Ball Trainmaster Secometer Pocket Watch

Ball Trainmaster Secometer

In 1900, Webb C. Ball set the standards for railroad pocket watches – timepieces that kept America’s train network safe and reliable, elevated horological standards and made the Cleveland jeweler a wealthy man. Some 120 years later, the Ball Trainmaster Secometer pays homage to the Swiss-owned watchmaker’s roots. Does it keep the faith? . . .

Ball Trainmaster Secometer and Ben

The first thing you notice about the Ball Trainmaster Secometer: it’s small. The Secometer’s case diameter is 45mm – the same size as your average Panerai wristwatch.

Historically speaking, the Secometer’s roughly the same size as ye olde size 12 pocket watch. Back in the day, American manufacturers like Elgin, Hamilton and Illinois cranked out millions of size 12’s as “men’s dress watches.” Now? Not so much.

Ball Secometer in hand

Like pickup trucks, all watches are larger these days. Most vintage pocket watch collectors favor size 16 and 18 timepieces – not-so-coincidentally the only sizes allowed by Mr. Ball’s mandatory railroad watch standard.

As someone who daily carries a pocket watch, the new Ball Trainmaster Secometer makes my hand look like AndrĂ© the Giant’s, while my go-to silver pocket watch chain looks like a tugboat rope tied to a chihuahua.

Ball Secometer vs. Ball railroad watch

The text at the top of the new Secometer – “Railroad Standard since 1891” – is Ball’s trademark. Although the Ball Watch Company became synonymous with railroad watches – creating the expression “on the ball” – the diminutive Secometer wouldn’t meet Webb’s criteria for a Lionel train set.

Original Ball Art Deco Secometer

I’d never seen the vintage Art Deco Secometer before Ball posted its picture on their website. Although the reissue shares the same basic design, the original differs from its modern iteration in several details.

The antique’s curved logo lacks the official trademark. The design motif above and below its secometer rotating disc is more ornate than its latter day “re-imagining.” And the vintage pocket watch’s minute hand is a simple sword – as opposed to the new watch’s more elegant skeletonized minute hand.

Ball Trainmaster Secometer Closeup

The new Secometer’s triangular indices are lumed like the original’s – replacing toxic radium with faux vintage Super-LumiNova. Strangely, the Secometer’s hands aren’t lumed – rendering the pocket watch unreadable in low to no light.

Equally lamentable, the Ball Trainmaster Secometer’s case lacks the vintage pocket watch case’s engraved flair. Aside from the Deco-style numbers around the bezel, it has no flair whatsoever.

Ball Trainmaster Secometer case

In fact, it you set out to make a thoroughly pedestrian case for a pocket watch, you could do no better/worse than the new Secometer’s solution.

The Secometer’s encased in an entirely charmless stainless steel fingerprint magnet. The undecorated bow flops around like a dead fish. The case is sealed shut but good, keeping the BALL RR2102 movement within from public view.

Ball pocket watch movement

It’s too bad that prising upon the case with a knife voids the warranty (bye-bye 30m water resistance). Judging from the PR pic, the Secometer’s BALL RR2102 caliber manual wind movement is a sturdy Geneva-striped engine.

While a 17 jewel pocket watch isn’t inherently inferior to more be-jeweled movement, collectors are jewel sluts. They also appreciate a winding mechanism that moves like a curling stone on ice. The Secometer’s movement is suitably smooth and precise, but it’s too tight, like it’s waiting for the mainspring to relax.

Ball Secometer +1 sec

Putting the Secometer on the Timegrapher – bow up – yields a magnificent +1 second a day deviation – well within the old railroad watch standard of +/- 30 seconds a week.

Laid flat, the accuracy drops to +12 seconds a day. Not so adjusted now, eh Mr. Bond? Still, as a timekeeper, the modern day Secometer is a perfectly reliable companion.

Illinois Art Deco pocket watch

At a very high price.

The Pocket Watch Guy sells a fully serviced and adjusted size 12 Art Deco Illinois pocket watch with blued steel hands (above) for $675.

The Ball Trainmaster Secometer sucked $775 out of our editorial budget – for a pocket watch with none of the 1927 Illinois’ history, case class and sophistication.

Ball in box

Ball’s decision to revive their pocket watch tradition with a small, expensive, blandly cased pocket watch resurrecting an obscure Art Deco piece was the wrong answer.

A 21-jewel size 16 or 18 pocket watch embodying Mr. Ball’s railroad grade spirit – as ALL of Ball’s wristwatches do – would find a ready market. Well, I know of at least one customer ready to trade.

Model: Ball Trainmaster Secometer
Price: $749 direct from manufacturer (no commision on link)

SPECIFICATIONS:

Case size: 45mm
Case Height: 12mm
Case material: Stainless steel
Crown: Pushed-in
Movement: Stem-set manual caliber BALL RR2102
Weight: 2.6 ounces
Water Resistance: 30m/100ft.
Crystal: Anti-reflective sapphire crystal

RATINGS (out of five stars):

Design * * * 
An unassuming, note-for-note recreation of a Ball Art Deco pocket watch with a surgically boring case and luminous indices – that somehow forgot to lume the hands.

Legibility * * * * 
The stylish hands and railroad track rehaut make time-telling easy enough, but again, one deficiency lumes large. Or should do.

Accuracy: * * * * * 
Plus or minus one second a day accuracy is as good as it gets, and more than good enough for daily pocket watch carry.

Overall * *
A sturdy “gentleman’s pocket” watch that desperately needs a more flamboyant case and/or a lower price tag – especially when compared to top quality vintage pieces.

4 thoughts on “Ball Trainmaster Secometer Pocket Watch”

  1. I totally concur with your analysis, although I can’t fault them on abandoning rococo filigreed embellishment on the case. It just doesn’t mesh that well with the art deco motif. Ornate detail generally equals anachronism in the modern aesthetic, and vintage style lovers can get real vintage with no real loss. I imagine that the option for customer engraving and personalization is a free feature. But still, some brushing or light knurling/guilloche or something would liven things up.

    If they illuminated the hands, widening them a tad in the process, my only gripe would be with the number font, which looks unserious but not whimsical enough to be interesting. It seems like some rarely used stock computer font for bad fliers. The small size would seem a plus to me as I’m not sure about the sizing of typical coin/watch pockets in off-the-rack trousers.

    1. If you look at Art Deco pocket watches from that period, you’ll see that they always had something going on with the case – if only the shape. The plain squared-off edges of this featureless case say nothing more than the watch was made for a price. Well, that and water resistance.

      The new Ball watch will fit in any watch pocket or any modern paid or jeans or jean-like trousers. Size 12 was the smallest size for a “gentleman’s pocket watch.” It was used in a suit’s vest pocket. My preference in 16 or 18 because I’m always in jeans or similar. Also, I simply prefer the heft, the significance of a larger watch.

  2. I much prefer carrying this watch as opposed to my size 18 23 jewel Waltham. The Ball keeps great time, its size and weight doesn’t constantly remind it’s in my pocket, and my wife’s inscription on the back means more to me than any filigree. At that price point, it is a reliable timepiece that pays adequate heritage to its predecessor.

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