May 1, 2015
by Kenny Yeo
The watch you see here is the Ball Fireman Night Train SG50. SG50 because it was specially created to celebrate the 50th year of Singapore’s independence. However, before we go into more details on that, allow a few words on the history of the brand itself. The history of Ball is linked closely to the history of the American railroad network. As the American railroad network grew, it soon became clear that proper timekeeping was required for the system to run smoothly. The turning point came in 1891 where two trains collided at Kipton, Ohio, between Lake Shore and Michigan Southern because an engineer’s watch had stopped. The railroad officials then commissioned Webb C. Ball as the Chief Time Inspector, and he was charged with the daunting task of establishing standards and an inspection system for chronometers that would be used to manage America’s railway systems. This also marked the birth of Ball watches.
Though Ball has its roots in America, the company is now headquartered in La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland and counts other brands such as Breitling, Cartier, and Girard-Perregaux as its neighbors, amongst many others. In its modern incarnation, Ball has forged a strong reputation for offering hardy and affordable timepieces. Most notably, the brand is also famous for using self-illuminating micro gas tubes. Because these tubes are self-lighting, Ball employs them as indices on their watches, which also makes them highly legible at night. Some models feature more than 50 of these tubes, which, as you can imagine, makes for a pretty cool show when the lights go off.
However, trying to navigate around Ball’s extensive collection can be a little confusing. A simple glance at their website indicates seven distinct collections. Of them all, the Fireman collection is easily one of the most popular and is a favorite entry point for watch-lovers who are new to the brand. Amongst them, the Night Train DLC is one of the highlights of the Fireman collection, and so we were not entirely surprised to see the Ball Night Train DLC used as the foundation for a special limited edition watch for Singapore.
As we said above, the watch you see here is the Ball Fireman Night Train SG50, specially created to celebrate the 50th year of Singapore’s independence. “Why Singapore?” you may ask. As a Singaporean, I can attest to the fact that my countrymen are a watch-crazy bunch. Despite having a population of under 6 million people, the value of Swiss watch exports in 2014 to our tiny tropical island country was reported by the Federation of the Swiss Industry to be 1.12 billion Swiss Francs – only six countries imported more Swiss watches than us (Hong Kong, U.S., China, Japan, Italy, and Germany). Therefore, it would not be a stretch to say that Singapore is one of the key markets for Swiss brands. This, I think, is probably why Ball decided to create a limited edition watch to mark the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence.
The Ball Fireman Night Train SG50 can be best described as a Ball Fireman Night Train DLC with a custom dial. We will go into details of the dial later, but what a dial it is! The case comes in a very modern size of 45mm, offers a water resistance rating of 100 meters, and has a very nice DLC (diamond-like carbon) finish, which makes the watch case more resistant to scratches and wear. The finishing is done so well that it almost looks as if it has a ceramic case.
And despite the large modern sizing and finish, the case design, with its stepped bezel and lyre lugs, is actually more reminiscent of classic dress watches. The lyre lugs also make the watch deceptively comfortable to wear and more versatile, despite its large size. That said, it has good wrist presence, but it definitely wears a little smaller than most watches of its size. So if you typically shun 45mm watches because you find them too large, give the Ball Fireman Night Train SG50 or the Ball Fireman Night Train DLC a go – you might be surprised.
However, the dial is where all the action is at. To commemorate SG50, Ball has used micro gas tubes to spell out SG at 12 o’clock and 50 at 6 o’clock. For those keeping track, this is the first time Ball has arranged its micro gas tubes to form letters of the alphabet. And as a result of this, the Ball Fireman Night Train SG50 also holds the record for most number of micro gas tubes used in Ball Watch, at a whopping 93. Legibility in both day and night is not an issue. And at night, the watch really comes alive, putting on quite a “light show,” and is really fun and useful. I got a kick out of showing it off to friends at the cinema. And in case you were wondering, the Ball Fireman Night Train DLC on which this watch is based on has 75 micro gas tubes.
The dial might look plain from afar, but upon closer inspection, there are lots of details to take in. The micro gas tubes are placed directly into the dial, and this gives it an unexpected level of texture and depth. The chapter ring is marked at five-minute intervals and also slightly recessed with guilloche, which adds a dash of contrast to the dial. There’s also the SG50 logo at 9 o’clock, which I think is well-sized. Ball could have easily made it larger, but they have thoughtfully kept it at an appropriate size to nicely balance out the date window at 3 o’clock. And with the Ball logo at 12 o’clock and the words “Limited Edition” and “Automatic” at 6 o’clock, the dial has a good sense of symmetry. That said, even though the dial of the Ball Fireman Night Train SG50 is certainly not as clean as the Ball Fireman Night Train DLC, I think Ball has shown considerable restraint and kept things neat and sensible. They could have thrown in the Singapore flag or the Merlion too, but didn’t.
The case back, however, leaves much to be desired. It depicts a train trudging into the night and is the same case back that you get on the Ball Fireman Night Train DLC. Ball could really have spiced things up with a different case back – a case back depicting the city skyline of Singapore, say. Something like what Panerai did for their Singapore Boutique Edition would have been really nice and would make the watch more desirable and unique.
Beyond the case back is Ball’s automatic caliber RR1103, which I believe is based on the ETA-2824. A tough and proven movement that fits well with the spirit of this watch. The ETA-2824 beats at 4Hz, and so the seconds hand on the Ball Fireman Night Train SG50 sweeps smoothly. I only had the watch for a couple of days, and I found timekeeping to be good. It was fast by only a couple of seconds, which is nothing to be worried about for a watch with this movement.
The crown is engraved with Ball’s double-R logo and is rendered in stainless steel. It offers contrast to the DLC case, but it looks a little out of place to me, and should have had a matching DLC finish. The crown action is good and solid. Winding is really smooth, and the crown clicks into its positions solidly.
The Ball Fireman Night Train SG50 comes with what Ball calls a “caoutchouc” rubber strap, which is scented so as to mask the smell of perspiration. It has a strong vanilla smell, which might not be too everyone’s tastes, but I like it. It is also extremely soft and feels nice on the skin. The watch comes with a stainless steel roller-style buckle, which, like the crown, is a bit of a mismatch to me and should really have been given a DLC finish as well.
Overall, the Ball Fireman Night Train SG50 is a really fun piece that offers lots of bang for your buck. Thanks to the atypical case design, the watch wears small and is more versatile than you might think. Furthermore, the DLC finish makes the watch more resistant to the rigors of daily wear, and when combined with the trusty ETA-2824 movement and rated water resistance of 100 meters, it just means that this watch can take about anything you throw at it. Obviously, the SG50 arrangement of micro gas tubes on the dial might not have significance to anyone outside of Singapore, but it is cool in the sense that it is the first time Ball has used micro gas tubes to form letters, and it has the most micro gas tubes of any Ball watch, which means it absolutely glows at night.
The Ball Fireman Night Train SG50 will be limited to just 1000 pieces, and Ball Watch Singapore will also donate $50 for every piece sold to the Autism Resource Center (ARC) of Singapore, effectively earmarking S$10,000 in donations to the ARC. Price for the Ball Fireman Night Train SG50 is S$2800 or roughly US$2055, depending on the exchange rate. ballwatch.com
>Model: Fireman Night Train SG50
>Price: S$2800 (US$2055)
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Anyone looking for an interesting daily wear that can take anything thrown at it.
>Best characteristic of watch: Versatile case design and night time legibility.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Non-matching crown and watch buckle.