November 20, 2012
by Ariel Adams
Florida is a good state for watches. There is a lot of wealth, a desire to show status, as well as a relaxed attitude when it comes to luxury. Perhaps it is the sun or the humidity, but people have a much more laid back sense of showing off compared to the sometimes stuffy North-Easterners. But what do I know? I am just a California boy. I am here in Tampa Florida of all places to experience the debut of the timepieces that the Ball Watch Company and BMW cars are releasing together. The location isn’t that strange given that Ball Watch USA is located nearby in the city of St. Petersburg, run by clever and constantly busy Jeff Hess.
Hess built up Ball watches in the US over the last 10 years or so, but he wears a number of hats – including watch store owner. Hess knows the watch industry quite well, including its history. While Ball is a Swiss brand, its origins are totally American when it made accurate timepieces for the railroad. Come to think of it, the modern Ball watches haven’t really done anything automotive until now. The BMW watches are their first foray into car-themed timepieces, and overall the watches are well done.
Any watch brand these days who makes a watch with a car maker has an immediate hill to climb. The assumption is that any relationship will fail – because so many have in the past. Ferrari for instance doesn’t have the greatest track record of holding on to partners. Having said that, there are some enduring love affairs when it comes to watch/car duos. Breitling and Bentley come to mind, as well as Jaeger-LeCoultre and Aston Martin (though the AMVOX series has been a niche piece at best for JLC). Maybe Ball and BMW have a good shot? It really all depends on the product.
In September of 2012 I first announced the Ball and BMW relationship to make watches here. Later I showed you images of the full collection of Ball for BMW watches in this article here. I highly recommend you check out at least the former link as it not only has images of each Ball for BMW watch model and each variation thereof, but it also details the technical specifications of the watch. In this article I will discuss more about checking out the watches hands-on.
At a ritzy BMW dealership here in Tampa, Ball watches threw a little get-together complete with the Ball brass from Switzerland. The irony is that you really won’t be able to purchase Ball watches from any BMW dealership. You’ll have to travel over to a Ball watch retailer for that. I didn’t quite understand that part as it would appear to make a lot of sense to have the watches actually in dealerships for people to check out while haggling for their new M3. Perhaps that will come in the future.
The collection of Ball for BMW watches is actually rather vast. While there are only four basic models to begin with, each comes in a lot of versions. It makes the entire family look very well populated. One model that I didn’t get to check out is the upcoming limited edition version that has a thermometer in it. The Ball Watch CEO had a prototype, so at least I got to check it out. Aside from that you get to pick your flavor between the Ball for BMW three-hand automatic “Classic,” the “GMT,” and the “Power Reserve.” I just realized that this is perhaps the first time in history (hyperbole… but maybe…) a car-related watch didn’t have a chronograph option. That’s right, no chrono Ball for BMW watches. Frankly, you don’t need one. These aren’t racing watches, these are BMW watches.
Your entry level model is the Ball for BMW Classic. I was actually incorrect in the video saying it was 8mm thick. It is actually almost 11mm thick, but looks really thin. The 40mm wide Classic is just that. While not a retro looking watch, it certainly does have a bit of traditional flavor to the design. It is actually well done even though it is a tad narrow for my tastes. I do however really like its elegant demeanor and thin profile. Like I said in the video, I appreciate how the embossed BMW logo on the dial (while large) is not “in your face,” and doesn’t overpower the design. The Classic is actually a very handsome and sensible watch, and truly unlike anything else in the Ball watch collection. Inside of it is a COSC Chronometer certified Swiss ETA 2892-2 automatic movement.
The curved sides of the case are attractive, and for the price-point you get a very impressive level of detailing and fit and finish. The steel bracelet on the Classic and other models is killer. It is relatively thin, and very comfortable. It also features polished beveled edges that significantly upgrade the look. The bracelet actually feels like a thinner version of the Hydrocarbon bracelet – but more dressy in style. You’ll notice the crown has a BMW logo on it, as well as the styling of the print on the sapphire exhibition caseback window.
Someone who is truly an expert will be able to notice the subtle BMW car styling cues on the watch. I didn’t catch them all. BMW was picky about design and according to Ball, “knew exactly” what they wanted. It took about two years of back and forth between the two brands to finalize the designs. Even without the BMW connection the watches would look good. I think that is a key message to the collection. They aren’t cool because they have a Ball and BMW logo. They are cool on their own and happen to have a BMW logo on top of that. I think that makes a big difference.
The other models are larger than the 40mm wide Classic going up to 42mm wide. All models have steel cases, but some versions have DLC black coated cases. Those black-cased models frequently have orange accents on the dials to make them appear more sporty. The brushed/polished steel cases are intended look a bit more formal and dressy. The GMT model is likely going to be a popular seller because it is so straight forward. The dial is supremely legible, and has a very timeless modern feel to it. The design refinement of the watches is very high, showcasing truly world-class designs. You don’t have to love how they look, but these are no amateur timepieces. The GMT feels comfortable and agile on the wrist. The dial has just enough details to make it interesting without going overboard. On here you get a mini BMW logo which is charming looking, and certainly not too auspicious. Inside the Ball for BMW GMT watches are Chronometer certified Swiss ETA 2893-2 automatic movements.
While I love the steel bracelets, I am merely OK with the straps. They are supposed to look like textile, but feel rubbery and are a bit thinner than I’d like. They are designed well enough, but I think I would prefer an alligator or more complex leather strap. Or alternatively, a textured rubber strap. Perhaps I am missing the point of them. Having said that, they do complement the look of the Ball for BMW watches nicely enough.
Inside each of the watches is what Ball calls their “Amortizer” shock absorption system. They had something called the Amortizer in the past, and this is not that feature. Either I am confused, or Ball changed what the Amortizer is to a new system which is passive (versus something you needed to manually engage) that helps shield the movement from shock. Given that these are not Ball’s highest-end watches, I appreciate the high-level of decoration in the movements, as well as the detailing on the deployant clasps on both the straps and the bracelet. It is probably more watch than your average aspirational BMW driver is going to know how to appreciate.
The non-limited Ball for BMW watch is the Power Reserve model. This piece has arguably the most complex dial, but is also very appealing in its design. Note how different Ball for BMW watches look better with either a light or dark colored dial. The Power Reserve has a deep dial with a power reserve indicator thanks to its Chronometer Certified Swiss ETA 2897 automatic movement. Again on this model the relatively thin bezel of the entire range helps the dial look as large and impressive as possible.
With features like optional DLC black coating, chronometer certification, superlative finishing on the case, and good use of tritium gas tube illumination, the Ball for BMW watch collection is a bit more watch than most people would expect. I think Ball sees it as a new arm of their collection as opposed to a one-time product release. The BMW family could be a new member of the Ball watch line-up for good, carrying with it a totally distinct design ethos and offering, while staying in line with the durable, high-value DNA that Ball has built for itself. Priced between about $3,000 – $5,000, the Ball for BMW watches are worth checking out whether or not you have (or would like to have) a BMW in your garage.