Review: Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT II

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Ball Watch Company is no stranger to the watchmaking world. They’ve been crafting timepieces since the late 1800s, always with a focus on accuracy. The company was founded in the aftermath of a railroad accident that resulted in a push to regulate timing protocols to avoid future railroad disasters. An accurate timepiece made the job easier, hence the creation of the Ball Watch Company. Today, the watches are aesthetically very different from those historical pieces, but the ethos remains largely the same. These are tough, feature-heavy watches designed with legibility and precision in mind, but with a contemporary outward appearance to entice the modern customer. 

In spite of its name, the watch we’re looking at today isn’t geared towards engineers, but to airline pilots and travelers who find themselves constantly crossing timezones. Ball’s Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT II (henceforth referred to as the AeroGMT) is a rock-solid GMT watch that mixes vintage looks with modern tech. Let’s break it down. 

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$3499

Review: Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT II

Case
Stainless steel, brushed and polished
Movement
Ball RR1201-C COSC (ETA 2893-2 base)
Dial
Blue
Lume
42 micro gas tubes in dial and bezel
Lens
Domed sapphire, AR coating
Strap
Stainless bracelet
Water Resistance
100 meters
Dimensions
42 X 50mm
Thickness
13.85mm
Lug Width
21mm
Crown
Screw down with patented locking system
Warranty
Yes
Price
$3499

Case

The AeroGMT doesn’t just look the part of a cockpit-ready watch, it’s actually built to perform. There are several ways that Ball has enhanced the case to protect the watch that you can’t see from the outside. First up, there’s 7,500 Gs worth of shock protection. This means that the case can take a slam from a pendulum impact testing machine with a 1.5 meter stroke. While the test sounds somewhat arbitrary, it essentially means that the watch will more than stand up to daily bumps and whacks and keep on ticking. Additionally, there’s 4,800 A/m of magnetism resistance, which again, is more than enough to stand up to daily wear and the occasional exposure to more significant magnetic fields. The standard denotes that after an exposure to 4,800 A/m, the watch will not deviate by more than 30 seconds a day. But that’s just on the inside.

Outside, the AeroGMT features a 42mm stainless steel case with a mix of brushed and polished surfaces. From the top down, you’ll notice a bidirectional red and blue sapphire bezel that is illuminated via tritium gas tubes, though you’d never know it just by looking at the bezel itself. Ball isn’t aggressive with making the tubes look obvious — in fact, I couldn’t tell just by looking at the watch. This approach was certainly the right call here and it gives the bezel a much cleaner aesthetic overall. The sapphire is a welcome choice, and it gives the bezel a bit of an old-school look without sacrificing durability. It’s transparent so that the illumination can shine through, and it has the same scratch resistance properties as dial crystals made from the same material.

Another feature that stands out when observing the watch from the top down is the locking crown guard system at 3 o’clock. The guards themselves look almost sculpted out of the base metal, thanks to their curvy nature. At the end of the guards, there’s a pivoting lock that releases with a push of the small button on one edge of the lock plate. I think the whole crown lock is a little gimmicky, especially because the crown would already be recessed into the guards enough to protect it. The whole thing comes off more ornamental than it does functional. Of course, there’s no rule that says everything on a watch must be functional, but something that’s as imposing as the crown system here would be better if it were scaled down a bit.

The crown locking mechanism is equal parts functional and ornamental.
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In profile, the AeroGMT is rather plain. The side opposite the crown is thick and slabby, featuring a wide polished surface. There are screws in place of standard spring bars here, with two of them on each lug to secure the bracelet, ensuring that there’s no way that this watch is coming off unless you 100% intend on removing it.

Dial and Hands

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Ball is their use of tritium gas tubes instead of luminous paint. In total, 43 such tubes are used on the AeroGMT, arranged on the dial, hands and bezel. The resulting effect is a constant glow without requiring exposure to a light source. While the glow isn’t as blazingly bright as freshly-charged C3 or BGW9, it’s definitely there all night long. Ball states that on the AeroGMT, the addition of so many gas tubes is necessary for pilots in dimly-lit cockpits, but anyone who needs to read the time at night will appreciate the addition of this tech.

A total of 42 gas tubes are arranged on the dial and handset to provide a constant luminescence.

In relation to the rest of the watch, the dial itself is on the smaller side. The base material is a grainy, textured surface rendered in a deep navy blue. Ball’s logo sits at 12, offset by “CHRONOMETER GMT” just above the 6 o’clock position. The 12 hour scale on the dial doubles as a 24 hour indicator for the GMT hand, with Arabic numerals printed in white counting up to 24 around the dial’s perimeter. The scale is repeated on the bezel as well, enabling the user to track an additional time zone using GMT off-set. Even though the dial is relatively small in comparison to the rest of the watch and there is a lot going on, it remains easy to read.

To tell the time, you’ll have the pleasure of reading a set of large, white, sword-shaped hands that have a floating effect thanks to the blacked out base present on each. The hours and minutes hands each have a long gas tube mounted in the center of the hand to help differentiate them from the rest of the gas tubes embedded into the dial. A black seconds hand with a white tip is present and easy to read. Opposite the gas-tube on the seconds hand is Ball’s large “double R” logo which acts as a counterbalance to the weighty tip. In addition to the standard hand set, there’s a hollowed out GMT hand which is rendered in a bright red that complements the bottom half of the sapphire bezel. At 3 o’clock, you’ll find a date window with a rather plain black on white date wheel.

Tritium gas tubes provide a soft but constant glow.
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Movement

Beating away inside the AeroGMT is the Ball RR1201-C automatic GMT movement with chronometer certification. The movement is based on ETA’s 2893-2 GMT movement with some added finishing and COSC-certified chronometer-grade tuning. To operate the GMT hand, you’ll have to pull the crown out to the first stop and turn it clockwise to jump the GMT hand. Rotating it counterclockwise will adjust the date. If you pull the crown out all the way, you can adjust the main set of hands. The movement’s COSC certification is a nice addition to the base ETA movement and does help to justify the price of the watch. Increased accuracy is also a nod to Ball’s long history of advancement in chronometry.

Straps and Wearability

The AeroGMT ships on a chunky bracelet with raised and polished center links. The bracelet does taper about 2mm from the lugs to the buckle, cutting some weight and providing an extra measure of comfort. If I had to pick a single word to describe the bracelet, it would be solid. Each of the links is clearly well made and finished. The clasp is on the larger and heavier side, and does feature some sharp edges that are evident when wearing the watch. I like how adjustable the bracelet is — no matter what your wrist size is, you should be able to find a comfortable fit. There are half-links on either side of the clasp, and each side has a fold out extension in lieu of micro adjust holes in the clasp itself. To open and close the clasp, there’s a double push button system that’s well implemented, inspiring confidence that the clasp will stay shut and the watch won’t come flying off your wrist. The bracelet attaches to the case with a flat-head screw, so strap changes will take a screw driver to complete, but the AeroGMT makes the most sense on the bracelet. I can’t see it wearing too well on a nylon strap, but it has potential on a beefy leather strap.

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On the wrist, the AeroGMT is hard to ignore. The 42mm wide by 13.85mm tall case and large, imposing crown on the right side result in a watch with some serious wrist presence. Lug to lug, the AeroGMT measures in at 50mm. From the edge of the bezel (that slightly overhangs the case) to the end of the crown, the watch spans a hair under 48mm. On my 6.75” wrist, it’s easy to say that this is a big watch that wears larger than the 42mm case dimension suggests.

It would wear on the larger side even if it didn’t have the locking crown system in place, but I feel like it wouldn’t be as interesting of a watch if the crown wasn’t there. That being said, the crown does get in the way a bit and when you bend your wrist, it will hit your hand. Overall, however, I’ve found it to be well-balanced, even given the heft and proportions of the watch. This is due to the solid bracelet that balances out the watch head on your wrist.

Conclusion

The Ball AeroGMT II is a quirky watch. It mixes modern and vintage looks and features, but does so in a way that ends up working together well. Nut looks aside, everything about the AeroGMT II is solid, whether it be the stainless steel case, crown protection system, or highly-adjustable clasp on the bracelet. At $3,499, the AeroGMT II isn’t an impulse purchase for most of us, and it sits in a highly competitive price range. But if you’re looking for something that stands out from the pack, then this Ball might be the right watch for you. Ball

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Ed is a Long Island-based writer and photographer with an affinity for watches, fountain pens, EDC gear, and a great cup of coffee. He’s always looking for the best gear for the job—whether it be new watch, pen, flashlight, knife, or wallet. Ed enjoys writing because it’s an awesome (and fulfilling) way to interact with those who share the same interests.
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