Marking the 15th anniversary of the brand’s most robust and distinctive collection, Ball launches the new Engineer Hydrocarbon Original. We had the watch as a daily beater for about a week, and here is our in-depth review, and explore the technical features.
Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon Original Ref. DM2118B-SCJ-BK
Retail price: SGD 4,250 inclusive of GST
Ball began as an American company initially catering to the needs of the railroad industry. Though it started out being based in Ohio, it is now headquartered in Switzerland. Even in the earliest years, it never made its own watches, but used manufacturers like Elgin, Hamilton, Howard and Waltham.
Today, Ball Watches features six unique lines of timepieces, viz the Engineer II, the Engineer Master II, the Engineer Hydrocarbon, the Trainmaster, the Conductor and the Fireman. We reviewed the Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT some years ago. But for this exploration, we turn our attention to the 40mm base model of the Engineer Hydrocarbon collection – with time display, unidirectional rotating bezel and day date.
The case, dial and hands
The first time one picks up the Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon Original, the heft of the 140g of the watch and bracelet is immediately felt. The finishing on the handsome stainless steel case and bracelet is smooth, and exudes quality. We immediately feel reassured that the mass felt on the hand translates to a well made watch. A very well made one. The entire exterior is very well built, and engineered to a very high standard. The tonneau shaped case feels very strong. Perhaps the metaphor of a Mercedes Benz comes to mind – big, heavy, strong, well built and engineered to last.
The case itself and the bracelet has a matte brushed finish, while some of the edges like the coin ridged bezel sides and the crown protection system is high polished. This contrasting surfaces provide a nice visual aesthetic.
The crown protector is an unusual looking device. It looks like a bar across the crown. But the entire visible piece is a cover over the actual crown, and is built on a Ball patented protection system. The system consists of a valved covering to ensure that the crown is securely screwed-in and inaccessible when diving.
Though the device is a bit goofy looking, in practice, it works well. At a push of the button situated at the upper edge of the device, the entire mechanism swings around, revealing the crown.. The crown is marked with a patch of bright blue paint to provide a warning of sorts that the guard is open. The crown is screw down, to provide the protection needed for water resistance.
The dial is simply laid out, and a model of legibility. With large arrow shaped hands with their gas discharge tube inserts, making them highly visible in good light as well as in the dark. Even the centrally mounted seconds hand carries its own gas tube, and is counter balanced by a stylized RR Ball logo on the other end. The hour markers are round gas discharge tubes, with 12 o’clock marked as a triangle and the cardinal points of 3, 6, and 9 as rectangles. The 3 o’clock marker is truncated to allow for space to display the day and date via two apertures on the dial. A minute track runs around the perimeter. And the entire dial is black for a high contrast, high visibility dial.
The bezel is uni-directional, as is the norm for diving watches, and feature markers for the first 15 minutes in minute intervals. The sapphire glass protecting the dial sits slightly proud o the bezel, with a good all round fit.
Even the clasp gets special treatment. Two winged buttons by the side of the clasp releases the locking mechanism. The technology is patented and when locked, the clasp is very secure. Bell tells us they tested the mechanism to resist 1400 Newtons of force and was cycle tested to simulate 6 years of wear. Impressive.
The clasp also provides extensions for use over a neoprene dive suit in the form of two links which can be folded in or out to shorten or lengthen the bracelet.
Overall, a very robust package which feels very high quality.
The engineering specifications – a commentary
Befitting the moniker of Engineer, the Engineer Original is specified with quite a number of interesting technical features.
We begin with the lume, which is excellent, and only rivaled by other watches bearing the same technology – namely the Luminox series as well as Tracer. All these 3 brands offer the tritium filled gas discharge tube of the same technology, manufactured by MB-microtec. The lume is not only bright, but it does not need to be charged by an external light source, as the tritium gas discharge technology is self sufficient.
The intent of the watch is as a reference for reliability, solidity and functionality. Its name, the Engineer hints at the design goals, is equipped with a strong, thick hydrocarbon steel case weighing a hefty 140g. The case is rated to a water depth rating of 200m, and good for non-saturation diving as it lacks a helium escape valve.
Ball takes no chances in the shock resistance. The Ball Engineer Original is certified to be able to resist up to 7500G of shock. This is indeed a very impressive figure. As a comparison, the Richard Mille RM 27-02 Rafael Nadal, a watch costing EUR 734,500, and widely proclaimed by both manufacturer and collectors to be extremely shock resistant is only certified to 5000G.
The Ball is also specified to be shielded from magnetism up to 80,000 A/m. However, this is not an exceptional number for magnetic resistance, though it is much higher than the minimum 4,800 A/m requirement to meet ISO specifications. However, many modern amagnetic watches are rated much higher. For example, the entire Omega METAS certified series are capable of much higher magnetic flux densities of 15,000 Gauss, which is roughly the equivalent of 1.2M A/m. For a more thorough treatment of this subject, we recommend you read our Treatise on Magnetism.
The movement RR1102-CSL
The movement beating inside the massive case is the Ball RR1102-CSL, which is based on the ETA 2836-2. The base movement is rather well known, if not as famous as the ubiquitious 2892, and is expected to be reliable and very robust. The movement is modified by Ball to provide the additional technical specifications the design calls for.
The movement is protected by three patented devices to shield it from impact. The SpringSEAL® system protects the regulator assembly to prevent it from a change of position, and the SpringLOCK® system, an Incabloc-like system covering the hairspring to limit the unfurling of the coils and to prevent twisting. And all of this is further protected by the Amortiser® anti-shock system. Ball is not specific as to how this system works, but our understanding is that it is a kind of elastomer ring on which the entire movement is mounted. A special version of the Amortiser allows the rotor to be locked by the user when used in extreme shock situations, but we do not see the tell tale switch on the case back to indicate that the Engineer Original is so equipped. And we understand a mu-metal shielding cage provides magnetic shielding.
Other than the modifications, we do not expect Ball to have finished the movement to any level of haute horlogie, but in keeping with the engineer moniker, would think the movement to be finished to a high level of engineering befitting its tool watch status.
The competitive landscape
The competitive landscape of a 200m depth rated diving watch are a dime a dozen. But add the other specifications that the Ball Engineer Original is endowed with, and there is perhaps none. For a quick, survey, we spy the following…most the usual suspects which dot the landscape.
Rolex Submariner is of course, the king of the hill. Well respected, well constructed, and well known, if almost impossible to get. The Submariner gets an update this year, read all about it in the link. And remains the most desirable diving watch in the market. However, in comparison to the Engineer Original, while it is rated to a deeper 300m, it lacks the amagnetic specifications (for that, Rolex proposes the Milgauss or the Air King), and does not hold a candle to the shock resistance prowess of the Ball.
We next list the Omega Seamaster Diver 300m Co-axial Chronometer, another ubiquitious member of the diving elite. More modestly priced than the Rolex, but still at a premium over the Ball. It has even better amagnetic properties than the Engineer, and being rated to 300m, beats it in the diving game. But the shock resistance properties are not published, and we have to assume it meets industry standard of about 1000G.
The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, is also a member of the elite hovering about the same landscape. It too lacks the chops to meet the Engineer’s specifications in the amagnetic or shock resistance department, but can go deeper, being rated to 300m.
Luminox Scott Cassell Deep Dive Automatic is perhaps closer to home. It is the only watch in the list to match the lume of the Ball, as it uses the same technology. The water resistance rating is up to 500m, and good for saturation diving with a Helium escape valve built into the case. It features a similar crown lock system, and looks equally goofy as well. Though claimed to be shock and magnetic field resistant, Luminox does not publish these figures.
Citizen Promaster Fugu series is perhaps a lower end competitor, and one which only matches the Engineer in the depth rating of 200m. The Fugu series is rather much less expensive, but it lacks any stated specifications for amagnetism or shock resistance.
Having experienced the Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon Original for the week, we are of the view that this is perhaps one of the most under-rated watches ever. The construction is robust, and very nicely done. It feels nice and weighty and very well made on the wrist. Apologies that for some reason, we neglected to take a wrist shot.
The engineering specifications, of which there are many to qualify the name Engineer, are well thought through and executed. The pricing is rather modest, at a little more than S$4,000 for an automatic winding, diving watch with good amagnetic properties and excellent shock resistance. And to top that the ultra bright, exposure independent gas discharge tubing for lume. Perhaps the only thing not going its way is that it is pretty generic looking, even with the goofy looking but highly technical crown guard.
In summary, the Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon Original is great bang for the buck,, and worthy of your consideration.
Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon Original Ref. DM2118B-SCJ-BK-SCJ-BK specifications
Automatic caliber BALL RR1102-CSL
Chronometer certified COSC
SpringLOCK® patented hairspring anti-shock system
SpringSEAL® patented regulator anti-shock system
Ø 40mm, height 14.55mm
MICRO GAS TUBES
30 micro gas tubes on hour, minute, second hands, dial and bezel for night reading capability
Hours, minutes, sweep seconds, day and date
7,500Gs shock resistance
Uni-directional rotating sapphire bezel with micro gas tubes for night reading capability
Amortiser® patented anti-shock system
Patented crown protection system
Anti-reflective convex sapphire crystal
Tapered stainless steel bracelet with patented folding buckle & extension system
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