A few years ago I discovered these cool manly looking timepieces in a watch store up in San Francisco. I believe that it was relatively soon after that Ball watches re-emerged with a strong look based on the brand’s history of producing accurate railroad pocket watches. Priced right, the watches were high-end offerings with tritium gas tubes and names like “Engineer Hydrocarbon.” I didn’t know what that meant, but they had my attention.
Today, most Ball watches have a counterweight on the seconds hand with a double R logo that stands for “railroad.” This nice little feature helps tie each piece to its historical roots. The idea of most Ball watches is to be durable, aggressive, legible, and most importantly – useful. Some of their designs don’t do it for me, but others really do. Overall, I think most men will find at least a couple of Ball watches they can really enjoy.
For review is a special model that I have been waiting to look at for a while. It is the Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon Ceramic XV watch – and to be honest I love it. It very much epitomizes the Ball watch aesthetic, and is a solid timepiece with lots of features for the money. Ball watches are probably the highest-end pieces that utilize tritium gas tubes. I believe that all models use the high-powered T100 tubes, and this watch has 31 of them on the dial. These tubes glow on their own to offer great darkness viewing without having to be charged by light. The signature Engineer Hydrocarbon look has tubes making out the 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock hour markers, with tubes used for the rest of the hour markers and in the hands. On this model there is traditional lume used for the indicators inside of the bezel.
With the core Engineer Hydrocarbon case design, this watch has a ceramic bezel and very attractive dial. I like the mixture of steel and black tones with the high level of functionality. Ball cases are very solid and use a lot of steel. The case is 42mm wide and it is 13.25mm thick. The wide lugs help it look sizable, but not imposing. There is of course the special extended crown structure with the guard system. The way it works is that you press in a little button and it releases the arm that moves up to let you unscrew the crown. It is a unique element for the collection. I can see how it might affect some people’s wrists, but the way I wear my watches, it isn’t problem at all.
The case is water resistant to 300 meters and is highly anti-magnetic. These qualities are an important part of the Engineer Hydrocarbon case series. You’ll see how the bracelet uses doubles screws on each side of the lugs to secure itself to the case. Not sure if that adds much to the strength of the bracelet, but it sure looks cool. Over the dial is an AR coated sapphire crystal.
Adding a ceramic bezel really puts the watch in league with many other modern dive watches which prefer the material over metal for a more durable bezel that is highly scratch resistant. More and more people are looking to only buy sport watches with ceramic bezels as brands like Rolex and Omega have basically made them standard. On the rear of the Ceramic XV is an engraving of a guy doing… well something. The nice engraving is a bit vague with no indicator of what it is on the caseback. What you are actually seeing is a depiction of Jim Whittaker atop Mount Everest. He is apparently the first American to have gotten to the top. The “XV” part of the watch name refers to a historic name given to the Mount Everest peak in 1865 by the British when they were in India.
Inside the Ceramic XV watch is a Swiss ETA 2892-2 automatic movement. No frills, just a nice quality Swiss made automatic that shouldn’t give you any problems. You’ll see a conveniently integrated date indicator at 4:30 on the dial. Legibility is really good because of the prominent hour markers and large hands. Ball understood to brush the surface of the hands in a way that allows them to properly contrast with the slightly glossy dial. There is a flange ring around the dial with smaller markers on it. Some people aren’t in love with the “railroad” tracks on the outer dial under the hour markers. I think it is tastefully decorative and it doesn’t bother me. I think a more plain dial would not necessarily have helped the look of this watch. In a sense it looks like a revision of the classic Rolex Submariner look – but with Ball watch DNA.
Wearing comfort is very high. I tend to wear the watch a bit loose, but it still stays on my wrist nicely. The lugs are broad and are designed to wrap around your wrist. For me, this is a very nicely fitting watch that is comfortable all day. The bracelet is a thing of wonder for the money. Many watches at this price have cheap bracelets – and going from them to this is a pleasure. Going the other way is much harder.
The two-link bracelet design uses a polished inner link, and brushed middle/larger link. A great high-end touch is the polished beveled edges of the larger brushed links. The fit and finish is high, and I like that the bracelet matches the design of the case well. The design of the deployant clasp is almost over-the-top – in a good way. The large butterfly-style push-button clasp opens with a secure feel and is beautifully engineered like none other. That “Ball Design” printing on the well-made pieces helps you know it is not just a stock part. In each end of the clasp is a small divers extension. They can be used individually or together for more extension. I would like to see some additional micro-adjust features in future versions. One potential issue is that the Ball logo on the clasp sticks out a bit when it is closed. This looks cool, but might prove to pick up scratches easily for those people who rub their watches on desks, etc…
I said this in the video, and I will say it again; for what it is, the Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon Ceramic XV (ref. DM2136A-SCJ-BK) is almost perfect. With the array of high-end features, special components, and quality fit and finish there aren’t too many watches that can compete at the price. It isn’t cheap per se, but you don’t end up feeling like you are spending too much. I quite like it myself and am simple conveying my own feelings on it to you. Have no fear if this watch calls out to you. Retail price is $3,899.