While more dressy watches have been part of the Ball watch collection for most of the brand’s modern existence, I have almost exclusively focused on their interesting and dynamic range of sport watches (mostly in the Hydrocarbon or Engineer collections). That ends now, as I review the very capable and not overpriced Ball Trainmaster Moon Phase watch with its neat-looking glowing moon.
If you are interested in the Ball watch brand, there are two things you need to know. First is that their history is deeply involved with the American railroad, which is why you have collections called “Conductor” or “Trainmaster,” and why “RR” (for “Railroad”) is part of the brand’s logo and also happens to be the counterweight on the seconds hand. You also need to know that Ball watches make extensive use of Swiss-made tritium gas tubes for illumination.
Over the years, Ball has used a range of tritium gas tube types and colors to create a truly dazzling array of styles and methods for illuminating a dial. Their tireless pursuit of this experimentation is one reason the brand feels truly innovative to me. While tritium gas tubes are used rather traditionally in the hands and hour markers of the Ball Trainmaster Moon Phase, the fun part comes in with the moon phase indicator, as thin columns of long tritium gas tubes are used to backlight the moon disc itself. Ball uses a range of special little textures and materials to create a fun, fantasy look to the moon and stars which in practice feels both attractive and classy.
In the dark, the moon glows serenely not as one flat yellow circle, but broken up by the texturing that attempts to make it look more lifelike. I wouldn’t call this a “photo-realistic” moon phase, but it certainly looks more interesting than if it were a flat color that might look like a glowing wheel of cheese. The yellow color of the moon’s tritium backlighting is matched by the marker at 12 o’clock while the rest of the hour markers and hands are in a green color. Another thing that is probably obvious but worth mentioning is that, unlike most moon phase indicator complications that have a disc with two representations of the moon moving behind a window, here the moon is static with a black disc moving over it as the moon display waxes and wanes.
For those watch lovers who appreciate a nice and simple moon phase indicator, watches like this are perfect – especially if the “decorative” dial style is up their alley. Ball produces this particular Trainmaster Moon Phase with three dial colors including silver, black, and this metallic blue which I think is particularly handsome. The deeply textured dial emanates in a sort of sun ray pattern out from the moon part of the center in the dial. Dauphine-style hands add a classy element to the overall design and match well with the applied baton-style hour markers.
The dial also has a window for the date at 3 o’clock which is nicely framed, albeit set a bit deep into the case. Text on the dial is existent, but pleasantly minimal. My only real complaint about the Ball Trainmaster Moon Phase watch is minimal and really a matter of taste. I would have preferred the 12 o’clock hour indicator to be slightly different than the other hour markers to make it easier to align your view of the time when looking at the dial from an angle. It is often a “best practice” to make the 12 o’clock hour indicator slightly different than the others – but again, this is a minor quibble and, in some instances, simply a matter of personal preference.
As a dress watch, the Ball Trainmaster Moon Phase has a moderate case size of 40mm wide and is produced in steel. It nevertheless has a stately fit with its arguably thick 14.55mm case, but that just gives it a sort of modern sporty feel despite it being a more formal design. As a Ball watch, it has some added durability including being shock resistant to 5000Gs, though the case water resistance is only 50 meters, which just means you probably shouldn’t go swimming with it.
Case style is handsome and very comfortable on the wrist. The mostly polished case lends itself well to a dress watch feel and the traditional “desk bell”-style crown is intentionally something from another era. At least for my wrist, the steeply sloping lugs assist the watch in having a great look and the relatively narrow, polished bezel helps the dial look its maximum size. On the rear of the case is a sapphire crystal window with a view to the movement – and we apologize for having failed to get hands-on images of it.
Inside the watch is what Ball refers to as their caliber BALL RR1801. It is a base Swiss ETA or Sellita automatic movement (I am guessing a 2836) which has been modified to include the moon phase indicator system. The movement operates at 4Hz with about 2 days of power reserve. The movement isn’t richly decorated or anything, but that is perhaps something Ball might consider giving a bit more attention to in the future in order to up their game a bit for their dressier fare. I do think that having more finely decorated movements in their watches with exposed casebacks would help the brand assert just that much more value.
Ball offers the Ball Trainmaster Moon Phase watch in all three of its dial colors on both a black or brown crocodile strap as well as a steel metal bracelet. There isn’t a clear winner between the two strap options, as, again, it is a matter of taste. Being someone who typically prefers metal bracelets I find the almost thin and very comfortable bracelet to be a handsome compliment to the case. The multi-link style adds some visual class, and, in my opinion, prevents the overall look of the watch (apart from the dial) from looking boring. The butterfly-style deployant clasp sits relatively flush on the wrist, making for an overall elegant look.
Those looking for a dressier watch with the soul of a sport watch and a lot of daily wear appeal will find a lot to enjoy in the Ball Trainmaster Moon Phase – or other Trainmaster collection watches, for that matter. Ball offers a solid value mixed with quality fit and finish in an attractive package that doesn’t have a “me-too” or overly retro feel to it. It is a “nice watch” for people who eschew being too conservative but don’t want something “weird” on their wrists to go with their normal office or work attire. Price for the Ball Trainmaster Moon Phase watch reference NM3082D-SJ-BE is $2,299. ballwatch.com
>Model: Trainmaster Moon Phase NM3082D-SJ-BE
>Price: $2,299 USD
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Moon phase complication lover who wants an attractive albeit slightly different daily wear.
>Best characteristic of watch: Succeeds in its design experiment to offer a unique take on a illuminated moon phase watch. Very comfortable on the wrist and easy to wear regularly.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Cool-looking moon phase display and dial is not going to be universally loved – but that is typical of non-conservative designs. Could arguably have used a different hour marker design at 12 o’clock.