Ball “Big Boy” Union Pacific Engineer Master II Limited Edition Watch Hands-OnJuly 17, 2012 • By Ariel Adams
A limited edition watch like this makes perfect sense for a brand like Ball. Here, the Swiss brand's US heritage as a railroad watch maker comes full circle. For 2012, Ball has released a limited edition watch in honor of the "Big Boy" locomotive from the Union Pacific railroad. I am not enough of a railroad history buff to know that much about the Big Boy and why it was such a big deal - though it was very large. Built in the early 1940s, only 25 Big Boy steam locomotives were ever made (talk about a limited edition - there are more watches than the actual train!).
The Big Boy is a big watch. Ball placed it in an Engineer Master II case that is 46mm wide in steel. Rather than having a more vintage railroad style, the Big Boy has a more aviator watch feel. This offers a very good amount of legibility. The Union Pacific logo on the dial is a nice Americana touch. Ball hopes it will also appeal to people who might be retired and used to work on locomotives like the Big Boy. I say go after the lucrative model train enthusiast crowd!
Ball watches are all about being higher-end timepieces that use tritium gas tubes. This model offers something a bit special. Tritium gas tubes are typically round and thin. Here however, the tubes used for the hour markers are wide and flatter. This look fantastic and results in some extreme legibility. We used a UV light on the dial to make it glow in the light to see what it might look like at night. It is quite impressive and those who want some serious night vision should check out Ball models such as this. Ball would have likely used these fatter tubes in the hands, but I have a feeling that there was a weight issue (movements can only support hands up to a certain weight and the tubes are, relatively speaking, heavy). So for most likely that reason, the hands use the more standard gas tubes.
On the rear of the watch you'll see a relief of none other than a Big Boy locomotive. Interesting how Ball felt the watch needed to have "anti-magnetic" on both the front and rear of the watch. It's like the watch is reminding you that you can go tell magnetic fields to "suck it." Over the dial is a sapphire crystal and the case is water resistant to 100 meters.
In the watch Ball uses a Swiss ETA 2836-2 automatic movement with a day/date indicator. While I think the dial ideally could have used black day and date discs, the way it is now doesn't bother me. The hands could have also been a touch longer, but are bold enough not to cause any legibility issues. Ball will produce 999 pieces of this Big Boy Union Pacific Engineer Master II limited edition watch. It comes on a thick brown leather aviator style strap. I would have never guessed it, but the black dial looks fine with the brown strap. Price is about $2,200.