The basic design, function and aesthetics of the mechanical chronograph have remained largely unchanged since Breitling patented the independent-reset push-piece in 1934. Starting, stopping and resetting have been done with those distinctive buttons on the side of the case ever since. There have been the odd variations, like Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Aston Martin-themed (and priced) AMVOX chronograph, which controlled functions with a press of the crystal. And some brands have gone retro with integrated crown-mounted monopushers. But by and large, the archetype of the chrono has been two stalks straddling the crown. So when Ball Watch introduced its Engineer Master II Slide Chronograph, which dispenses with pushers altogether, it was nothing short of an evolution of the species.
The Slide, as its name suggests, dispenses with the push-pieces in favor of a spring-loaded sliding lever on the left side of the case to control all chronograph functions. Sliding it upwards starts the chronograph, another click up stops it, and shifting it down zeroes the hands. It is an intuitive operation to anyone who has used a traditional chronograph and easy to operate. Any ergonomic advantage is debatable since pushing buttons was never much of a hardship, but the new design does give the watch a more streamlined look and less snagging on your shirt cuff. The left-side positioning is necessary to give the sliding components the needed clearance, since the right-side crown would interfere and on the left requires the use of the thumb, which feels more natural anyway.
Names aside, as long as Ball keeps pushing boundaries and building innovative watches like the Slide Chronograph, they can call themselves whatever they like.
The Slide’s movement is based on the venerable ETA (Valjoux) 7750 calibre, but took considerable modification to mate the slide to the chronograph linkage via a circular bar around the perimeter of the movement inside the case. Other than the absence of push-pieces, it bears the appearance of a more ordinary 7750-based chrono, with the day and date at 3:00 and the 12-6-9 placement of the subdials. The Slide’s symmetrical case, textured bezel and red accents, along with its supple rubber strap, give the watch a sporty yet elegant aesthetic that dresses up as well as it can get down and dirty. The watch has been tested to withstand 5,000 Gs of shock, considerable levels of magnetic influence and, despite its seemingly vulnerable slide mechanism, a screw-down crown gives the watch a reasonable 50 meters of water resistance.
Beyond its innovations, Ball is best known for its dial illumination, which is supplied by encapsulated tritium (that’s H3 for you chemistry types) tubes on all of its watches’ dials and hands. The Slide Chronograph is no exception, with orange lume on the hands and 12:00 marker and green for the other hours. Tritium capsules, which are also used by a handful of other watch brands, don’t have the eyeball-searing brightness of many of the painted luminescent dials of other brands; but their advantage is that they will glow even without being recharged for 25 years, when it finally burns through its atomic half-life.
Ball is no stranger to functional innovation and enjoys a reputation for rugged durability. The Engineer Master II Slide Chronograph’s long and rather odd name comes from the company’s roots building rugged and accurate pocket watches for the American railroad in the early 20th century. The historical connection with that history sometimes feel a little bit tenuous since current ownership has no link to the brand’s 19th-century founder, Webb C. Ball. But names aside, as long as Ball keeps pushing boundaries and building innovative watches like the Slide Chronograph, they can call themselves whatever they like.