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Ball Watch Company - 8 Stunning Swiss-Made Models with American Roots

Posted on August 06 2021

Ball Swiss-made Railroad Watches

Very few watch companies can claim that their watches were created to solve a life or death problem.

Military watches have saved lives and precise timekeeping has been hugely beneficial to mankind. But real life or death situations? Not many watch companies can put that on their CV.

Ball is different.

In the 1890s several American's died in a railroad accident caused by a faulty watch. Webb c. Ball was tasked with creating a reliable watch that would prevent such disasters.

And that link to the railroads is still at the core of the brand.

It's a great story, and one I'll come back to later. First, let's see the best watches that Ball - now a Swiss-owned company - currently produce.

The Best Ball Watches


Ball's range is still inspired by the brand's connection to the railroads. That ethos informs most of Ball's designs.

So I'm going to show you the best watches by the brand. But there is a strong emphasis on their functional and vintage-inspired pieces.

As you'll see, Ball also incorporates GTLS illumination technology into their watches. It's not unique, but it's certainly a distinguishing feature.

Later I'll expand on the brand's history and discuss the build quality of the watches.

But first, let's dig into the brand's current catalogue. Trust me, there are some beauties here.

Ball Engineer M Marvelight NM2032C-L1C-GY

The Marvelight best sums up the ethos of Ball. It's a legible and functional watch that does one job - it tells the time.

It's a mid-sized piece with a Ball automatic movement and GTLS illumination. If you're not familiar with GTLS - referred to as Tritium - it's a radioactive light source. The small gas-filled tubes glow 24hrs a day for up to 25 years.

The Marvelight incorporates this technology into the raised markers and on the hands. In keeping with the Railroad heritage, you can read this watch whatever the lighting.

But let's not get carried away with the functionality. Yes, this watch has an 80hr power reserve and is both reliable and versatile. But you could buy a cheap quartz model to do that.

This is watch is all about the history and the quality.

It's a Swiss-made piece. The decorated Swiss-made mechanical movement can be viewed through the exhibition back. But the watch really references the brand's American history. The 'RR' design on the counterweight of the second hand refers to the Rail Road Certification of their early watches.

I love this watch. The design is understated and refined.

But it's also functional.

This is where I would start with Ball Watch Company.

Ball Engineer M Marvelight NM2032C-L1C-GY

  • 40mm Diameter
  • 13mm Thick
  • Stainless Steel
  • Ball Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance


Ball Skindiver II Watch

The Skindiver II is a contrast to the Marvelight. It's bigger, heavier and built for the sea rather than the railroads. But it still has history. This model is a modern interpretation of the brand's skin diver watch from the early 1960s.

I have a soft spot for skin diver watches. They're pared-down dive watches that were designed in the 1950s as an alternative to heavier professional dive watches.

Well, that was the plan.

With this model, Ball has beefed up its original design. So this model is 43mm and has 500M of water resistance - and an accompanying helium release valve.

It's not really a slim, lightweight diver. But the core skin diver design elements are still there.

It has a straightforward case and a simple black dial and bezel. But of course, Ball has opted for GTLS illumination rather than painted on lume.

The overall result is stunning - assuming that you're ok with the move away from the slim build of the original skin divers.

Again, it has an attractive Ball automatic movement (built from a Swiss ETA base). So this is a high-quality piece that has more water resistance than you'll ever need.

It's great if you want a tough modern watch that subtly references Ball's history.

Ball Master II Skindiver II DM3108A-SCJ-BK

  • 43mm Diameter
  • 14mm Thick
  • Stainless Steel
  • Ball Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 500M Water Resistance


Ball Moon Phase Watch

This Moon Phase watch is more colourful and playful. It's also more eye-catching and offers a different side to the brand.

At 41mm wide, it's a comfortable dress watch. And that's how I'd wear this model. Whilst the colour does give the watch some versatility, this is an elegant piece best worn with formal clothing.

The blue dial is beautiful. The moon phase complication is prominent, without overwhelming the design. I like that.

It has the Tritium tubes Ball favours, but again, they don't distract from the rest of the watch.

And the rest of the watch is worth looking at closer. It has the specs that you would expect at this price point. Swiss-made and with a Ball movement. It also has a sapphire crystal and 100M of water resistance.

But this watch wins because of the design.

It's the smaller touches. The sunburst effect on the dial and the red accent on the second hand. And the second hand still includes the Rail Road motif.

This moon phase model, from the Engineer II line, is ideal if you want elegance ahead of ruggedness.

Ball Engineer II NM2282C-SJ-BE

  • 41mm Diameter
  • 14mm Thick
  • Stainless Steel
  • Ball RR1801 Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 


Ball Hydrocarbon Original Watch

The Ball Hydrocarbon Original is another heavy-duty diver. There's a vintage look to the piece. There is also a distinctive crown guard that differentiates this watch from its competitors.

Other than the crown guard, there aren't any design points that really stand out. At least when you take a quick look at the watch. Look closer and you'll start to notice some exciting features.

Where to start?

The crown seems the obvious starting point. It locks down to ensure the crown is always screwed in. Now, look at the bezel. It has a sapphire crystal as protection - you don't see that often.

And the GTLS illumination? That is cleverly held underneath the dial and bezel. Both are then cut away at the markers to reveal the tubes beneath.

It's details like this that make this watch so interesting.

But it's a chunky piece. So bear that in mind. It's 14.5mm thick and wears large because of the crown.

Aside from the 200M of water resistance, there are also some other specs that make this a notable watch. It has anti-magnetic shielding and a series of anti-shock features.

This is Ball's bulletproof watch.

Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon Original DM2218B-PCJ-BK

  • 43mm Diameter
  • 14.5mm Thick
  • Stainless Steel
  • Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance


Ball Fireman Victory Automatic Watch

The next watch that I want to highlight is reminiscent of an Omega Aqua Terra. It has a very similar look and feel, with a textured dial that hints at the teak effect of the Omega.

This is a classically styled piece that doesn't cry out for attention. Instead, it uses a tried and tested formula - the Rolex Datejust also springs to mind - and does the basics well.

It's 40mm wide, as it should be, and is a little over 11mm thick. Once more it's powered by Ball's customised ETA automatic movement.

Like the Omega and Rolex, this is an everyday watch. It's not too smart or dainty for jeans and a t-shirt, but it's not a sports watch either.

The design is a pleasing mix of smooth curves and contrasting straight lines. It works well and the Tritium tubes have been neatly slipped into the design. To keep the symmetry of the markers the date window has been repositioned to just after 4 o'clock.

This watch is too pricey to be a beater. But if you want a smart-casual piece that you will take care of, this would make a great everyday watch.

Ball Company Fireman Victory NM2098C-S5J-BK

  • 40mm Diameter
  • 11.6mm Thick
  • Stainless Steel
  • Ball Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance


Ball Manufacture 80 hours Watch

This dress watch from Ball is more vintage looking and slightly smarter than the Fireman. It has a massive 80hrs of power reserve, which is really handy if, like me, you change watches regularly.

As you'd expect from Ball, and dress watches in general, this model has a 40mm case. It's 12mm thick, meaning this is a safe choice for most wrist sizes.

But let's forget about all of that for a minute.

Look at the dial. It's the dial that makes this watch. The deep blue dial with simple, neat hands and matching markers is exquisite. At first glance, this looks like a vintage piece.

But again, look closely.

It has GTLS tubes built into the hands and markers. Once more I'm impressed by Ball. They haven't allowed this modern technology to compromise the classic styling.

And I guess that's why this watch made it onto my list.

I love the successful marriage of modern watchmaking knowledge and vintage design. I love the modern sizing, exhibition case back and the 80 hours power reserve.

But I'm also a fan of the spartan dial with minimal text. I like the domed sapphire crystal. And most of all, I love the dial.

Ball Company Manufacture 80 hrs NM3080D-S1CJ-BE

  • 40mm Diameter
  • 12.2mm Thick
  • Stainless Steel
  • Ball Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance


Ball Company Engineer III Ohio watch

I hope that I've made it clear that Ball has two strands to the brand. The first is the company now - they're Swiss-owned and Swiss-made. That means a lot in the world of watches.

But equally important is the company's heritage. They were founded in 19th century Ohio. And their whole reason for being was due to a fatal train crash in the state.

This watch, from the Engineer III collection, references that early history in both its name and design.

This is the most authentically vintage Ball model.

It shares many of the features of the other dress watches I've highlighted. It has a 40mm case, a Ball automatic movement and Tritium tubes on the hands and markers.

It's the most unashamedly vintage of the watches that I've included. This can be seen in the colour palette, the numeral style and the small markers that resemble rivets.

The leather strap reinforces this aesthetic.

This isn't a cool or sporty piece. Instead, it's a conservative watch that uses rose gold colouring to evoke an earlier era. It's a cracking watch.

Ball Engineer III Ohio NM9126C-L14J-GY

  • 40mm Diameter
  • 13.5mm Thick
  • Stainless Steel
  • Ball Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance


Ball Marine GMT Root Beer
The final watch that I'd like to showcase goes over the top in complications and specs. It's available in a few colour variations, of which I prefer the Root Beer version.

There's a lot going on with this watch. That much is obvious just from looking at the dial and the case buttons.

It's a GMT watch - so it allows you to monitor more than one time zone. Rather than set a second timezone by manually winding a second crown Ball has introduced two buttons. One to move back an hour and one for an hour forward.

They've also created a watch that can adjust the day and date for the second timezone.

I'm not sure how practical that all is, but it's certainly novel and interesting to watch geeks.

It all gives the watch a busy and functional appearance. This watch looks like a tool. As it should. GMT watches were historically used by pilots.

The Roadmaster Marine GMT shows what Ball is capable of. They use a Sellita automatic movement as their base and have built a mid-sized beauty around it. It has a titanium case too.

And the Root Beer colouring? That is the icing on the cake.

This watch has uncommon functions, is Swiss-made and has great specs. Remember, it has a ceramic bezel, sapphire crystals to front and back and Tritium tubes for illumination. I strongly suggest you take a closer look.
If you need anymore motivation. It's limited to 1000 pieces.

Ball Roadmaster Marine GMT DG3030B-S3C-BK

  • 40mm Diameter
  • 14mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Titanium
  • Ball Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance


A Brief History of Ball Watches


Unlike some of the Swiss heritage brands, Ball has quite a straightforward and well-known back story.

It's where the brand's current watches take their inspiration from.

Following a fatal train crash in Ohio during the 1890s, the Railroads decided to standardise their timing. To do this they appointed Webb C. Ball. He was given the role of Chief Time Inspector.

And so Ball Watches was born.

He created a Rail Road standard for all watches to be used on the railroads. This included a series of basic specifications that all watches should have. You'll see on Ball watches that the second hand still references this 'RR'.

It's hard to overstate how successful this was for Ball. By 1908 they'd serviced over a million watches for nearly 200 railroads.

But like many watch companies, Ball changed hands. It is now Swiss-owned and based in La Chaux-de-Fonds.

Are Ball Watches Good Quality


The answer is yes.

They're not what I would class as affordable watches and are often priced around £1-2k. For this, you will get some excellent specifications.

There are a couple of points to note.

Firstly, Ball watches are powered by their own mechanical movements. These are built from a base movement supplied by Sellita or ETA - two well-respected Swiss manufacturers.

So you can be confident that they have good movements.

Secondly, Ball is one of only a handful of companies that regularly use GTLS to illuminate their watches. Others include Luminox and Traser.

GTLS illumination gives continuous light for up to 25 years.

I'm confident that Ball watches are of high quality.

And it's worth pointing out that they innovate and equip their watches with some uncommon features. Take the last watch on this list as an example - it has a fairly unique way of setting the second timezone.

And remember the Hydrocarbon Original? It uses Tritium underneath the dial and bezel and employs cut away sections to reveal the light source. That's a cool feature that you'll rarely see elsewhere.



Where are Ball Watches Made?


Ball is now a Swiss-owned and Swiss-based company. All watches are made in Switzerland at La Chaux-de-Fonds.

Additionally, they use Swiss automatic movements from Sellita and ETA.

As you'd expect, Ball watches have the important words 'Swiss Made' at the foot of the dial.

Conclusion


Ball watches often pass under the radar.

I'm not sure why. They're Swiss-based and readily available. They also have a unique backstory that inspires much of their design.

But what I do know is that their watches are very interesting. After having checked out the watches in this article I hope that you'll agree.

They do a mix of styles, but a brand ethos and common DNA is clear. If I had to sum up the typical Ball watch, it would be:

  • vintage-inspired
  • reference the railroads
  • have an automatic movement
  • tritium illumination

And of course, it would have Ball's distinctive second hand.

So dig a little deeper. Follow some of the links I've provided. And when you're done, pop your thoughts in a comment below.

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