One of the new-for-2016 Ball watches is a relatively unassuming but pleasant-to-look-at limited edition dress watch with an exclusive movement. Upon close inspection and on the wrist, this new reference NM1888D-PG-LLJ-WH Ball Trainmaster Manufacture is a pretty decent-looking timepiece, and given the exclusive movement and 18k rose gold case, the price isn’t too bad either.
While we love Ball watches for their sportiness and durability, there is a more genteel side to the Ball watch brand represented by their dress watches. Many of them focus on a sort of “old time railroad-era” pocket watch look – that appeals greatly to some, but not all people. The Ball Trainmaster Manufacture is much more simple in its design, being inspired by later-mid-20th century wrist watches borne of the Bauhaus design movement. In other words, there is little or nothing actually “railroad-inspired” by this timepiece, but it is a very handsome watch at the end of the day.
You can see design influence here from both traditional and modern timepieces – and it would not be incorrect to see the Ball Trainmaster Manufacture as Ball’s entrant in an existing category of vintage-inspired yet contemporary dress watches. One of the main differentiation points with Ball’s offerings is the use of tritium gas tubes for the luminant – at least on the hour and minute hands. Typically chock-full of glowing gas tubes, Ball watches offer a great “glowing experience” at this level of timepiece quality. However, in the Ball Trainmaster Manufacture, Ball was forced to make some difficult design choices in order to render the look that they were going for. That means using only two gas tubes because the hour markers needed to be applied and only metal to go for the look they wanted. The dial is so simple it only offers the time with hours and minutes… plus the date. You can argue whether or not the latter complication is necessary, but I do feel that if this watch were time-only without the seconds, the dial might have felt just too bare.
On the wrist, the Ball Trainmaster Manufacture is 40mm wide by 10mm thick. That makes for a very well-proportioned dress watch, and the thin lugs give it an even dressier look. Over the dial is a “box-style” AR-coated sapphire crystal and the 18k rose gold case is water resistant to 30 meters (not surprising given that this is merely a dress watch).
This timepiece is such a design departure from what we are used to seeing from Ball, that one of the only traditionally recognizable features is the design of the strap buckle. Otherwise, most of the Ball Trainmaster Manufacture’s design is uncommon for a Ball timepiece. With that said, there is a big “Ball” logo on the dial, and what the watch lacks in brand identity it makes up for in simple, elegant style.
Ball calls the caliber RRM1101 “manufacture,” but it isn’t quite clear what that means. I don’t think that Ball personally produces the movement (at least the majority of it), so this is what you might call an “exclusive” movement versus an “in-house” one. The movement is simple but pleasant to look at through the sapphire crystal exhibition caseback on the back of the watch. The caliber RRM1101 is an automatic with a custom automatic rotor and decent finishing. It isn’t “haute horology,” but it is decently finished and a fine visual experience on the reverse of an otherwise very simple dial.
UPDATE: Ball has offered a bit more information about the RRM1101 movement and explains what “Manufacture” means. According to Ball the movement is designed by them and assembled by them. They don’t produce the parts, but rather work with quality suppliers to produce the parts. Ball doesn’t have the machinery or people to produce the parts but they do have experience developing modules and other movement components. So again, while the parts of the “Manufacture” RRM1101 are not produced in-house, Ball says that the design was developed by them, and they assembled the movements in-house.
Ball doesn’t say much about the movement, but I’m guessing it operates at 4Hz (28,800bph) with a power reserve of about two days. By putting “Manufacture” on the dial, Ball is clearly calling attention to the movement, so it is funny that their materials don’t communicate very much about it. Maybe I’ll learn more about the story later – but I will say that Ball doesn’t go so far as to suggest it is in-house.
The Ball Trainmaster Manufacture in this 18k rose gold case will be produced as a limited edition of 125 pieces (to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Ball watch brand) and is matched to a brown alligator strap. Clearly, this is a handsome watch with plenty of design allusions to popular looks that watch lovers are looking for. Ball will nevertheless have a tough time in the crowded dress watch market, but there are upsides here that should be noted such as the price and use of tritium gas tubes in the hands. For at least some people, this will be the perfect blend of technical features, design, and cost. Retail price for the reference NM1888D-PG-LLJ-WH Ball Trainmaster Manufacture is $7,999. ballwatch.com