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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.