Ball Engineer Master II Diver

By Marc Levesque

 

 

INTRODUCTION

I am certain you have heard the expression “on the ball”, as in “that guy is on the ball”, meaning the person is alert, competent, or efficient. Ever wonder where it came from?

 

April 18th, 1891 a local passenger train collided with a fast mail train in Kipton, Ohio. The event took the lives of eight people and was eventually dubbed The Great Kipton Train Wreck.

 

Legend has it one of the engineer’s watches was 4 minutes slow and this discrepancy was later found to be the route cause of the fatal crash. Some still argue about the watch being slow, but due to this wreck on the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad, the General Superintendent of the Lake Shore Line appointed Webster Clay Ball as Chief Inspector to investigate time keeping.

 

Ball was a Cleveland jeweller with the reputation of being able to fix just about any watch. As a direct result of his investigation of railroad timekeeping, he instituted watch performance and inspection standards in 1893. Subsequently he became Chief Time Inspector for many railroads and had many American manufacturers (Howard, Waltham, Elgin, Hamilton & Hampden), produce a quality railroad timekeeper: the Ball Railroad Watch. 

 

Many of the aforementioned watch manufacturers produced railroad grade watches, but Ball watches were considered to be the best, the Cadillac of American railroad watches.

 

It is also important to note that Ball’s successful system was the first to be accepted on a broad scale. It was his system that set the standards for the railroads and helped establish accuracy and uniformity in timekeeping. It was his system that resulted in railroad time and railroad watches being recognized as STANDARD, whenever accuracy in time was required.

 

"In general, it becomes accepted that when the average person asks a railroad man the time, he is assured it is correct."

 

Fast forward to 2005. The Ball name has been revived and now produces a staggering array of railroad inspired watches, which would surely have made its namesake proud. From the classically designed Trainmaster to the avant-garde Inspector moon-glow, which features the world’s first illuminated calendar display; there is a watch for every pallet. The subject of this review is the Engineer Master II diver. An adventure watch that is unafraid to be different, combining extreme ruggedness with sporting good looks, but is it on the ball? Keep reading to find out!

 

 

CASE

 


The 42mm case is entirely made of brushed stainless steel and completely rounded, with absolutely no sharp edges. The curvaceous lines are surprisingly reminiscent of Ball pocket watches of yesteryear. The case back is also quite rounded and sits on the wrist very comfortably. With its embossed submarine design and lettering, the back is as equally appealing as the front. Both crowns screw-down, as you would expect for a 300m diver and recess into the case rather than rely on shoulders for protection.

 

I have owned several watches with inner rotating bezels, but I must admit this one is among the very best when it comes to operation. When unscrewed the crown at 2 o’clock rotates the dive bezel in both directions with the subtle feel of precise gearing, which is truly a joy to manoeuvre. Yet, this is not what is most astonishing. When depressing the crown back into the case it completely and PRECISELY releases the bezel mechanism without the slightest twitch. Now I am certain all inner bezel watches are “supposed” to operate in this fashion, but they do not. Both my Hamilton Khaki Navy watches had terribly wobbly and imprecise bezels. Now I know what you are thinking; “what about the JLC Compressors and IWC Aquatimers”. Please keep in mind we are talking about a sub $1500 watch here (sub $1000 pre-owned). The others I have listed are a minimum of 4 times the retail price and at those astronomical figures, one could only hope for this kind of exactness.

 

But that’s not all. Both crowns are fitted with red outer gaskets on the crown Tubes for extra water protection, which is very impressive and frankly unexpected. They are also there as visual cues to the wearer that the crown is unscrewed, similar to the Tag Hueur Aquagraph. Until I saw it in person I did not know about this feature. There is very little information available on these watches, especially this model for some reason. It was nice to see that a lot of thought had been put into such a relatively inexpensive watch.

 

DIAL, BEZEL & CRYSTAL

 

           


Well the dial is where this watch really shines, LITERALLY! As you may already know, all Ball timepieces are equipped with tritium gas tubes/vials for night time illumination. Love them or hate them, they surely do their job admirably. This is my 3rd Ball, so you can safely chalk me up as a “love them” kind of guy. There is nothing like waking up at 4:00am and flipping your wrist and being able to read your watch at a glance. A couple of years ago, I was on an evening flight to Milwaukee and a passenger in the next isle over couldn’t get over my Hydrocarbon. He noticed it the minute the lights went dim and just had to ask about it.

 

Under the domed AR sapphire crystal you will find over 50 of these tubes, which makes the Master II unequivocal king of tritium land. Seriously, it has the most of all Ball watches. You can actually read a book by holding it up to a page and this in a completely dark room! I really do love the mix of orange and green; I just wish they could have incorporated blue vials as well, only because I saw them on the Fireman model and love them. Since the only tubes on the dial are the 12 and the 3, 6 and 9 markers, the bezel, when turned, can confuse time reading at night, but this is a very miniscule problem. According to all that I have read about these vials, they are supposed to last a good 25 years before they need replacing. Seeing as I have trouble hanging onto my watches longer than 6 months, I doubt this will be an issue for me… lol

 

The dial also has applied Arabic numerals in brushed stainless steel, as well as brushed stainless steel hands. Of all the steel finishes, brushed is my favourite and the fact that they kept the finish consistent throughout the watch really impresses me, even down to the last detail. Heck even the steel surrounding the day and date is brushed! A lot of people do not like the double R emblem on the back of the second hand. You know what; you barely notice it in person. The reason why it stands out so much in our pictures is because the watches are more than 6 inches in diameter on your screen. Trust me it is very subtle.

 

What is equally subtle is the circular wave pattern on the dial. I tried my best to capture it in pictures, but have failed miserably. I was afraid this busy pattern would clutter up an already busy dial. The truth is it does not! It actually softens the dial and almost looks silky. If you ever have the opportunity to see these watches in person, you must, if only to see the quality and attention to detail on these dials. The only pet-peeve I have is the black date on white background. I just feel that it would have looked much better inversed, but that is just my preference.

 

MOVEMENT

 

The movement housed in my Master II is the very competent ETA 2836, which can be found it so many other day-date watches. From Oris to Revue Thommen to Breitling, the 2836 is a workhorse; proven and reliable. Since I am reluctant to open a perfectly good dive watch, I am assuming the finish is pretty standard. What I can attest to however is its preciseness. While on my wrist it was gaining a comfortable 2 seconds/day. Since it knocked my Omega Planet Ocean right out of rotation, I wore it pretty much 24/7, so I cannot tell you what it would have gained or lost when not worn.

 

Here is am incredible diagram I found in the TZ ToolShop, where you can find all the specs on the ETA 2836. ENJOY!

 


*Image from Righttime.com

 

While everyone aspires to own an in-house movement, there is something to be said for a robust, reliable and precise movement, especially in a dive watch, where you will most likely never see it.

 

BRACELET


Everyone that knows me knows I am a bracelet guy. I even tried the Panerai route, with 2 of them under my belt, I could never get used to straps and in my humble opinion, Panerais are NOT bracelet watches. I just do not like straps. Thankfully the Master II bracelet is spectacular. One of the reasons I sold my Hydrocarbon was because the clasp rattled too much and it felt rather “cheap” compared to the rest of the watch. Now they seemed to have fixed that with the new Mad Cow, Chronograph and Alligator versions, but I still preferred push-button clasps, a la Omega Seamaster.

 

Not only did they insert an integrated push-button system in the clasp, they also added screws for link adjustment. This bracelet is most likely the most solid I have ever owned. While still remaining supple, the watch feels like it is all one piece of steel, with absolutely NO rattle. Now that it no longer has a generic clasp, micro adjustments are performed via 2 separate half links. The best part is that the combined half-links are ever so slightly larger than one full link, so there is an infinite amount of adjusting possibilities.

 

I for one never cared for wetsuit extensions. I normally find them noisy and utterly useless to me. Since I am a recreational snorkeller and full time desktop diver, I have no need for such a gimmick. This is one of the reasons I really liked the MarcelloC Tridente, it gives you the option to bypass the extension. I even managed to bypass the extensions on my multiple Breitling SuperOceans and even my Fortis B-42. I will never use them and 99% of the people buying these watches will not either. Your statistics may vary…

 

Again, as in the rest of the watch, the finish on the bracelet is perfectly brushed. The solid end-links are so exact that there is absolutely no play between the case and bracelet. Heck, even my Rolex Sea-Dweller has play. Now this may cause a problem with removing and re-installing the bracelet, for those of you who do strap changes, but it obviously is not a problem for me.

 

CONCLUSION

 

 

Do you know what I find strange? So much has been advertised, written and talked about the original Ball Hydrocarbon; it seems the Master II diver has gone completely unnoticed. Maybe it is because the Hydrocarbon was the watch that helped launch the renewal of the Ball name? I do not know. I just feel that if they pushed the Master II as much as the Hydrocarbon it most likely would have been a greater success.

 

I truly feel it is an exceptional sports watch and for the money pretty hard to beat. This watch literally knocked my Omega Planet Ocean off my wrist. A watch that retails for more than twice the price, with the co-axle movement, twice the depth rating and it was keeping time to +0.5 seconds/ day! It just felt more comfortable on my wrist and I simply liked it better. All of this is quite subjective, but keep in mind that all of 2006 was a Planet Ocean year for me. I had a 42mm version from January to August and then from August to January of 2007 the 45mm version. So I really did love those watches. So for the Master II to come in overnight and replace my PO, even after the honeymoon was over, meant a lot. For nearly 2 months the PO slept in its box unworn. Can you believe that?

 

If you are looking for a fun dive watch with inner bezel, exceptional built quality and great attention to detail, not to mention those incredible tubes, the Ball Master II diver just might be what you are looking for. I love mine! I also have to say that dealing with Jeff at Ball USA was a true pleasure. He answered all of my questions and helped with my decision. He and his team are top notch and I recommend anyone considering a Ball to contact them, they can be very accommodating.

 

I hope this review has shed some light on this terrific watch and that you have enjoyed reading it.

 

Kindest regards,

 


Marc