We covered the launch of BALL’s new Engineer Hydrocarbon DEVGRU last fall when the press release first hit our inbox. It’s tough to pass up the opportunity to write about a watch inspired by and designed with input from Seal Team Six, who are also known as DEVGRU (short for United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group)—one of the world’s premier counter-terrorism units. The stats purported by the Engineer Hydrocarbon DEVGRU are impressive, particularly centered around its anti-shock technology, and it’s something one would imagine to be very helpful in the field. BALL was kind enough to send us an example of this limited edition timepiece to check out. Let’s see how it holds up.
Hands-On With the BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon DEVGRU
My first impression upon taking the DEVGRU out of its case is that this watch is a beast all the way around. The case is tall and the lug-to-lug length is surprisingly long in proportion to the dial dimensions. A solid-linked bracelet and machined deployant clasp give the entire piece a substantial heft that won’t be disappearing on your wrist or easily under a cuff. It’s also striking in its looks. The dial indices and hands are beautifully polished, each holding one of the boldly luminescent tritium tubes that BALL is known for. The dial itself is surprisingly spartan given BALL’s usual tendency towards busier design, and the large indices and fat hands make for easy legibility. A red-tipped sweep second hand provides a subtle pop of color. Both day and date rest unobtrusively at three o’clock, and the “BALL/OFFICIAL STANDARD/SINCE 1891” and “SPRING LOCK/100m/330ft” use thin white print to fade into the background at 12 and six o’clock, respectively.
Aside from its heft, there are two things that instantly grab your eye when viewing BALL’s DEVGRU watch. The first is where normally a chapter ring might reside, there is instead a red rubber ring that pulls your eye toward the dial. While that eye-grabbing red might serve an aesthetic purpose, it’s also exemplary of BALL’s impressive internal technology. This is a patented elastomer shock absorption ring that suspends the movement inside the case. When paired with the SpringLock hairspring and SpringSeal regulator anti-shock systems, the DEVGRU watch is reportedly able to withstand up to a 10-meter drop or 50,000g’s without issue and is anti-magnetic to 4,800 A/m.
The crown also received an upgrade with BALL’s new patented crown protection system; attached to a metallic lock is a hood that screws down over the top the crown ensuring that it stays in place and avoids the brunt of a drop or errant smack into a door jamb. To be used by a unit known to undertake some of the most challenging, demanding, and dangerous missions around the world, this sort of functionality would certainly aid in the watch’s survival under difficult conditions.
Now with a crown system this large, there is definitely the potential for it grinding into the wrist during certain activities (looking at you Panerai!), but the case height lifts it off the wrist a bit which is helpful. That said, if you wear your watches really low on the wrist, the crown will poke your wrist.
Inside the BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon DEVGRU ticks Ball’s RR1102-SL movement, which is essentially an ETA 2836-2 upgraded with the aforementioned shock-resistance technology. I’d argue that all of that tech is a bit superfluous for a watch that most will wear on weekend’s barbecuing with the family, but it’s totally in line with the theme of the watch and adds value to the piece.
For all its logical and impressive technical elements, the BALL DEVGRU also has a few head scratching design choices. DEVGRU is part of Naval Special Warfare, and water is inherent to their job. As such, the lack of an elapsed time bezel on such a piece seemed like a large oversight, if only in spirit (dive computers have supplanted dive watches in practice). Even on land, an elapsed time bezel would be handy to have.
The use of a butterfly deployant clasp on the bracelet without a secondary keeper would also make me nervous to bring it into the field, nevertheless the water. I’ve managed to pop more than a few deployant clasps in my day and only narrowly avoided losing or damaging my watch in the process. The old military adage, “two is one and one is none” seems fitting in this instance.
Lastly, the BALL DEVGRU is primarily brushed, but uses polished surfaces here and there, with the fixed bezel being quite polished and reflective. In the field, reflections can easily advertise a unit’s position. Going entirely brushed or opting for a bead blasted finish would have seemed the more appropriate choice.
All told, I was left somewhat torn on the BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon DEVGRU. Its improvements for shock resistance are impressive—I’m all for making automatic watches more resilient under extreme conditions. And as someone who seems to inadvertently unscrew the crown of his watch throughout the day, I absolutely loved the crown system here. Additionally, the balance of the watch, in spite of its bulk, shows a real attention to detail.
All that said, the oversights related to the inspirational unit’s mission set and how that relates to the watch’s functionality nag at me. My hope is that BALL continues to utilize this new technology inside watches with a more reserved design language to continue innovating their tool watches. They’re on to something here and I’m excited to see them carry it forward. BALL