back to top

Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT Watch Review

Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Ball has released many versions of their Engineer Hydrocarbon watches through the years, all featuring the unique case sporting that memorable crown guard and bright, tritium gas tube-lumed dial. Unveiled at last year’s Baselworld 2015, the Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT watch provides the legibility, construction and material quality, and masculine looks the line is known for and takes it a step further by introducing the first ever tritium gas tube illuminated bezel. I’ve now spent a couple of months wearing this watch, and I still feel like a kid when I see the normally mostly black-and-white-with-touches-of-yellow dial illuminate to a bright green, blue, yellow and orange dial in the dark. The amazing part of this watch is really how it goes from being totally monochromatic by light, to being gloriously colorful in the dark.

Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

For those unfamiliar with Ball, I’ll tell you that they have a rich history as the brand tasked with keeping the railroad system that reticulates America, operating on time. After a tragic train collision in 1891 in Kipton, Ohio, Webb C. Ball was conscripted as “Chief Time Inspector” for the railroad system, which is a really, really great title for the man for whom the Ball Watch Company is named. So, when you see the decorative “RR” on the crown protector, you know that it stands for Rail Road. It really is a cool bit of history and one that Ball is, and should, be proud of. Of course, now they’re not only creating “railroad” watches, but have a huge selection of dive, dress, and watches designed for aviation professionals, like the Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT.

Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Ball has an obsession with legibility and illumination. They’re one of few  brands that uses tritium gas tubes for illumination in dark scenarios.Tritium (h-3) gas tubes are coated with phospor which causes the phospor to fluoresce, or basically glow, in a process called “radioluminescence.” These tubes are used in things like many emergency exit signs, because they require no electricity to illuminate. There are 43 tritium tubes on this watch, meaning you’ll be able to have great visibility in the dark. And, for the first time ever, Ball has applied tritium gas tubes to the numbers on the GMT bezel. They claim the illumination will last on the watch for 25 years. This is technically true, since tritium has a half life of 12.32 years, but the illumination will be half as vibrant by that point and about a fourth by the 25th year.

Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

The Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon line has had many previous iterations, such as the Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon Spacemaster Orbital II Chronograph (Reviewed here) and the Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon Hunley watch (Hands-On here). You’ll notice that they all share a similar look, with a large, protruding crown with crown guard. This is Ball’s patented “Crown Protection System,” where you press a pusher at the top of it and pull the protective cover down. After you do this, you can adjust the crown as you please. Does it actually protect the crown any more than if it wasn’t there? I don’t really know, and the only claim that Ball actually makes about a practical benefit of it is that it “ensures the crown must be screwed-in to its original secure position after time adjustment” and that it also meets the shock resistance standards for the watch. In any case, it’s a good-looking addition to the watch.

Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

The Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT is 42mm wide and sits 13.85mm high on the wrist. It’s got a great wrist presence, but the aforementioned crown protection system might jab at your hand if you tend to wear your watch closer to the hand. So, like with all watches, please try this one on and really see if you’re comfortable with it before buying.  You’ll notice the broad lugs on this watch, which help add to the “heft” of the piece which really feels much bigger than its 42mm when you take the lugs into account with the crown protector and substantial bezel.


Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT Watch Review Wrist Time Reviews

Speaking of the wearing experience, Ball has a really excellent bracelet on this watch. This part will be familiar to fans of Ball, but the bracelet not only comes with  half links on either side of their “folding buckle,” but also has a diver’s extension on each side of the buckle so you easily adjust bigger or smaller. We always appreciate anything that allows for micro-adjusting on the fly in an otherwise good bracelet. It’s elegant in its simplicity and I really appreciate the level of thought that went into it. The designers at Ball must have anticipated the complaint about the crown protector jabbing at some wearer’s hands, and the bracelet offers a lot of flexibility in solving that problem – if you want to look at this adjustment option in that way.



Disqus Debug thread_id: 4530066256

  • I like it quite a bit. However, the GMT hand seems too long for the 24 hour markings on the dial. But if they were shorter the bezel would be harder to read so easy answer except may to make the GMT hand longer live with it and then have the (12) hour hand line up with the 12 hour gas tubes better. Perhaps an even better solution would be to have the 12 hour gas tube makers inboard and the 24 hour numeral outboard. I like Ball watches but too often I feel there is just something less than optimal with the dials and hands. Oh well, otherwise a very nice watch.

    • JimBob

      At least there’s no hideous giant numerals on this one.

  • IanE

    Be nice to have a pic showing it in the dark. Nice pics otherwise. I’m not a fan of the crown protector, which seems unnecessary for normal use – but maybe it would be useful for the more adventurous!

  • Duncan Gray

    Seriously? Several times you mention that this is the first watch with illuminated bezel. You chirp with wonder at the different colours that appear as the room dims. And then there is not a single photo to illustrate this key point!

    • anonymous

      Exactly. When I got to the end of the article, I said, “Well where the hell is the dark shot?!”

      • iamcalledryan

        You need to turn the brightness down on your screen; worked for me.

        • anonymous

          I tried that, but for some reason the tritium tubes in the photos don’t glow.

          • iamcalledryan

            Ok thanks, I have passed your issue to Ball. It might be that they are not charged.

          • iamcalledryan

            Ok they say “have you tried restarting your computer?”

          • Bilal Khan

            Lume shots added! Sorry about that, guys.

          • Duncan Gray

            I wandered over to Ball’s own web site and had a look there. It glows like a 90’s rave and its impressive but a bit of a mess and not terribly legible. Perhaps that’s why there is n’t a photo here, it’s a clever trick but there is a good reason why no-one did it before!

          • Raymond Wilkie

            I cant believe you thought that would work : )

    • Duncan Gray

      Also (and I know that I’m being a little picky about things being correct rather than simply sort-of-in-the-ball-park but then this is an Engineer’s watch so…)

      – the phosphor coating does not “begin the process of decay”, Tritium will happily decay all by itself. The phosphor converts the energy from the beta particle produced by that decay in to light.

      – if tritium has a half-life of 12.32 years then surely after 12.32 years the illumination will be half as much and then half again over the next 12.32 years. So after 25 years (rounded up from 24.64) the illumination will be a quarter (1/2 times 1/2) of what it is now.

      Feel free to be vague about things when you are admiring the curves of the lugs or opining on the balance of the dial but when giving facts please try to get them right.

    • Roma KLM

      A kaleidoscope, as I see it.

      • Ryan B.


  • iamcalledryan

    Looks great, although the RR crown guard is not in keeping with the rest of the watch..

  • “They’re the only brand that uses tritium gas tubes for illumination in dark scenarios”

    No they aren’t. Reactor, Deep Blue, Luminox, Nite, Tawatec, Dievas, Traser….

    • Dinkee, H. O.

      Valannin said: “They’re the only brand that uses tritium gas tubes for illumination in dark scenarios” No the aren’t…blah, blah, blah…

      Bilal Kahn said in his article: “They’re one of few brands that uses tritium gas tubes…”


      • Dave Ryan

        The quote about being the only brand that uses tritium was edited to “one of few” so patience is a must when you show up late to a party.

  • Astronuts

    “My point, however, is that I really don’t understand the need to
    equivocate the ability to fall off a dining room table with “toughness”
    and it’s always kind of annoyed me.” – I’ve toasted a Miyota 9015 and had to re-set the hands on a couple of ETA 2824’s…both by dropping them on a floor. Now THAT is annoying. I’m a certified PADI diver, and never had an issue with water in trusion or magnitism…it was always shock.

    • I am fairly confident that my trusty Seiko SKX could survive a fall from space. Onto a minefield. Guarded by grizzly bears. That were on fire.

      • Dinkee, H. O.

        “my trusty Seiko SKX”

        Ah, now we’re getting a picture of where you stand in the pecking order.

        • anonymous

          He’s obviously just a lowly minefield technician who occasionally makes trips to outer space. Who else would know that minefields are usually guarded by grizzly bears on fire?

  • Michael Kinney

    “They’re the only brand that uses tritium gas tubes for illumination in dark scenarios.”?
    Wow. How about Marathon, Traser, Luminox…
    “Tritium (h-3) gas tubes are coated with phospor which begins the process of beta decay that causes the phospor to fluoresce,”
    Not exactly. The tritium undergoes beta decay on its own, the emitted electrons then excite the phosphor causing it to luminesce,
    Man, kind of tough to get through the rest of the review after those.

    • Dave Ryan

      And no photo of the tritium in the dark.


    I think it is nicely built, the case finish looks decent, the double screw for the bracelet seems like overkill but a nice bracelet nonetheless. the recessed tubes do look better than when stuck on top of the dial. the white good gracious there is just too much white. gimme a splash of color please something to show the thing is alive. and please do tell how thick is this chuleta?

  • Stephan Chan

    Ugly and annoying editorial.

  • SuperStrapper

    Uppity armchair radiation experts? Must be Friday.

  • Polly Molly Moo

    28 photos and not one showing what the watch looks like in the dark.

  • Omegaboy

    No lume shots? On a Ball watch review, one with an illuminated bezel? Oops!

  • Polly Molly Moo

    A very muddled review. I wanted more information on how the GMT mechanism functions, how it’s possible to keep track of 3 different time-zones – not a bit of it. Poor journalism.

    • iamcalledryan

      FYI it’s the same principle as the Rolex Master II. There are a couple of ways to use it, but the PROPER way to use it is to:

      1. Set the GMT hand to GMT.
      2. Set the local/home hours to local/home
      3. Rotate the bezel clockwise (-GMT) or anticlockwise (+GMT) to indicate the time in a third reference zone. This means a pilot can have their hometime, GMT, and the time zones that they fly into without having to pull out the crown and mess with timekeeping.

      The most common, but improper, way involves using the GMT hand as the reference/home time and ignoring the rotating functionality of the bezel.

  • DanW94

    I really like Ball for their willingness to try different design elements (a thermometer on a dress watch?) Sometimes it works and other times not. This watch is a hit for me. The bracelet looks solid and it appears as a capable tool watch. Like others have mentioned a shot or two of it lit up would have been nice. I also like the crown guard, it adds to the substantial look of the watch without going over the top, a-la Panerai.

  • Raymond Wilkie

    Ok ok, it was a wee slip up not giving us a dark lume shot, but i think this is a cracker of a watch, beautiful to look at , It’s legible ! , and bang for your buck this is a great example. Love the click of the bezel to.

  • Andrew L.


  • funNactive

    I like Ball. Love the tritium illumination (I have a Tracer & Luminox). This particular mode is well done for the style, though, not my favorite in their line.

  • David

    Excitedly clicked to see a gas lumed bezel. No lume shot maximum disappointment

  • otaking241

    Had a Ball with one of these chunky clasps previously and found it extremely uncomfortable. The height and sharp corners want to ding everything you walk past and its pretty impossible to type while wearing. I imagine they want to balance out the bulk of the watch head and it is nicely constructed, but they need to slim this down some to make it more wearable.

    Curious how they’re doing the lume in the bezel–Ball have used stacks of small tubes previously for larger areas but it doesn’t look like that’s the case here. A large square tube under each numeral makes sense for the number of tubes they list but I haven’t seen them that size before.

    Design-wise the doubling of the 24-hour numerals on the dial and the bezel looks a bit ridiculous. Could have used some more distinctive markings on the dial and saved the numerals for the bezel alone. Also loses points for not matching the color of the date wheel to the dial, though I know some like the contrast (they’re wrong).

  • Michael Kinney

    “The steel case back helps function as a Faraday cage, designed for magnetic resistance…”
    No, a Faraday cage is a Faraday cage, a soft iron casing surrounding the movement, most visible as an iron cover beneath the caseback. Iron. Soft iron (look it up).
    A stainless steel watch case doesn’t significantly protect a watch from magnetic fields, that’s why some watches have…well…Faraday cages.
    Is there anything actually correct amid all the gushing?

  • Andrew Welch

    No lume shot?

    • Ariel Adams

      Lume shots added. Our apologies.

      • Andrew Welch

        There seems to be some shadows in the bezel, QC problems?

        • Aidan Brewster

          There are indeed some shadows, but as they said, it’s the first tritium-tube illuminated bezel ever – so you probably can’t get the light to reach the end of those double digits.

  • commentator bob

    There need to be more 24 hour rotating bezel GMT watches. Come on Hamilton and mid-range Seiko.

  • Boogur T. Wang

    I like what Ball offers…most of the time.
    Reality is, this is a BIG, CHUNKY watch that feels and wear like a BIG, Chunky watch.
    And yes, the crown guards do bite into the top of your wrist. But it does offer a great amount of adjustment via the clasp features.
    I do not care for the hour and minute hands. As offered they appear very similar in the dark. Perhaps some further differentiation could be done by Ball.
    As to all of the numbers – it’s a crap-shoot (American term indicating a lucky guess may be needed) as to what is going on. A very “busy” countenance.

    And I agree, the date complication is superfluous.

  • Michael Kinney

    “the bracelet not only comes with half links on either side of their “folding buckle,” but also has an extension on each side of the buckle so you easily adjust bigger or smaller.”
    Otherwise known on other dive watches as a wetsuit extension?
    Does the author actually think that’s to keep the crown from digging in?

  • Ben L*

    I actually OWN this watch and use all of it’s functionality (tracking 3 time zones) while flying internationally as a 777 pilot. I’ve owned it now for 2 months. I’m used to the weight since I previously owned a Ball Magnate. My take on it is this: Functionally the watch is a masterpiece. It picks up where the Rolex GMT II left off with increased size (for old eyes) and legibility in the dark (looks amazing in the cockpit at night). However, asethetically the watch leaves me wanting in that it looks as if it was assembled in old Russia with leftover parts. The bezel needs to be angled down like the Rolex and Omega’s to make the piece look less blocky. Also the lug actually needs to extend outside of the diameter of the bezel so the bezel does not look so strange. The bezel needs to be re-worked and the watch will shine (no pun intended). Hope you guys enjoyed this review from someone who actually is wearing and using this time piece.

    • thecouchguy

      Just saw this watch in the jewelers in the flesh for the first time. I really wanted to love this one but I think I need to take it off the list.

      You summed up perfectly my feelings of this watch. That and I wish they kept the RR.

    • kong

      To me, the ETA movement is too generic. It would be better to replace it with the Tissot one which has a power reserve of 80 hours.


    Hi, I recently bought this. However the blue colour numbers (inner ring) are not shining. Any idea if this is a defect?


    Hi, I recently bought this. However the blue colour numbers (inner ring) are not shining. Any idea if this is a defect?

  • Drop files here or
    Accepted file types: jpg, png.