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Readers of my previous reviews will be aware that I have been a self-confessed watch geek for about 20 years. I am in the fortunate position to not only have my own reasonable collection of watches but to also be surrounded by high end timepieces throughout my working day.
Therefore, it takes something very special for a new watch brand to make me very interested indeed and consider their value in a bloated market. Ball Watch were that brand about four years ago when this originally American brand with over 120 years of history came readily available in the UK. I now own four of their watches and have my eye on at least double that amount again.
Likewise, it also takes a new watch that is individual, revolutionary and original to make me want to praise the designers, engineers and developers responsible. The Magneto S, announced last year, is one of those few.
It is not just the headline-stealing specification that took the watch world by surprise but how Ball Watch used their genius, previously utilised to realise multiple patents, to create a solution to the greatest nemesis to the mechanical timepiece, magnetism.
Alongside specifications of 100m water resistance and shock resistance of 5000Gs the Magento S can withstand magnetism to a level of up to 80,000A/m. The level required for a watch to be classified as anti-magnetic is 4800A/m.
So, why is magnetism such an enemy to the common mechanical movement?
There are two important springs in a mechanical movement. The mainspring is contained within the “barrel”. The barrel is a serrated edge disc which motivates the gear train, which in turn controls the rate of each hand. The mainspring is wound by the rotor or is manually wound via the crown. The average length of power reserve (the amount of time it take for the spring to unwind from full tension) for a single barrel watch is about 42 hours.
This will be significantly reduced if the watch becomes magnetised as the coils become “stuck” together.
The other spring controls the back and forth movement of the balance wheel. This see-saw motion allows the second hand to be stopped and released at a frequency of, usually, 3Hz. This is why a seconds hand has the optical illusion of sweeping, when it is, in fact, ticking 6 times per second. The repeatability and accuracy of this cadence is imperative when you consider that there are 86,400 seconds in a day (31,536,000 seconds per year!) which equates to 518,400 incremental ticks per hour (189,216,000 per year).
Therefore, if a balance spring becomes magnetised, effectively stuck together, it can dramatically affect the time keeping.
Magnetism is prevalent. From loudspeakers, to laptops, to tablet covers, and even hand bag clasps. Danger is everywhere for a standard mechanical movement.
So, why is the Ball Watch Magneto S such a clever development to counter-act this?
Ball have developed a system reminiscent of a camera aperture that is both a solution to the magnetism challenge and a delight to use. Ball have christened this the A-Proof system and it is comprised of individual components that are just 0.06mm thick and made of mumetal. This alloy consists of nickel, iron, copper and molybdenum which guarantees very high magnetic permeability. The low frequency magnetic waves are attracted to the mumetal components instead of the vulnerable parts of the movement. This guarantees the Magneto S is anti-magnetic to an impressive 80,000A/m.
By rotating the chamfered and coin edge bezel the aperture can be closed to create a magnetism free capsule for the movement or opened to reveal said movement.
In addition to this a small porthole has been crafted into the side of the case that indicates the status of the aperture, be it closed or open. The white application is also luminescent so the position of the aperture can be identified in the dark.
Historically, watches that have been developed and designed as “anti-magnetic” have had their movement placed within a cage made of non-ferrous metal. This is a great solution to the problem, often enabling 1000 gauss of magnetic resistance, but there are many resulting design caveats as a result. For one, there can be no date display as this aperture would be a point of ingress for the low frequency magnetic waves. Likewise, there could never be an exhibition caseback with this resolution for the same reason. The Magneto S allows for both the practicality of a date window and the option to view the mechanical heart of the watch.
Movements are now available that utilise such materials as Silicium (Swiss parlance for Silicon) for major components in the escapement (regulating organ) and the mainspring. Silicium is, amongst other attributes, anti-magnetic. It is very costly to create individual components in this material.
The movement is a RR1103-CSL. This movement, as with all of Ball Watch’s movements, are ETA based. However, this example has been reworked to allow Chronometer certification by the Swiss Authority COSC.
I checked the accuracy over a three day period and the Chronometer rated movement +1 to 1.5 seconds a day, and this was after my speaker related photo shoot (see below).
Another patent is the SpringLok system. This adds to the already impressive shock resistance of the watch by concentrating on the most vulnerable element of the movement with regards to shocks and vibration. This is yet another of Ball Watch’s proprietary designs.
The balance spring drives the cadence of the regulating organ required to allow a Chronometer rated mechanical watch to run at 99.993% accuracy. Unfortunately, not only is the balance spring the most important part of a mechanical movement but it is also the most fragile. Any large knocks or vibrations can cause the movement to run at about 60 seconds per day either slow or fast. The SpringLok system eradicates this and allows the wearer to take part in such activities as golf and mountain biking without any concerns.
I’ve highlighted the SpringLok system below.
Design and Features
There are a total of 15 Tritium gas tubes on the dial and hands. As with all of the Ball watches, these have to be seen to be believed at night to fully appreciate the incredible glow they give. This is just one more example of Ball watch wanting to create the ideal watch within the everyman’s budget.
The cordura fabric strap and highly detailed steel buckle offer the perfect aesthetic and create a very comfortable watch at the same time.
The stainless steel case is a non-overbearing 42mm in diameter and 12.9mm in height
For a watch that has had such clever R and D lavished on it, with the resulting A-Proof, mumetal and SpringLok systems, it is surprising how little of this has been highlighted externally. I like this. Too many watch brands shout about any little development they have created all over the dials of watches. Ball Watch show incredible humility with the Magneto S with the fact that there are no technology announcements. A simple script highlighting the Chronometer status and the 100m water resistance is all that is shown.
I wasn’t immediately attracted to the rounded chapter ring when I saw the pre-release press images. However, after seeing the watch in 3D, so to speak, it dawned on me that the matt black dial with rounded edge may be a reference to one of the biggest magnets we happen across on a daily basis and which has resulted in many a mechanical watch losing its accuracy: the loudspeaker.
This is the only picture I’ll ever take of a mechanical watch on a powerful speaker and highlights the design parallels with the wonderfully utilitarian dial design of the Magneto S.
The crown is bold enough to allow unwinding from the water resistant position to the operating position without digging into the back of the hand during wear.
With the combination of a user friendly diameter, lack of weight, cordura strap and ergonomic crown the Magneto S is very comfortable to wear. It looks as good on the wrist with your dress shirt and tie as with your t-shirt and shorts.
I love designs and features that have been created as a result of somebody really thinking outside of the box. Many well-known, high street watch brands seem to have been living by the “golden rules” of watch design lately. Dress watch: let’s make it 39mm to show willing that it is smaller than average. Sports watch: big, bold and brassy, especially the brass ones. Pilots watch: big case, big white hands, big crown, leather strap. Divers watch: 40-44mm, rotating bezel, bracelet, date aperture. Complicated watches: sapphire caseback, sunburst dials. Yes I’m generalising. But it is truly refreshing when a brand realises that there are no new fashions, as such, and tries to live by its own virtues and history (“Accuracy under adverse conditions”), and not other brand’s.
We should ask ourselves what we actually want from an expensive timepiece. Yes, it should make us feel special when we wear it and that is generally constrained by the subjectivity of the customer. But, we also need that watch to be reliable, for ever and under all day to day circumstances. Moisture ingress, shocks/vibrations and, of course, magnetism are all commonplace killers of the fragile multi-micro component movement that needs to “tick” over half a million times per day.
The Magneto S eliminates all of these hazards.
However, as much as I love this watch in all of its aesthetical and technical glory all is not perfect in my humble opinion:
I think a folding clasp unit would have been better suited to the Magneto S. My reasons for this are because the caseback is as much a feature of this watch as the dial and it would be so much easier to observe this on a regular basis if you didn’t have to “un-buckle” each time. I readily admit I am a bit of a nerd when it comes to the appreciation of a nice exhibition caseback but surely this conversation starting attribute should be granted simple access. The cordura strap is the perfect companion, though.
I also think that the movement would benefit from a little more dress up work. The rotor is an item of beauty but the rest of the movement looks almost tractor like. With all the effort and development applied in the interest of having an antimagnetic watch with an exhibition caseback why not exhibit something a little more special than the norm? The movement does have blued screws but I feel chamfered edges and perlage, etc, on the mainplate would justify that clever caseback reveal that bit more. It could be argued, I suppose, that the Magneto S is an out-and-out tool watch and that the tractor style movement, albeit with Chronometer certification, is more suitable.
To summarise: I believe Ball Watch are the most underrated brand available. There are plenty of brands that offer mechanical movement families of watches at the same price point as Ball Watch but they look like they’ve been made to a strict budget. You still get that luxury watch feel with Ball Watch throughout their eclectic range. Add to that the constant thought process that seems to have been instilled in the designers of “How can we make this better?” and you do end up with watches that are fantastic value for money.
The Magneto S, and the Slide Chronograph (reference CM3888D) announced at the same time last year epitomise Ball Watch’s philosophies and the multiple patents that Ball Watch have acquired in the field of luminosity (tritium gas tubes, shock resistance (patents held for Amortiser and SpringLock), clasp units (patents held for incredibly strong folding unit), impact resistance (patent held for crown protection system) and finally anti-magnetism (patent held for the A-Proof aperture using mumetal).
It cannot be underestimated or understated how much Ball Watches are exceptional value across the entire range. At first glance the Magneto S seems to be yet another simple three handed watch, albeit with a slightly pronounced bezel. However, just like a Tolstoy novel with a plain cover, those in the know appreciate the level of genius of the contents that lift it above the norm and way beyond the exterior presentation. That’s not to say that the Magneto S isn’t a great looking watch with a striking aesthetic. I actually really like the fact that it does not shout about its many significant accolades. It uses the caseback as its billboard.
So, if you are searching for a carefree mechanical watch that can simply be worn without all the usual restrictions of a delicate mechanical movement then the Ball Watch Magento S is perfect for you.
The only magnetism associated is the primal desire of the human nature towards this great timepiece itself.
Many Thanks to Andrew at Andrew Michaels Jewellers for loaning me this Magneto S from the store and also Wikipedia for the some of the technical data quoted.
All the words and images above are by Richard Atkins, unless otherwise stated. This article may not be reproduced in part or in whole without the permission of the author.