BALL Watch is a company that’s very active in case innovation. We recently reviewed their awesome Magneto S and its protective metallic iris. Today’s watch, the Engineer Master II Slide Chronograph, focuses on a new approach to operating a chronograph. Chronographs typically have two pushers, one for starting/stopping, the other for resetting. On the Slide Chronograph, as you’d expect, all chronograph functions are operated via a sliding mechanism on the side of the case, which gives the watch a much cleaner look. How well does it work? Read on to find out.
Ball has really been on a roll lately, introducing a number of innovations, not only the recent Magneto S, but also the spring lock and amortizer, two mechanisms designed to resist potentially damaging shocks. Unlike those contributions, which are intended to protect your watch, the slide chronograph is really more of a different perspective on how to use a watch.
The slide mechanism is very simple to operate–basically slide up to start/stop, slide down to reset. It really has no more learning curve than the standard pushers do, but the case looks more or less like an ordinary 3 hander.
Aesthetically, the Slide Chronograph fits in well with the tool-watch approach of the rest of the Engineer Master II line. It actually comes off looking a lot like a diver, with the slight bump in the case from the slide resembling a helium escape valve and the matte black dial, with subtle red accents and tritium tubes, giving it an all business look.
The face has a lot of depth to it, not unlike the Magneto S I reviewed recently, thanks to its huge and deep chapter ring. With the Magneto S, I speculated this was to hide the mechanism for that watch’s metallic iris, which this watch doesn’t have–perhaps this is just Ball’s current approach to design, or perhaps this actually has something to do with the slide chronograph mechanism.
The watch has an extremely sporty design, but it’s actually a little bit understated in practice. There aren’t many high-visibility flourishes to it. The red accents, for instance, are a really dark maroon, which while clearly visible against the matte black dial, are not what I’d call bold either.
The extremely tall chapter ring displays a tachymeter and also divides the hour markers from the rest of the watch.
The watch has high-contrast day date windows. They don’t have frames, but they do have a red painted border. It’s not really needed, however, being that the day/date rings are white, so they already really stand out.
The dial is mostly without numerals around the perimeter, but it does have four separate minute markers, oddly at 10, 20, 40 and 50. They’re highly polished, but it’s a bit strange to use just those particular four markers (as opposed to 15/30/45/60). However, if the choice was between this approach and cutting off numerals, I’d definitely take this one.
Despite the buttoned down tool appearance of the watch, the subdials do have a little artistic flourish in the form of a border made of concentric circles. It’s really hard to see on the wrist because the dial is so non-reflective, but it’s a nice touch nonetheless. As I mentioned earlier, there are almost equally subtle red accents throughout, but they’re a dark maroon and also blend in a bit with the black backdrop.
The hands are fairly broad, highly polished steel sticks with tritium accents on the hour and minute hands. In a lot of my photos, the hands will appear black, but that’s just because they’re reflecting my camera. In actuality, they are actually quite visible, particularly with the permanently luminescent tritium accents which appear white. The chronograph hands, however, all lack lume, which is fine by me.
The use of tritium continues around the perimeter of the dial with the hour markers.
The use of tritium, although a bit restrained for the line’s standards, does make it very legible at night. Tritium, a radioactive isotope (don’t worry, it’s safe), interacts with a film on the inside of the tubes that contain it, fluorescing in a variety of colors. The advantage of this approach, as opposed to conventional luminous paint, is in its longevity. An ordinary lumed hand will glow bright immediately after exposure to a bright light, but will be quite dim only an hour or two later. Tritium, however, glows brightly for years, or even decades, without regard to exposure to light. The design of the tritium tubes here is also nice, with a red 12:00 marker, making it easy to orient this watch at night. Again, while I find tons of tritium tubes cool looking, adding tubes to the chronograph hands would not have realistically contributed much to functionality but would make reading the watch much more difficult at night.
All in all, a good, very sporting looking watch, and not quite as flamboyantly sporty as some alternatives (for better or worse) like the Ball Nedu.
As is so often the situation with Ball watches, the case is where the really interesting stuff happens.
The slide chronograph mechanism is found opposite the crown and slides along the curvature of the case (as opposed to alternative approaches, like a rocker switch). Pushing up (clockwise) starts and stops the chronograph while pushing down (counterclockwise) resets.
The slide actually contributes a bit to the diver look of the watch because it almost resembles a helium release valve. Notice the fine jimping on the slide, which makes it much easier for your thumb to push without slipping off. In practice, it feels a lot like the pushers you’re used to–the first 75% of travel is really low effort and then you get to the second “stage” which takes quite a bit more effort. It’s just as easy to use as the pushers, although perhaps a little more elegant, not unlike a monopusher. I find I do need to brace the case a bit with my other fingers while my thumb pushes the slide though.
Ball is always looking for new and exciting ways to utilize their tritium tubes, so naturally the slide is illuminated.
What’s the advantage of the slide chronograph? Well, mainly looks–the case has a nice symmetry to it, a symmetry that’s thrown off with standard pushers. It’s also relatively compact without the pushers, and there’s no reason that I can see that the slide couldn’t be made smaller too. It’s not some revolutionary improvement in chronograph design, but it is an interesting new option for those looking for a chronograph and seems to have no particular disadvantages–it’s just an interesting new way of doing things.
The case is otherwise quite large at 47.6mm and, sans some accents on the back, fully brushed. Fully brushed was a good choice for Ball, contributing to the all-business look.
The back, unfortunately, doesn’t have a crystal with which to view the 7750 movement inside, but it does have a nice homage to the first motor race, the Concours du Petit Journal Les Voitures sans Chevaux (competition for horseless carriages) way, way back in 1894. The fastest gas powered vehicle in that race sported an impressive 3 horsepower.
The watch does feature a signed screw down crown although the watch is limited to just 50 meters of water resistance, so this would not be my first pick for swimming.
Stylistically, the Slide Chronograph isn’t quite as big a departure as the popular Magneto S was but it’s still set apart by its case and size. Other than its impressive dimensions, however, it’s not an especially provocative watch. If anything, a lot of restraint was shown in the design. No bright, shouty colors, fewer than 400 tritium tubes, no high polished surfaces–it actually blends in rather nicely.
The slide chronograph works as advertised–if you’re a fan of chronographs and have tried them all, it’s definitely worth a shot. It’s especially appealing for those who want a mechanical chronograph but who have an aversion to pushers or obviously asymmetric case design.
All in all, an impressive effort from Ball, and yet another example of how they’re not merely a “caser.” They’re not just another face in the sea of sameness that largely permeates Swiss watches in this price point–they have a distinct look, they have set themselves apart with their dedication to tritium, and their case designs and movement modifications show a commitment to innovation. I can’t wait to see what they announce at Basel soon–rumor has it they may even be bringing a movement.