To most readers, Ball is probably known for a couple of things, affordable ETA-based mechanical watches and the use of self-illuminating tritium tubes chief amongst them. The company also gets a fair amount of attention as an action/adventure watch brand, and rightly so. Ball takes an extra measure to provide shock resistance through its patented Amortiser system, which consists of an antimagnetic ring between the movement and the case as well as a system for locking the rotor. All of this is built upon a heritage of making chronometers for America’s railway conductors, who needed ultra-accurate pocket watches in order to prevent potentially deadly accidents caused by trains going off schedule.
The watch we have here, the Fireman Night Train III, recalls that heritage in a unique way by utilizing a total of 61 tritium tubes – one each for the three hands, plus 58 others arrayed around the dial – for both the 40mm and 43mm sizes. The result is a watch with a look that is very typical of Ball that has excellent night legibility. And thanks to the fact that the legibility comes from self-illuminating tritium, it remains bright through the night. (The 31mm ladies’ size model has far fewer tubes, with just the hands and the hour markers lit up in this fashion, augmented with applied lume too.)
Ball was one of the first watch companies I wrote about way back in the early days covering these things. It kind of surprises me to say this, but I’ve never actually owned or worn one for any significant length of time. Nonetheless, I have long found them to be an interesting brand, and some of its watches are indeed well worth knowing about, especially when you take their affordability into account. Ball has long championed a robust build, the use of long-glowing tritium-tube-equipped dials, and antimagnetic measures to protect movements. Here we have a watch that’s simple in its functionality and places a premium on nighttime performance.
It occurred to me as I sat down to write this post that in the years since I first covered Ball, countless micro-brands have sprung up and crowded the affordable-yet-interesting watch space. That’s why I wasn’t entirely surprised to see the distribution model being deployed to sell the Fireman Night Train III. On the Ball Watch Company web site, you can select which of the three sizes you would like to buy – 31mm, 41mm, and 43mm – and pre-order your watch at a substantial discount from now until September 19, 2018. For each size, you can select one of three dial colors as well as a strap or bracelet option, in addition to picking your number in the series. You can even pick your lume color. Each size will be limited to 1,000 pieces. The smallest size comes on a bracelet only.
Buying a watch before it’s actually available to see, touch, and feel seems like a gamble to watch buyers; and it’s just as obvious a hedge for watchmakers. But this guy in 40mm on a bracelet for a hair over $1,000 feels like a pretty good deal to me.
Brand: Ball Watch
Model: Fireman Night Train III
Diameter and Thickness: 31mm x 10mm, 40mm x 11.3mm, and 43mm x 11.2mm sizes
Case Material: Stainless steel
Dial Color: Black, blue, or green
Indexes: Tritium tubes for the hours and minutes on the 40 and 43mm versions; tritium for the hours on the 31mm version
Lume: Green or Orange
Water Resistance: 100 meters
Strap/Bracelet: Only a steel bracelet on the 31mm version; steel bracelet, leather strap, or rubber strap on the 40mm and 43mm versions. Extra NATO straps are available for an $85 up-charge with the two larger sizes.
Caliber: ETA 2824-2 in the 40 and 43mm sizes; ETA 2671 in the 31mm size
Functions: ETA 2824-2: Hours, minutes, seconds, date; ETA 2671: Hours, minutes, seconds
Diameter: ETA 2824-2: 25.6mm; ETA 2671: 17.2mm
Power Reserve: 38 hours
Frequency: 4 Hz (28,800 vph)
Pricing & Availability
Price: Prices start at $990 for the medium and large sizes; the 31mm ladies’ version is $1,020 and comes only on a bracelet. These are pre-order prices. After the pre-order ends, they increase to a price of $1,540.
Availability: Pre-orders are being accepted now, and watches will ship between December 2018 and January 2019
Limited Edition: 1,000 pieces in each size