who needed one in their fields and hardcore fans of the brand. They sit right at the top of the pecking order. This does not outcast any of us who also impute who love high-end mechanical art – the company’s most dramatic and enduring tool-watch designs.
The Dressy Bunch – Trainmaster and Conductor
Now onto the other side of the spectrum, we take a look at BALL’s heritage collections. Both the Trainmaster and Conductor timepieces reflect the bygone era of BALL’s pivotal role in the railroad industry. They celebrate the railroad masters and conductors that once kept everything going, ensuring the trains ran on schedule safely. These might be the most captivating collection on this vintage platform, which, however, might also be the most daring.
Starting with the Trainmaster, this dress-watch-oriented collection is interestingly a modern interpretation of historical classics. These are timeless aesthetics, with only a dash of sportiness through their build, with absolute respect for the values of precision, reliability, and the tradition of BALL heritage.
Like the Standard Time models, some of which exemplify an undeviating tribute to the Official Rail Road Standards pocket watches back in the days. For instance, Gnomon carries the Trainmaster Standard Time Chronometer Ref. NM3888D-LL1CJ-WH, featuring a beautiful enamel dial, accentuated with snailing done on the sub-second dial at the bottom. The use of material and format and the Arabic numerals and spade-shaped hour hand in blue are derived from BALL’s 1890s to early 1900s adulated “standard” railroad watches with sunken enamel dials.
If that’s too passé for you, BALL caringly tweaked things slightly here to be more contemporary, through the Trainmaster 60 Seconds White Ref. NM1058D-LL3J-WH. Now, it features a sportier central second hand, along with a day/date display. Again, BALL leverage its history with several anniversary releases throughout the years – like the limited to 1000 pieces Trainmaster Standard Time 135 Anniversary Ref. NM3288D-LBRJ-WH commemorates its century contribution of accurate timepieces for the locomotive industry.
Since this is a sublimely elegant collection, several Trainmaster watches have gotten some dazzling complications and simplistic designs. We obtained the Trainmaster Moon Phase watches on a formal leather strap and 5-links metal band, both for men and women in sizing. As well as the Trainmaster Eternity series with sharp-looking trapezoid hour markers, placed upon an array of textured dials, showcasing the watchmaker’s prowess even in its dial works.
Again, Ball included several others like the use of chronographs in its Trainmaster Cannonball models or its avant-garde in-house caliber for the Trainmaster Manufacture 80 hours which its name denotes. All of which, including several Roman numeral dress models, are still decorated with tritium gas tubes, although minimally.
Overall, the Trainmaster timepieces I have shared are a brilliant reinterpretation of those timeless attributes of elegance and simplicity that solely personify the golden age of BALL. As is also part of the continuity of being adept in making rugged, reliable watches.
A modicum in BALL’s portfolio lies the adorned Conductor collection. It truly represents the company’s heritage in wristwatch making, where the collection pays homage to its very first wristwatch in the 1920s. Therefore, we are quickly arriving the watches are based on a tonneau form, blossomed during the facades and emergence of the Art-Deco period.
A rather unique case shape, all of the Conductor watches are fitted with a convex sapphire crystal with an anti-reflective coating underneath to conform to the case. The models are like those of the Trainmaster, and they seem to evolve beyond in terms of dressiness. They remained devoted mainly to elegance and ornamentations, from the case design to the dials. An axiomatic collection welcomes both men and ladies searching for something more unusual yet artistically a classic design.
Simply Robust – Fireman
What if someone would like a well-built but lesser fuss of the Engineers and Hydrocarbons, fussing of being not too fanciful as the Trainmasters and Conductors? Well, BALL has the good news of introducing its residential Fireman collection. Born in 2005, the Fireman series was launched as a tribute to the armed forces, imbuing simple design and embodying its railroad practicalities, found across its own contemporary watchmaking.
Personally, the Fireman is one of my favorite collections from BALL to date. The straightforward reason is not only are the watches exceptionally a taste of the brand’s savor fairê, but they are also accessibly priced. Therefore, the collection is well suited for those interested in acquiring their first BALL.
I apologize for the digression. Now back to the watches. Starting with the minimalistic Fireman Classic with sober dials and pencil-shaped hour markers. The 40mm all-arounder bestows a screw-down crown and case-back, ensuring a good 100m water resistance, while handling up to 5000Gs of shock resistance.
If you want to spice things up a little but not go over the edge, the Fireman Victory turns out to be one. The Victory sport distinctive patterned dials, which are visual elemental. Like for instance, Ref. NM2098C-S4J-XX models bear a circular sectored dial that creates a sense of depth for the wearer. Also, the newer “Clous de Paris” Ref. NM2098C-S5J-XXs have their dial a Guilloche pattern, forming tiny pyramidal shapes throughout the whole dial, resulting in both classy and utilitarian at the same time.
Unto the Fireman Enterprise series are our favorite, as they prevail in terms of an all-rounder. Consider this for a moment. Thanks to BALL watchmaking, they’re built like a tank, sized at the sweet 40mm spot, and don’t break the bank with a $1500USD mark for a Swiss-made mechanical watch. Oh, and did I mention that they come with a multi-finished, seamless-designed stainless steel bracelet? The Fireman Enterprises are what I call “casual” appeal with a sharp look, both reunited in a single piece.
Not stopping here, things get a little sportier with the Fireman Night Train DLC and NightBreaker. The Night Train DLC is like a “Bamford” Fireman edition, where the whole steel case is done up in full PVD black for that stealthy look. The stylish dark theme is only its lucent dial, through the total of 75 micro gas tubes on the dial and hands, resulting in a light show when placed in a dark environment—such a cool-chic piece from BALL.
How about the exact interpretation but sans the blackout case? BALL’s got us covered with the Night Train III series. Upon it lie a sunburst green and blue dial that is trendy yet evergreen. Coming in at 43mm and 40mm, these Night Train IIIs pack 61 micro gas tubes each and are paired with the nicely executed metal bands.
Following up is the Fireman NightBreaker series. Thanks to its large double-digit numerals at 12, 4, and 8’o clock positions, it is the most sporty and modern-looking in the whole collection. The dial is further done with a full concentric pattern, only flank by a sloped reheat for the minute markings. The tritium hour markers are placed between them to bridge the whole dial gracefully. A bright red second hand freshens things up a little without throwing anything off balance.
With the fascinating all-arounder classification, the Fireman was akin to the occupation itself. The heart of the locomotive – the person who kept the whole train going – this collection is BALL. The all-rounding daily-beaters are tough enough to take some rough and dirty work while striking a balance with some elegance. I strongly think this might be a good “one watch” for a collection without cutting off any corners.
The New Members – Roadmaster
The Roadmaster was introduced in 2017, thanks to a collaboration with its Explorer club member, Danny Thompson, who made history by breaking the record of land speed by hitting 406.7m/h (654.5km/h) in his piston-powered Challenger 2 streamliner at the Bonneville Salt Flats, in western Utah. As with the sobriquet, the befitting watch was the Roadmaster GMT, and it’s limited to 1000 produced. The watch comes with a functional GMT complication while finished with either a sporty PVD coated case or the conventional steel material.
Since introducing the L.E., the Roadmaster boasts robust and technically advanced automotive models. They are simply bold, powerful, and mechanically complex. From there, the collection spurred on several more groundbreaking GMT concept models, like the Roadmaster Vanguard and Marine GMTs. Each of them now comes with an external rotating bezel, but what’s more interesting lies in their patented GMT quick set mechanism.
A traditional way of setting the GMT hand would often be done through its winding crown – at the date adjustment position to be specific. But BALL developed an on-the-fly system, whereby pressing the pushers located at the 8 and 10 o’clock positions, allowing the GMT hand to jump forward or backward, in one hour increment. This is done through the new modular system, built on top of the COSC certified ETA/Sellita-based automatic movement. With that, the user can keep the modular movement system not only the date but also stretches to the day where it aligns with the GMT hand.
BALL forges its notoriety and vision around innovation, and the modern Roadmaster automotive line thoroughly reflects this. Like all other collections, the Roadmaster is of excellent quality and is invigorating as one takes it for a long drive across states and countries. Additionally, with accessible pricing, this would be an ideal go-to for a full, sport-travel watch to be enjoyed by anyone.
Making the Best Better – BALL’s Calibers
From the inception of the American brand, it has relied heavily on mechanical components fed from the elites of the watch world. Since the early days, the brand had several watchmakers from both local and Switzerland accustomed to the stringent requirements.
This practice, or should I say, lá tradition of BALL’s strategy, has continued to this day. One might even argue that it fully utilized its own manufactured movement throughout the collections since its descent in 2017. But it’s not practical for economies of scale and efficiency. At least for now. To learn more, you can check out my in-depth article on the world’s most relied on Swiss calibers here.
I’ll try to defend on this easier-said-than-done aspect. Developing an in-house movement has already demanded tons of investments, and sure, it’s a novelty to utilize it throughout. However, this would have consciously raised the cost on those at their excellent price point. Yes, an in-house movement below $10,000 is a genuine novelty, but not everyone seeks a high price point when looking for a robustly built mechanical. Remember, BALL keeps a robust value package in terms of build quality and price ratio. Therefore to do so, it needs to continue to ensconce itself in the industry’s stalwart calibers – the value for money is exceptional.
On that note, as a consumer or enthusiast, I feel there’s nothing to lose out here, as the watchmaker doesn’t simply dump a bare ébauche into its watches. No, it’s far from that. Rigorous efforts are seen when the engineers and watchmakers in Switzerland passively fine-tune the ETA and Sellita movements – unsparingly pegging crazy amount of resilience innovations – into a fine-class “BALL standards,” which all of us appreciate. I’ll highlight some of the popular ones found inside the watches I have here.
To be fair, from its perfect all-rounder Fireman series that I loved, we’d able to denote some difference from the usuals. The caliber RR1103, found inside most, is based on the reliable ETA 2824-2/SW200-1. BALL made sure it’s able to withstand up to 5000gs, withstanding inevitable abuse you can dish out to them, and each Fireman model would still work accurately under adverse conditions.
Unsurprisingly, the shock resistance is BALL’s fundamental doing, as seen in the smaller Swiss caliber found within its ladies’ watches. The caliber RR1104 riffs off the ETA2671, commonly found in many lady’s watches, and the company utilized it in several series. For instance, the tough yet elegant-looking Engineer II Ohio Ladies models.
Several supplied movements behold principles tied to BALL’s meticulous accurate timekeeping history and are chronometer COSC (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres) certified. On average, time-reading of a Swiss mechanical belies an accuracy of +/-15 seconds daily; as for COSC certified movements, the watchmakers must re-assure timekeeping within -4/+6 seconds a day. For a COSC certified mechanical movement, when sent, it is tested for 15 days and checked with two critical pieces of data: the performance is different temperatures and the 5 key positions of the movement. Although BALL has provided utmost accurate timing ever since its railroad safety-hey-days, the brand continues to cinch this arduous process, which truly reflects its uncompromising ethos.
On top of all these fine-tuned accurate movements, more protections were added. In the Engineer Master II series, some of the sports watches are further protected with higher anti-magnetism using its incredible Mu-metal shield, allowing a total of 80,8000A/m.
There are still more undertakings to the calibers regarding toughening them up. As I’d explained in-depth in Part 2, BALL has more tricks up its sleeve. Progressively, the Engineer series starts to have tech like the AMORTISER rotor-locking system. Watches like the aviators Pilot Bronze and Hydrocarbon Maine Warfare divers are examples. While the caliber BR1102 is based on the day/date ETA 2836-2/SW220-1, it consists of a protective ring around the movement that acts as a shock absorber. And yes, this tech is found in the brand’s chronograph models too.
Of course, the Caliber RR1102 is also protected by Ball’s SpringLOCK® Hairspring Anti-Shock and SpringSEAL® Regulator Anti-Shock System, where both are proprietary shock systems, explicitly safeguarding the movement’s escapement from external shocks that may cause damage. If you want to have all these in your watch, BALL’s “ultimate” dive watch, the Engineer Hydrocarbon Original, has got you covered.
And then, we have those with the quaint ornamental complications. Such is the case with the Trainmaster series. Ex-models like the Kelvin L.Es clads an RR1601-C chronometer movement were fitted with an innovative thermometer system. Basically an ETA 2892-A2 automotive movement, BALL treated this robust movement with a patented mechanical thermometric indication, with its synonymous 5000Gs shock-resistance. Also treading the same wavelength, the caliber RR1601 is presently found in the watches with a lunar landscape. The RR1601 is, in fact, another RR1102 – the ETA 2836-2/SW220-1 – now with a moon-phase complication designed by BALL.
The modern collections had meticulously expressed the frenetic modifications with zero fuss, manifested with these reliable Swiss movements in spades. And all that allows the brand to keep a tremendous value package that should finally come in as good news to anyone who’s in the market to obtain a well-built, impervious to our daily-abuse mechanical timepieces. That’s what I love about BALL is it keeps its watches irrefutably authentic in this area. Also, the magic of BALL is to encapsulate value, quality, and history – all in one accessibly priced package.
Eye for Partnerships
The modern eclectic BALL Watch Company, to be fair, has never really stopped partnering with veterans and relevant organizations, just as it did back in the 19th century. We saw it through tremendous collaborative experiences that the brand eschewed since the early day, and it has been picking up the pace. This reflects newfound confidence in its own trait, along with the prospects of ever-present excitements for both parties. Who else could one look to when they needed one for their adventurous endeavor?
When seeking the extensions to serve all adventurers looking for new horizons or looking for a personal one, BALL had the know-how. Not only for those in the “BALL Explorer Club” but to extrinsic parties like several military departments. However, when we acknowledged the broad spectrum that BALL caters to, the multitude of watches whipped out reveals the formidable hard work behind each model. Therefore, I’ll only touch on some significance found both within each collection and sold-out ones to share some light on how things were.
One consistency that can be drawn across BALL history is its recurring drive to collaborate with others. BALL caters to two distinctive segments with its partnerships: a selected group of extreme athletes, pioneering scientists, and artistic adventurers known as the “Explorer Club” ambassadors; on top of that, the broader spectrum, including commemorative and collaborative models dedicated to the corporations and militaries.
Let’s begin from the afore. Some of you might have handled a few dive watches from BALL. When flipping one over to see the embellishments and specifications on the case-back, sometimes a diver figure seems to pop out from the middle. Well, that’s the one and only French diver Guillaume Néry. Born in 1982, the freediver was a born adventurer of the sea. He discovered freediving at the age of 14 (meaning no oxygen tank and the like), and by 2002 he became the youngest record-holder of constant weight freediving of a depth of 87m (285ft), relying only on his body and flippers.
BALL knew the youth would be its chartered member, and the partnership was forged in 2006. Numerous dive watches with their signature elements influenced the genre throughout the years, from the early 300m limited edition Engineer Master II Chronograph to the dual-crown Engineer Master II Diver Worldtime. Each of them was built for Guillaume Néry on his journey to explore the sea bed and breaking new records ever since.
Through the partnership, BALL could attest to the values which lie behind the brand’s philosophy – syncing harmoniously with the freediving athlete – through both’s enthusiasm, determination, reliability, precision, and performance.
Next, we’ve got Richard Limburner, an Explorer of BALL who was a Senior Research Specialist in the Physical Oceanography Department at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. His primary interests include the coastal ocean dynamics, such as the general circulation, buoyancy and wind forcing, tidal rectification, sea ice annual cycles, mixing, Lagrangian (drifter) trajectories, and circulation under Antarctic ice shelves, and climate change. We knew the transformative BALL timepiece that would be apt for his extreme-cold environment – one from the Hydrocarbon series, of course.
“Accuracy is everything when you are measuring currents in Antarctica. Deploying oceanographic instruments in frigid polar water must be done with exact timing. If not, you have wasted a long trip.” As stated by the man himself. And BALL had the right piece to be used during his journey in 2004, where he searched for the long lost U.S. Navy Submarine “Alligator,” built by French scientists in 1861.
As its sunken location was in Cape Hatteras, the temperature could reach below freezing point -14 °C (6 °F), so BALL clad him one Hydrocarbon with all the resistance perks, but more specifically, its extraordinary lubrication to the movement that suits temperature ranging from -40°C to 60°C (-40 to 140°F). A commemorative limited edition was born in the exact specs through his effort, and it’s called the Engineer Hydrocarbon “Alligator” L.E.
The exemplary Engineer Hydrocarbon model that ties with one man who needed it to survive the cold temperature enabled the brand to enjoy a sense of purpose and vigor in the space, steering other stone-cold adventurers out there together.
Another instance is the first woman to join the BALL Explorers Club in 2011, Edurne Pasaban. Born in Spain, she was the first woman to conquer all 14 mountain peaks on the planet. And by 2011, she was nominated the “Adventurer of the Year” by National Geographic. Unsurprisingly, her choice was the then released 36mm Engineer Hydrocarbon Midsize Ceramic.
Through the collaboration, BALL aimed to point out that its most engineered pieces not only catered to men due to their “masculinity.” From the 36mm Engineer Hydrocarbon, BALL has successfully stripped the idea of “watches for men only” stigma.
Another indelible mark BALL would leave on the industry was playing for environmental scientists. Constructing a watch for a specific need was catered to tackle extreme hurricanes and tornadoes (just like in movies). One such is located within the Fireman collection: the Fireman Storm Chaser Pro. This particular watch played a crucial role in helping to assist professional storm chasers in their strides. This could only happen through the impetus of its partnership with Dr. Joshua Wurman, the Center for Severe Weather Research president.
Joining together, the brand and Joshua eschewed a modern bombastic chronograph in 2014 instead of embracing the traditional ones catering to pilots (sky and space). Also, in paying tribute to the original Fireman Storm Chaser in 2009, they churned out a Valjoux 7750 chronograph to withstand up to 5000Gs of shock; further fitted it with a matte black anodized aluminum bezel with a telemetric scale. Working in tandem with the chronograph, the telemeter allows determining the approximate distance of phenomena that can be seen and heard, in this case, lightning and thunder. Now, the brand reflects newfound confidence in its own skin through the prospects of reliability and rock-solid toughness, all in the name of storm-hunting.
Although with many more individuals to list, other editions fit the cooperation bill here. It is to level the brand’s body of work to serve the world’s industries. To start, I’ll share an ongoing one from the collection as mentioned above: the Fireman NECC. Its acronym is established through the U.S. Navy’s expeditionary force called the “Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.”
The NECC helps equip the Expeditionary Combat Forces with proper training, executing combat and support missions across the full spectrum of naval, joint, and combined operations. Therefore they needed a watch to suit the amphibian nature throughout the sea-to-shore and inland operations. The Fireman NECC is proudly designed as one, a black titanium carbide (TiC) coated case for light-weight efficiency in a tactical tone that’s befitting. The watch is built to withstand 5000Gs of shock, 4800A/m of magnetism, and topping off a 300m water-resistant as the Navy members can wear essentially.
Similarly, the Engineer Hydrocarbon NEDU is another U.S. military model which I’d mentioned in Part 2. The Navy Experimental Diving Unit (NEDU) is primarily a diving and hyperbaric operational training body for the U.S. Navy. So since it exists solely to tackle the depth of the sea, the Hydrocarbon NEDU was born as a 600m titanium dive watch with underwater operable chronograph pushers for timing measurements when the divers needed. Since it’s the Engineer Hydrocarbon series, it gets the accreditation through its 7500Gs of shock-resistance, a COSC movement, Ceramic material bezel, and not forgetting the ingenious patented helium release crown.
On the other end, the U.S. Air Force got their fair share with the Engineer Hydrocarbon Airborne model. Since the division is responsible for aerial rescue operations and medical assistance to soldiers involved in military operations on the ground, the Hydrocarbon Airborne is designed to meet those requirements for the Air Force Pararescue team. It consists of BALL’s SpringLOCK patented hairspring anti-shock system on its COSC chronometer movement to handle the team’s activity in the air.
In addition to its built, a tritium-lit “explorer” dial is adorned with a beautiful radial pattern, creating some depth for the wearer. At the same time, its case-back is embossed with the Paraescue’s logo, featuring their famous motto: “That others may live.” Both add a lively contrast to the deep and somber cool built of the HYDROCARBON, visually unifying the looks overall
Throughout BALL modern history, it’s not all about tag-teaming with those all about military warfare or the extremes. Partnerships like Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) or, also known as Doctors Without Borders, tell us a different story still appropriate to BALL’s tenor.
The non-governmental organization was born in 1971, best known for its voluntary projects with many medical professionals providing aids to war-torn regions and developing countries plagued by endemic diseases. Unlike soldiers, this medical personnel needed a proper “doctor” type of watch, similar to those used by train-masters back in the days. Thus the more elegant collection was picked by BALL, and the watchmaker produced two functional models: the Trainmaster Pulsemeter Chronograph and the Trainmaster Pulsemeter GMT.
While the latter GMT is apt for the organization, where the people need to travel to different time zones, both the Chronograph and GMT models excel in cladding a pulsometer scale on the periphery of the polar white dial read through the blued hands. These two classier pieces were instrumental in providing the MSF with medical-related function, enabling the wearers to monitor and measure any person’s heart or pulse rate. Though it’s not new as doctors actually utilized them back in the 1920s or 30s, seeing BALL developing these models in the field is like a revival of both the pulsometer and its railroad pocket watches, all from the same era.
Lastly, BALL has also paid attention to its international communities, launching several enthusiasts’ watches commemorative. 2019’s BALL Roadmaster Raffles Edition pays tribute to Singapore’s 200 years of growth and progress. “We are extremely proud of what we have produced to celebrate this momentous occasion,” stated Daniel Alioth, Chief Operating Officer of Ball Watch.
“As a brand focused on exploration and growth, we were inspired by Singapore’s rise from its third-world status into one of the leading economies in the region and wanted to create a timepiece befitting of this achievement.” He continues. The sporty Roadmaster model sets apart from the rest through the touch of the nation’s color: a vibrant red tone, ornate on its bezel. Still, the Roadmaster Raffles bestows all the advanced engineering and also feels as austere and über-functional as ever.
This third and final chapter concludes my expansive series on the early life, innovative development, and the current perspective of BALL Watch Company. If you haven’t had the chance to read the first two chapters yet, you can find Part 1 here, as well as Part 2 here. I hope this had been an informative yet enjoyable journey to read on a brand that played a pivotal role in our horology hobby. We’ve all come together to discover the enduring persona, which is also the most intriguing.
Actually, these days, more often than not, I feel many of us have always missed out on a few genuine watch brands in this era where every other day, another emerging watch entity attempts to grab our attention. Sadly, these underappreciated brands, who, like BALL, have instilled a tremendous amount of effort to keep things on the right track to provide value through its palatable daily beaters. We have often forgotten that BALL watches today are as beautiful as they were back in the ninetieth and twentieth centuries. Maybe we humans have failed to care for some things that are sumptuously well done throughout the decades – as if we’re tired of true horology marvels with designs that never fade. BALL’s creations might not have received the recognition they deserved, but I’ll confess that their merit is indisputable.
With hopes held high, I intensely encourage anyone who undertakes the watchmaker’s comprehensive journey to be rejuvenated or start to re-appreciate the brand’s rich history and excellent quality. It creates timepieces with singularity and abiding durability. These modern timepieces are posthumously inspired by the brand’s founder, focusing on reintroducing bona fide watchmaking of the early day’s official railroad pocket watches, escalating the ardent format within a modern BALL watch. Resultantly, BALL watches are seen as reminders of the brand’s accomplishments to a seemingly endless stream of engineering and innovations. The watch brand has played a notable role in contributing and celebrating Mr. Webb’s vision as a core facet.
By the turn of the Millennium, BALL did not only cater its watches solely as tools-of-the-trade for professionals in all fields. Heck, even we can own those practically used by those actual people in their respective working fields. Folks, believe me when I tell you this, the current BALL watches are classic pieces that are genuinely contemporary in design yet timeless in essence and accurately reflect the brand’s philosophy. It pushes the boundary of formulating the toughest. Yet, most accurate mechanical timepieces – functioning under both adverse conditions and looking damnably wonderful and very, very real – have become central to the mechanical identity of itself today.
Even though it was just two decades after the brand’s kickstarted its modern days’ path, there were already abundant examples of an unmatched level of advanced development to provide the utmost reliable and accurate way to measure time. Each collection is further categorized to suit your own taste. If you want dressy and elegant, the brand has got you with the Trainmaster and Conductor collections. Or how about ones which conjure travel and adventure? The Roadmaster and Engineers’ collections are for you. Even the latter has filtered your selections respectively. The Fireman collection would be that one watch you’ll ever need for those who want to strike a balance between ruggedness and stylishness.
Of course, it seems contradictory to carry on this legacy in the modern state-of-the-art manner (except Trainmaster and conductor), but that’s what makes this particular brand so brilliant and veracious. As a matter of fact, it’s reciprocating the past and future both at the same time. BALL coalesced a vision for watchmaking that has been, to me personally, one of the single most significant influences on the contemporary horological landscape.
Listen, it’s easy enough to point out that BALL has been on a total heater since re-entering the watch market properly in the early 2000s, but that was never a given thing for the brand. It’s the continuous commitment to bring that sleek piece of tech for all of us. All those nifty technologies and valiant design marry a triumphant approach to functionality with a dose of a vibrant avenue of self-expression, offering down-to-earth and rock-solid everyday choices – that is how superior Swiss-made watches are supposed to be. BALL sets out to remind us why we dig proper watchmaking and all of its glory in the first place.
Finally, as a reminder, in this guide, an exhaustive run-through is not considered the complete manifestation of BALL Watch Company. Many activities happened during the early periods, which are not spoken of in detail, and many of the developed patents and unique timepieces are not listed here. However, I feel the existing mentions are more than enough to help one fully understand the company legacy – getting the whole picture of the BALL singular facade of bringing accuracy and reliability in the essence of time.
BALL had demonstrated its core values throughout its lifetime. After all, since 1879, Mr. Webb C. Ball was motivated to create a timepiece capable enough to stand up to the extremes in one industry that relied solely on time itself. And today, BALL continues to enduringly excel in innovations, both technically and aesthetically, in ways that only deepen a connection to the past. Now, that signature arrives on your wrist with a whole new perspective with modern looks.