The Ball Watch Company has an interesting history. It was born from the need for accurate timing during the expansion of the American railroad system after a fatal train accident in Kipton, Ohio in 1891. A train conductor’s watch had stopped for four minutes then restarted without him knowing, which resulting in the train being late and causing a head-on collision. Railroad officials then enlisted Webb C. Ball to investigate the timing conditions throughout the railroad and develop an inspection system to ensure this type of disaster could be avoided. This is actually where the phrase “Get on the Ball” originated.
Fast forward to 2016, and Ball is now made in Switzerland in La Chaux-de-Fonds, yet the company continues to operate with inspiration from its American roots, manufacturing highly accurate timepieces that perform in even the most adverse conditions. That is where the Engineer II Green Berets comes in—a piece designed to be a “modern combat watch” that is instantly legible and keeps chronometric accuracy. I spent a week with this watch on the wrist to see if it was up to the task. Now, by “task” I mean being a dad and going to the office. I’m not a green beret, not by a long shot, but I hear those guys are awesome.
When you put on the Engineer II Green Berets, the first thing you notice is what time it is. I know that seems like an obvious observation when discussing a watch but, a common joke in the watch community is, “What time is it?” because we often just stare at the watch and have no idea what time it actually is. With the Green Berets, there is no missing it, there is no mistaking what time it is. This is easily one of the most legible watches I’ve worn. The large matte black dial is accompanied by equally large rhodium-plated faceted baton hands polished to a mirror finish and H3 micro gas-filled tube stick indexes (more on those later) that are three times larger than the indexes on other watches in the Ball line. The hour hand extends right up to the edge of the indexes and the minute hand stretches all the way to the minute track, eclipsing the markers at each five-minute milestone. This creates a stark contrast so you can see exactly where the hands are at all times. Ball then went a step further for legibility with the date window at 3 o’clock and added a Cyclops magnifier to easily read the date at a glance. Some purists will disagree with Ball’s choice to use a white date wheel on a black dial, or a date indication at all for that matter, but I think the contrasting color helps make it easier to read.
Where this watch continues to shine (literally) is the H3 gas-filled tubes. Ball decided to push for practical legibility even in the dark. Unlike traditional luminescent materials, the micro tubes don’t need to be charged with external light to glow, they are always glowing and will continue to glow without fading or decreasing in brightness for at least 25 years. The indexes glow green, with the exception of the marker at 12, which is orange, and the hands glow yellow. Regardless of how long you’ve been out in the dark, the Engineer II Green Berets will instantly and easily show you the time. It’s all about practical use for this watch.
On the wrist, the satin-finished, black titanium carbide case makes a statement as it shimmers in varying light. Naturally, being made of titanium the watch is very light, especially for being 43mm, but because of that size it’s not so light that you forget that it’s there. At 12.5mm thick, it hits a sweet spot for width/height ratio allowing it to sit comfortably flat against your wrist. Ball paired the watch with a vintage-inspired soft nubuck leather strap with contrasting stitching. This strap conforms to your wrist and complements the watch nicely, undoubtedly adding to the comfort of the piece.
Keeping the whole show running is the Ball caliber 1103-C which is a chronometer-spec, modified ETA 2824. This movement is as “workhorse” as it gets. It has been used in countless applications with near bulletproof reliability for decades. With hacking seconds to set the time with to-the-second accuracy, and a quick-change date this movement is a perfect fit for this watch. Ball upped the ante ensuring the timekeeping mechanism was protected against lateral shocks of up to 5,000 G, water damage to a depth of 100m, and magnetic fields of up to 4,800 A/m. Furthering their mantra of “accuracy under adverse conditions.”
Overall, the Ball Engineer II Green Berets is a well-constructed and finished watch for the price and, at $2,199, it is also a good value. It is in a crowded and competitive space with brands like Oris, Nomos, Sinn and Tudor, just to name a few. Though this model certainly has some traits that make it stand apart, like the so-cool gas tubes. With the Engineer II Green Berets, Ball certainly accomplished its goal of creating a practical and functional timekeeping instrument that is also fun to wear.