Monday, May 16, 2016

BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT Reference DG2016A-SC-BK - Well protected as a tank and a real bright spark in the dark, A Review

This is my first BALL watch. Although I know about this brand, I was introduced to it only lately by a friend of mine that have a lot of knowledge about BALL watches. From a historical perspective, BALL Watch Company is impressive. 

Brand History

BALL Watch Company SA is an American watch company based in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. It was founded in 1891 by Webster Clay Ball (also known as Webb C. Ball) in Cleveland, Ohio, and is directly linked to the American railroad history.

After a tragic train collision in 1891 in Kipton, Ohio, due to timing issues, Mr. Ball was appointed by Lake Shore Lines, a train company to help revamp the railroad system, incorporating accurate timing as a cornerstone that keeps things moving without any mishap. He set up the “RR Standard” (“RR” for Rail Road) to assure a high accuracy and perfect reading to all railroad employees. He also created the BALL Time Service, an after-sale service to which every employee of the rails had to bring his watch every two weeks to make sure the accuracy and reliability of the watch was optimal. Some of the key criteria for a watch to obtain the “RR Standard” certification are as follows; no lid on the dial; size 18 or 16 (44.86mm or 43.17mm); plain white dial, bold black hands and Arabic numbers; minimum of 17 jewels; adjusted to at least 5 positions; adjusted to temperature 40 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit; and accuracy with a gain or loss of maximum 30 seconds a week, among others.

Despite the American rich provenance of this brand, as I understand it, all watch design and manufacturing under the BALL Watch Company are done in Switzerland since the compare relocated its headquarters in the year 2000.

What I find interesting about the brand is it’s the level of inventiveness. The BALL Watch Company has a number of innovations that are unique. These are: (a) ³H micro gas tubes - every model of the brand is equipped with ³H micro gas tubes allowing perfect visibility in the dark; (b) Crown protection system - BALL uses a unique system to make sure that no water can get inside the watch via the crown and to assure a better crown protection against impact; (c) Amortiser® anti-shock system – this system is an anti-shock system that protects the movement from lateral impacts; (d) SpringLOCK® system - this system consists of a "cage" around the balance-spring designed to absorb the energy created by any external impacts; (e) A-PROOF® system - this patented system protects a mechanical watch against magnetic fields up to the intensity of 80,000 A/m; and (f) Slide Chronograph – a patented chronograph system that consists of a circular slide bar fitted around the case that allows to trigger, stop and reset the chronograph in one and the same control.

As an avid watch collector, technology in horology is one of the foundations in my collection. Looking at what BALL has on offer showed me a gap in my collection – micro gas tubes powered watches. Although there are other brands that feature micro gas tubes such as Traser and Luminox, I find BALL to have the product range that fits into my other standard collection requirements such as all-metal construction and mechanical movement.

Describing the BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT

For this purpose I chose the BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT Reference DG2016A-SC-BK. This watch has most of the things that I like: a GMT complication, domed sapphire crystal, sapphire bezel, bracelet with micro extension and bright illumination.

The BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT is only 42 mm wide. Not a large watch when compared to the current styles of watches available today. However, it is rather tall and has a height of 13.85 mm. Coupled with the broad lugs; this watch feels much bigger than its stated dimensions. The use of the domed sapphire crystal for the dial as well as the thicker-than-usual bezel (to incorporate the necessary space to attach the micro gas tubes) all adds to the height. The crown protector, located at the traditional 3 o’clock position, also augment the impression on its size.

BALL's patented Crown Protection System has the same end result like any other unique crown protection systems such as the simple screw-down crown used by many manufacturers (example;, Panerai Crown Guard, Citizen Autozilla bezel lock which doubles as a crown protector ( and Omega Seamaster Ploprof Crown lock system (, among other. However, from a mechanical point of view, BALL’s Crown Protection System is unique whereby one presses a pusher at the top of it and slide the protective cover out of the way. From a design ecstatic, the transition from casing to the Crown Protection System could have been better designed. As it is now, it protrudes out and can pinch the hand if not placed properly. Note also the rather obvious etching of “RR” in cursive font on top of the crown guard, a reflection of its historical beginnings.

This watch is a simple black and white colour scheme. It was created under the style of a pilot watch instead of the diver style common under the Engineer Hydrocarbon series. Nevertheless, you will still find the robustness expected under the Engineer Hydrocarbon series such as the screw-down crown and the 300 meter water rating. Made out of stainless steel, the surfaces are polished and brushed.

The black dial has three scales to refer too. The outer scale, located on the slopping chapter ring are marked with two digits of Arabic numbering at every hour position starting from ‘01’ to ‘12’ (or ‘military time sequence’ style). The middle scale is at the edge of the dial and consists of minute and hour line markers. The inner scale consists of a combination of rectangular markers as well as two digit Arabic numbers for the hours. All the markers and numbers are printed on the dial instead of applied on it. It is also on this track, at 3 o’clock where you can find the date window (black numbering with white background). It is also interesting to note that the dial is slightly textured when viewed up close.

As you know I am a stickler for symmetry. The location of the date window in a position that is not balanced by the rectangle marker on the opposite side makes the dial look out of sync. If I could give an input, BALL engineers should try placing the date window at the 6 o’clock position instead. This is more pleasing visually.

This watch comes with 4 hands. The additional hand which is the GMT is the thin hand with large triangular pointer. The second hand is also thin while the hour and minute hands are more broadsword-like in design.

There are six lines of text on the dial. The upper part of the dial has three lines with the following: “BALL”, “OFFICIAL RR STANDARD” and “Since 1891”. The lower part of the dial also has three lines with the following: “CHRONOMETER”, “GMT” and “SWISS MADE AUTOMATIC”. All the words have different fonts and sizes.

Having looked at all that are on the dial, I have come to a conclusion that it does look a bit busy. Using a slightly small font size for the main Arabic numbers (the inner scale) could have alleviate this perception somewhat. Also, I don’t think it is necessary to have all six line of text on the dial. I feel some of the text is irrelevant. Nevertheless, BALL did do something to address this issue. Unlike most BALL watches, this particular model does not come with "RR" decorated second hand. At first I was slightly disappointed but its exclusion was more to reduce the clutter and improve the dial visibility.

The sapphire crystal covered ratcheting bi-directional bezel is clean and allows one to keep track of three time zones when using the GMT hand. I can appreciate this option. Sometimes, you don’t want to access the crown to adjust the GMT hand directly. With the option of manipulating the bezel, you can get the same effect. The bezel uses the same 120-click system that would be found on a traditional BALL Hydrocarbon dive watch with a sixty-minute counter.

The real icing on this watch is the illumination. Ball is one of few brands that use tritium gas tubes for lighting up a watch dial. These gas tubes are made by MB-Microtec AG, a company situated near Bern, Switzerland. Tritium gas tubes are coated with phosphor. The radiation from the tritium gas causes the phosphor to glow, in a process called radio luminescence. Since there is no need for “charging” from external light sources like luminous paint, the visibility is constant as the tubes are “self-powered” by the tritium gas. By mixing different compounds of phosphors, different colours of illumination can be had. BALL gives a 25 year claim for the illumination although they can only give a 10 year legal guarantee on it.

BALL’s 25 year claim is open to interpretation. Since tritium has a half life of 12.3 years, by the 25th year, the illumination will only be a fourth of when it was new. Is a fourth of current intensity still useful? I think it is. In fact, a sixteenth of intensity would still be visible in the dark. This would be equivalent to 50 years since manufacture.

The BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT has a whopping 43 tritium tubes. Not only on the dial (18 tubes) but for the first time ever, Ball has applied tritium gas tubes to the numbers on the GMT bezel (25 tubes). The illumination is just spectacular.

Ball has decorated the steel screw-down case-back with a line drawing of Earth's longitudinal and latitudinal lines. Around the circumference are cities with corresponding GMT time reference. This is a great reference to have as it makes this watch a sort of ‘World Time’ watch as well.


The use of steel screw-down case-back provides some form of magnetic resistance to the watch. It helps function as a ‘Faraday Cage’ and is capable to protect the insides from the effects of at most 4,800 A/M magnetic field which is the minimum requirement to be considered an "anti-magnetic" watch.

The watch is powered by the automatic Ball RR1201-C which is a COSC chronometer certified movement. It beats at 28,800 VpH or 4 Hertz and has a 42-hour power reserve. A GMT movement with 21 jewels based on the modified ETA 2893-2. This GMT movement does not feature the "quick hour" setting that allows you to change time zones without hacking the watch. The GMT is set in position two by turning the crown the opposite way that you would adjust the date. 


The bracelet on this AeroGMT is first class. The butterfly style clasp is forged from a single block of steel. The bracelet itself not only comes with half links on either side of clasp but also has a diver's extension on each side of the clasp.

Another claim which BALL makes on this watch is its ability to resist impacts up to 7,500 Gs. For reference, there is an international standard called the ISO 1413 (ISO 1413-1984 Horology-Shock-Resistant Watches), which states the requirement for a watch to be considered shock resistance if it can survive the impact received when falling from a height of 1 meter on to a horizontal hardwood surface which is equivalent to approximately 5,000 Gs. What BALL is saying is that the AeroGMT is 50% more capable than the standard “tough” watch. Good to know but this is one claim which I would not want to test with my watch.

Wearing Experience

Although the AeroGMT is touted as a pilot watch, the watch is more diver-like in appearance due to the sharing of the Engineer Hydrocarbon base design. As such, it carries a lot of weight and bulky. For a wearer that appreciates a pilot watch, he or she will have some issues with this watch on the mass and size aspects. It is therefore important for anyone wishing to buy this model to understand the history and spirit of the design so as not to be misunderstood.

The BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT has an excellent wrist presence. If ever you want to impress, this watch does it. Despite its height, it is still possible to wear this watch with formal wear.

There are sharp edges to the watch. A common problem I find with watch is during the wearing process. Just before you get the watch to sit just right on the wrist, it tends to pinch my skin near the hand side of the casing. The extended crown protection system also can create a painful experience if you were to wear the watch too close to the hand. As such, this watch should be worn tight on the wrist instead of loose.

Unfortunately, the polished bracelet and casing are scratch magnets. The thick clasp is generally where you will find your first scratch mark as it is the surface that comes in contact with other objects especially if you are a desk diver such as myself.

The Unboxing

The complete package is rectangular and approximately 6.25 inches long, 5 inches tall and 5.5 inches wide. A white cardboard sleeve provides the first level of protection for the watch box while on transit or storage. The main watch box is olive green in colour with the BALL brand and logo printed in silver on the top of the watch box.

Taking off the top of the green watch box, you will see a green booklet as well as a drawer in white with a small leather pull.

In the booklet you will find the guarantee card as well as the COSC certification card. You will also find some quick instructions as well as a CD-ROM where the complete digital manual for the watch is downloaded.

Interestingly, a warning about making a date change when the watch is between 8 PM to 2 AM is prominently printed at the lip of the booklet. The same warning is also repeated in another small printed white card provided in the booklet. The second warning states a slightly different danger zone; between 8 PM and 3 AM instead. BALL’s editorial team should look into this apparent contradiction.

On the sleeve of the booklet are instructions to register the watch online via the website. With the registration, BALL provides a 3 year warranty on the watch. At the moment, an additional one year warranty is given above the standard coverage as the registration also requires one to complete a survey.

BALL justifies the CD-ROM as a replacement for a printed manual as a way to save the trees. Unfortunately, I don’t think people use CD-ROM any longer (I don’t have a CD-ROM reader on my desktop PC as well as on my laptop).

Once you tug the leather pull on the drawer, you will be able to see the watch resting on this cream-white pillow. The whole interior of the watch box is cream in colour.

A small white medallion can also be found with the watch.

The discrepancy in the warnings should not have been allowed to happen. The effort in making the whole packaging presentation look fit for a high-end watch comes to naught because of this simple mistake.

Apart from that problem, I am quite please with the presentation of the packaging. It enriches the user experience as it exudes class and sophistication.

Overall, a strong made watch that caters for all - pilots, divers, night users, sportsmen & sportswomen among others. In my opinion BALL did not have to go all out to impress everyone with this model.  

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  2. Perfect review. Thank You. Now I just noted RR decorate Second hand was missing.


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