Review of the Ball SG50 Fireman Night Train

I purchased this watch on Sunday, 19 April 2015. This was the first mechanical watch that I owned and it will have a special place in my heart. Before this, I only wore a Skagen Quartz watch which my dad gave me. Since the purchase of the SG50 watch, I caught the watch bug and currently own 6 mechanical watches. 2015 being Singapore’s 50th anniversary, I knew that as a true-blue patriotic Singaporean, I needed to celebrate and commemorate this Jubilee year. When Ball Watch Company announced that they were releasing a 1000-piece limited edition Fireman Night Train watch (45mm case and is 11.65mm thick) that had the ‘SG50’ being formed out of tritium tubes, I was sold. What better way to celebrate SG50 than to get myself an SG50 watch. The one I purchased was number 220/1000. The watch is now completely sold out and I am secretly hoping that I might be able to sell it at a decent price in the future.

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Ball Watch Company was founded by an American, Webb C. Ball, in 1891. An accident in 1891 prompted him to act. Refer to link for a brief history of the brand and the founder. Basically, he established stringent watch standards for train operators and inspectors in order to keep good time and prevent railroad accidents from occurring. He was instrumental in the development of chronometry and improving of watch accuracy. He emphasized on keeping precise time and created railroad grade timepieces. This was how the term ‘Official Standard’ came about. Ball watches are known for their visual simplicity, elegance and precision. Refer to link to read more about the founder.

The Ball SG50 Fireman Night Train draws inspiration from a similar model, the Night Train DLC. The case size, height, strap are identical. The only difference is the design of the dial and the layout of tritium tubes used. The watch is resistant for up to 5000Gs. I simply love the arrow-like hands and the RR (RailRoad) design on the second hand. In addition, the hour, minute and second hands are lumed for great night visibility. Ball is celebrating their 150th anniversary in 2016, and this is testament to the longevity and heritage of the brand. Ball is known for producing reliable watches with good quality. Ball can certainly hold its own against Tag Heuer/Oris in terms of quality and finish. In terms of price point, Ball watches are generally in the affordable range of SGD1.5k to 6k. Ball is also renowned for their use of tritium T25 tubes which can glow up to 25 years and requires no charging. This sets the brand apart from many other luxury brands which use Superluminova. Ball watches are Swiss made, value-for-money and are extremely durable.

The main reason why I found it so attractive was the affiliation with SG50 and also the technical components that came with the watch. My reasons are listed below:

The Ball SG50 night train comes in a stainless steel DLC case and a vanilla scented 22mm black rubber strap. The watch is relatively lightweight due to the use of a rubber strap. The rubber strap is comfortable on the skin. The DLC coating is even and largely matt-finished in nature, giving the case a striking black tone. I would say that the DLC treatment on steel is well done and comparable to many other luxury brands.

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The watch doesn’t draw attraction from others, which I like. There are hardly any polished edges and Ball is generally not well-known among the general public even though their watches are good value-for-money. It has a flat sapphire crystal which is AR coated. Due to the materials used, the watch will not develop patina over time. However, the SG50 logo is prominently featured on the dial.

The Ball SG50 night train is a sporty and everyday watch with 100 meters water resistance and shock resistance to 5000Gs. This is a watch where you can wear daily without having to worry about it. As the watch is donned with a sweat-resistant rubber strap, it is certainly possible to use the watch for hiking, trekking etc. Personally, I will don on the watch when attending Singapore related events like the SG World Cup Qualifiers in Aug 2015 etc. After nearly 1 year of use, my watch is almost scratch-free and still in mint condition.

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Ball SG50 night train uses the Ball automatic calibre RR1103, which is essentially a clone of the ETA -2824. This a certainly a workhorse movement that is widely used with many other watch brands whom they get ETA as their supplier. Of course, Ball modifies the movement via adding decorations and also to make it more shock resistant. The movement comes with a 38 to 42 hour power reserve and I have no qualms about the movement at this price point. For an in-house movement, one can be expected to pay at least double. Some of the more expensive Ball models are also COSC chronometer certified (-4 to +6 seconds/day). I have tested my watch on a Timegrapher and it currently runs at a decent -5 seconds/day.

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The black dial on the Ball SG50 night train can be divisive in nature. The red SG50 logo at the 9 o’clock position makes the watch look cheap. I sought feedback from my friends on the design of the dial and many of them did not appreciate the looks. To me, the red SG50 logo is certainly out of place. However, I can understand why Ball did it. The red logo is symbolic and can be seen on almost all SG50-related merchandise last year. In general, I gradually liked the design of the dial and especially the yellow hour markers and white minute markers. Overall, there are only 2 lines of text on the dial and it does not appear cluttered.

The Ball SG50 night train has an engraved caseback. The image of a Night Train fills the centre of the caseback. It is certainly very attractive and pleasant to look at. In addition, there are the words ‘SINGAPORE’ and ‘LIMITED EDITION’ laser-engraved on the outer rim. This reminds me that the Ball SG50 night train is indeed something to be cherished.

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The watch comes with a vanilla-scented rubber strap. After much use, the rubber strap still appears intact and seems to be very durable. The fit is snug and the strap is relatively sweat resistant. The good thing about rubber, unlike leather, is that it doesn’t age. Therefore, my strap will look just as new many years down the road.

I have saved the best for last, just like hitting the ‘climax’ of a movie. The Ball SG50 Night Train has incredible lume due to 93 micro-sized tritium tubes. This is, in fact, the most number of tritium tubes that Ball has utilized on a watch thus far. It’s like nothing I ever seen before. Although you cannot charge the lume, tritium tubes can glow up for to 25 years. In addition, if they become dim, it is possible to replace the tubes for a fee. You may wonder, how does tritium actually work? Tritium emits electrons through beta decay, and, when they interact with a phosphor material, fluorescent light is created, a process called radio-luminescence. The radiation exposure is so weak that it doesn’t affect human health.

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Overall, after wearing it for a year, I am still impressed by how the watch has not ‘aged’ and still looks in like-new condition. Ball also issued a certificate which is unique to this SG50 limited edition watch. The Ball SG50 Night Train is a fun watch for the weekend and will pair well with casual clothing. The two most outstanding features are its (1) commemorative meaning; (2) tritium tubes. The watch was released in early 2015 and retailed for SGD 2,800. However, if you want to lay your hands on one now, you will have to get a pre-owned one.

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