Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon

This Wonderfully Over-Engineered Dive Watch Takes a Novel Approach to Illumination


March 31, 2020 Watches By
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Editor’s Note: Watches & Wonders (formerly SIHH) and Baselworld 2020 are canceled but that hasn’t stopped watch brands large and small from debuting their new wares. To stay on top of this year’s best new watch releases, visit our tag page.

Ball watches are known for a few things, but none more than their tendency to glow brightly in the dark. The brand’s Engineer Hydrocarbon dive watch has long been a flagship product with its brilliantly illuminated dial and sporty, tough-as-nails character. Now with a refreshed design, a new Ball Hydrocarbon retains all those qualities, but takes a different approach to lighting up its dial that promises to be no less dazzling.

Ball is among a handful of brands that regularly uses tritium gas tubes for illumination rather than the more common luminescent paint (“lume”). They’re tiny, perpetually glowing tubes usually placed directly on the hands, dial, and bezel — Ball sometimes even forms numerals out of them. This can have a cool effect in its own way — but it can also limit design options.

Ball’s innovation is to place the tritium tubes under the dial rather than on it (fun fact: tritium is used in the same way in emergency exit signs) — you might compare it to the use of lume in “sandwich dials” that brands like Panerai are known for. This allows the new Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon to have a more familiar and traditional dive watch look — with, for example, its dot indices reminiscent of Rolex. You can still see the micro gas tubes on all three of the hands (bringing the total number of tritium tubes in use to 30), but the overall look will perhaps have greater mass appeal.

The Hydrocarbon has a somewhat aggressive design with its locking crown guard structure, but a diameter only 40mm wide should help keep it relatively wearable. The watch is powered by the Swiss ETA 2836-2 automatic movement modified with Ball’s own anti-shock technology and is COSC chronometer-certified.

Considering the range of interesting features it offers, this wonderfully over-engineered dive watch feels like a decent value even if it doesn’t fall in the budget range. On a steel bracelet, the Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon is available directly from the brand for a price of $3,249.

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Zen Love

Zen Love is Gear Patrol’s watch writer. He avoids the snooty side of the watch world, and seeks out food in NYC that resembles what he loved while living in Asia for over a decade.

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