The Ball Secometer pocket watch goes by the name “Trainmaster,” inviting comparison to Webb C. Ball’s legendary railroad watch. There’s no comparison. The original is a minimalist masterpiece, a cherished landmark in horological history. The Trainmaster is an Art Deco-style frippery, with none of the old Ball’s panache. Most egregious? . . .
The case. The bland, shiny, sharp-edged case may be suitable for engraving, but it lacks charm and tactility. It would have been better fashioned as a simple re-do of a standard rounded pocket watch case. Like this . . .
Be that as it is, it’s what’s inside that counts, right?
The original Ball pocket watch cases holstered stunningly accurate movements. The new watch not so much. Laid flat, it gained 12 seconds a day – well below the +/- 30 seconds per week accuracy required by Mr. Ball’s standards.
To prevent horrific accidents, the original Ball movements were regularly checked and certified by railway-approved watchmakers. The records were maintained and reviewed by the Chief Time Inspector.
Obviously enough, the pocket watch movement had to be easily accessed for inspection, adjustment and/or repair. The latter day Ball Secometer pocket watch is sealed tight.
Not only does the sealed case prevent the owner from admiring the movement – a major thrill for pocket watch collectors – it eliminates the possibility of service. The only upside: the Secometer’s water resistant to 30m/100ft. Because who doesn’t take their pocket watch swimming – aside from no one?
Unable to open the $749 Secometer’s case, I sent it to The Pocket Watch Guy. My simple request: “shuck it like an oyster.”
Not so easy, eh Mr. Bond? The Pocket Watch Guy had to enlist two of his watchmaker buddies to git ‘er done. They tried not to damage the case, but investigative journalism is a cruel mistress.
The result was worth the effort (not my effort but there you go). A few observations . . .
Ball Secometer – It’s a very small movement
The Secometer’s RR2102 movement is wrist watch-sized: 36mm. Translating that to pocket watch sizes of old, the movement’s an American size 8. Ball put the new movement into a 45mm case. That’s the equivalent of an American 12s case (considered the minimum size for a man’s pocket watch back in the day).
The Secometer’s thicker case hides the movement’s diminutive size – the same “trick” RGM uses to put a small movement into their custom pocket watch (as above).
It’s beautifully finished
The Secometer boasts the same circular damaskeening found on most Ball American pocket watches (as above). The Secometer’s gears have same old school circular pattern. The finish looks as good now as it did then.
Not Railroad Grade
The Secometer’s movement carries Ball’s Official Railway Standard logo, but it isn’t a Railroad Grade pocket watch.
Most noticeably, it’s a size 8 – not size 16 or 18 as specified by Webb C. Ball’s widely-implemented regulations. The new movement also isn’t lever set; understandable given that today’s buyers don’t want to remove the front glass to set the time.
The 17-jewel Ball Secometer movement falls four short of the railroad grade minimum of 21 jewels. And it has the word Swiss on it. Just sayin’.
The engraving claims “adjusted,” but it doesn’t specify the number of positions involved. Railroad Grade pocket watches had to be adjusted to five positions. Given the Secometer’s lack of accuracy bow up, and its +/- 1 second accuracy laid flat, the Pocket Watch was most likely adjusted to three positions.
And so the small, beautifully finished, non-railroad grade Ball Secometer movement needs a new home. I’m looking for a new old case. I’ll post an image as and when it’s situated.
Meanwhile, it’s a shame that Ball didn’t reinvent the American railroad watch. Hmmm. I have an idea . . .