on the ball

Every now and again I get bitten by an ever bigger and rabid watch bug! My most recent one is around the ball hydrocarbon chronograph. Ball Watch Co. is a rejuvenation of Webb Ball’s original watch company which set the standard for railroad timekeeping in the US. This was back in the late 19th and early 20th century when Webb made the american railroads a safer place by ensuring the accurate timekeeping required to reduce the risk of collisions as much as to keep customers happy.
The hydrocarbon is a superlative mechanical watch in the Ball tradition. Ball are known for their shock resistance and anti-magnetism. In the case of the hydrocarbon this is achieved through using a Titanium case surrounding a soft-iron core. The movement is cleverly mounted for maximum shock resistance and Ball has a patented crown protection mechanism. Lovely 🙂 The most visible characteristic of every Ball is the use of tritium tubes in the dial and hands. The mildly radioactive tritium reacts with the phosporus in the tubes to provide a useful glow in dim light for 25 years. Ball dials are works of art with beautiful guilloche finishing and those purposeful glowing numerals and markers.
I’m looking for the most practical mechanical watch I can find. It’s just gotta keep time reliably through the knocks, smacks etc. that happen in every day life. Having owned many mechanical watches this goal still appears elusive.



I was talking to Richard Rodger recently about my chronological cravings recently and I realised that it may actually not be an illness but an innate psychological condition, a bit like autism. The leading horological website TimeZone has coined the term WIS or Watch Idiot Savant to describe many of its posters. Here’s my own version of the top signs that you’re a complete WIS

  1. The event in 2. is your own wedding
  2. You’re extremely late or miss an important social event because you get caught up setting (or worse regulating) the time on your watch based on the atomic clock.
  3. You know what a helium escape valve is but can’t swim.
  4. You think someone actually cares whether your expensive new watch has an ETA movement or not? Extra points if you tell an uncaring person that the movement has been “extensively modified and improved”
  5. Your girlfriend/wife wishes you’d flirt with the attractive girl in the jewellers as a sign of life 🙂
  6. You refuse to wear your 1200 m water resistant Rolex Seadweller on a wet day as you’re afraid it could be damaged.
  7. You have seriously considered not eating in order to afford a new watch
  8. You spend more on servicing your watch than your car
  9. You keep staring at the expensive swiss watch on the arm on a pretty girl – extra points if you can’t remember a single thing about the girl but can describe the watch in detail.
  10. You know what a hair-spring balance is!?
  11. You have ever looked at the “dial work” on your watch using a magnifying glass.
  12. You’re so excited while buying a new watch you’re asked to sit down by the jewellery store attendant.

I’m guilty of at least 5 of these. Uh oh!


Ode to Titanium

I love Titanium watches. Well I love watches and watches being made from Ti is a boost. The problem with Ti is that once you start to wear a Ti watch you never want to wear a steel one again. It’s so much lighter and mysteriously more comfortable. The reason is to do with the thermal absorption properties of Titanium versus steel or gold. Steel (and gold) conducts heat very well, much better than Titanium. Therefore when you put on a steel watch it absorbs heat from your skin rapidly. This cools YOU down and therefore makes the watch seem cold. On a hot day a steel watch can heat up rapidly and burn your skin. Titanium is a lousy heat conductor so it has less effect when it comes in contact with your skin. The warmth you feel isn’t the warmth of the watch, it’s the lack of heat absorption from the metal. It’s also much lighter (45%) and slightly stronger than steel although the relative hardness of untreated titanium is less so the watches can get scratched. However, there’s always other treatments which can protect the metal. Or indeed Titanium alloys such as Titanium Nitride (TiN).
Unfortunately, some people think Ti looks cheap which makes it hard to get the watch you want in this most desirable of metals. So hopefully Omega will think better of it and produce a Ti Planet Ocean within the next year as I absolutely NEED one.