Ball Watches: Reviews, History, News, and More

Ball Watches: Are They Any Good?

Ball is one of those watch companies that surf under the radar for being unconventional (and fearless) for innovation, but struggle to find an audience. Their website and “Explorer Club” of ambassadors suggest that, regardless of your extreme lifestyle, there’s a relevant adventurer watch for you:

My guess is that Ball’s hoping you’re a High Adventure Watch Collector because they’re well-known for releasing limited editions to keep you on your toes with interest. Whereas your first inclination for a reliable timepiece might be a G-Shock (with respect to your interests), Ball operates with the mindset that quartz simply doesn’t exist, and never was an option worth considering. They’re also willing to gamble that you’ll warm up to Tritium gas tubes, in lieu of glow-in-the-dark paint. It’s come to define their entire line-up.

There’s a lot to be said for a watch company that goes against the grain.  Why deviate from winning formulas and proven track records of design? Inevitably, the first two questions that come to my mind are always:

  1. “Can these obvious differences be broken down into a simple gimmick?”
  2. “Do the differences add enough value to justify their purpose or are they superfluous?"

To their credit, Ball goes through great lengths to over-engineer their products to earn your buy-in that they are, in fact, a very reliable timepiece.  Beyond that, it could almost be considered a novel test of, “How many technology patents can we stuff into something without it appearing baroque?”  Helium escape valves, crown protection, slide chronographs, cutting edge anti-shock and magnetic systems are all staples to their upper tier collections.  In this sense, it would be fair to compare Ball to Sinn, albeit more aggressive and ornate in appearance.

How Much Do Ball Watches Cost?

Ball’s watches aren’t cheap. They range from $1,300 to $6,500. However, considering the extensive research and development that goes into their products this could be considered something of a value.

They’re a brand that’s continuing to innovate. Ball was the first to conceive a mechanical thermometer capable of measuring a range between -31 to 113°F). When you factor the costs of quality control over thousands of mineral glass tubes cut by lasers and filled with irradiated gas, the process by which these dials are manufactured become a point of appreciation.

Most recently, Ball has released their first in-house COSC-certified caliber, the B00196. It beats at 28,800 per hour with an 80-hr power reserve. For a Swiss company to produce its own manufacture engine in today’s day and age is no easy feat, and the financial hit is often passed onto the consumer.

Something that makes the brand extremely unique within their space is the customer’s ability to modify the watch if you order from them company-direct. Color schemes, sizes, and the option to order traditional or manufacture movements are commonly available within several model types. Beyond this, you can choose to add text, request a certain production number, or even upload images to be engraved on the case-back. The choices behind these details will impact the cost.

Part of why we don’t see them more often in authorized dealers could be because of the bridges burned with a pre-order release.  Ball’s watches can be discounted by several hundred dollars if you order from them directly, as opposed to purchasing at full MSRP from an AD.

Are Ball Watches Luxury?

Ball is probably one of the few American companies with origins dating back to the nineteenth century that have never appeared to tout themselves as luxurious.  Their claim to fame was sharing an origin story born out of practicality, or reliable timekeeping.

The brand is quick to recount the tragic scenario of how a train collision cost the lives of several conductors due to a faulty watch being off by several minutes. Thereafter, Webb C. Ball, a Ohio-based local jeweler and watchmaker, stepped up to help implement a series of routine operations checks that established “Railroad time” as the strictest standard by which all clocks could be measured. Then he instituted the Ball-Time service, requiring all railway employees to bring in their watch for performance evaluation every two weeks. Did seizing this opportunity to promote his brand make him a capitalist? Yeah, totally.

Today’s tagline for Ball is “accurate in adverse conditions.” It’s nothing to do with luxury, and everything to do with pushing the envelope for engineering with a sense of purpose.  While they subscribe to quality manufacturing processes (to include high-grade steel and finishing), they’ve zero reservations about forming monster block numerals out of green tubes.  Even their collections are named Engineers, Firemen, Trainmasters, and Conductors in tribute to the “national heroes at the forefront of progress and their hard work was evident in their hands, their sweat-stained clothes and their faces.”

Frankly, the good folks at Ball might take a bit of offense if you referred to them as “luxury.”

Watches to consider:

Podcast Episodes Featuring Ball Watches

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