Ball Engineer III Pioneer Review


Ball Engineer III Pioneer money shot

How do they stay in business? Despite making rock solid watches at bargain prices, despite a storied history, Ball has a lower profile than Giacomo cigars. It’s a shame. Ball timepieces are so well made I’d even compare them to . . . wait for it . . . Rolex. Starting with the fact that . . .

The Pioneer’s made from the same corrosion, rust and acid resistant 904L steel as a Rolex. Well, not exactly. Rolex cooks-up its own unique blend of chromium, molybdenum, nickel and copper, dubbing the result Oystersteel.

But as far as I can tell, the Pioneer’s heavy metal mix is just as good. The Ball’s bracelet serves up the same silky smooth gravitas as an Oyster Perpetual. Slipping on the 6.1 ounce steel Pioneer is a tactile delight that rivals tickling the ivories of a Steinway piano.

Yes, well, if the Pioneer’s a piano, it’s playing Jerry Lee Lewis to Rolex’s Mozart. I ain’t fakin’! There’s a whole lot of glossin’ goin’ on! The Pioneer’s H-bracelet’s outer links are shiny AF – but not as shiny as the glintastic inner links.

Glinty Ball

Which are as shiny as the watch’s slippery smooth case and bodacious bezel. Unlike the semi-bling Rolex Explorer, this Ball’s balls-to-the wall bling – an unabashed medley of brushed and high polished steel singing money honey!

The Pioneer boasts a tastefully reserved, eminently legible black dial with meticulous applied indices and a dead useful railroad track minute marker. The dial’s printed logo and performance boasts are perfectly balanced. All ruined by a date wart.

Ball Engineer III Pioneer closeup

The date magnifier is NBD in the official product shots. It balances out the 6, 9 and 12 indices and disappears into the anti-reflective sapphire crystal. Out in the real world, unless you’re looking directly down on the cyclops, it’s an abomination.

I know: plenty of horophiles welcome the date wart, as per Rolex. I view it as the equivalent of a huge spoiler on the back of an attractive sports car (downforce be damned).

How different, how wonderful the intertwined “RailRoad” initials on the end of the second hand would look if the date wart didn’t clamor for attention. How much more the entire design would gel. Sigh.


That said, I’m completely on board with the Ball Engineer III Pioneer’s funky main indices.

They’re a bit goofy in a built-out-of-matchsticks kinda way, but the 28 micro gas tubes are a lot less objectionable than the humongous versions standing proud on the DeepQUEST II. And all is forgiven when the lights go out, when the Pioneer becomes a horological tyger tyger burning bright.

Ball lume

The Pioneer’s “we don’t need no stinkin’ recharge” always-on lume makes the watch more legible in the dark than in the daylight. If you’re looking for a timepiece that throws shade on Rolex’s Chromalight, it pays to be on the Ball.

Sure you’ll need a new dial in 25 years, when the tubes’ tritium electrons cease emitting. But you’ll be so old by then health complaints will make the issue seem minor in comparison. Meanwhile, the Ball Engineer III Pioneer will be providing faithful service.


A miniature Mu-metal Farrady cage shields the the watch from magnetic fields up to 80,000A/m (the same resistance afforded by a Rolex Milgauss).

Ball’s patented SpringLOCK anti-shock system protects against impacts up to 5000 G’s. Combined with other Ball technology, there’s no need to worry about the longevity of the Pioneer’s caliber BALL RR1103-C (base ETA 2482-2) movement.

Ball Engineer III Pioneer 5 seconds

The Timegrapher pegged our review Pioneer’s accuracy between +4 and +5 seconds per day – within the COSC-certified Chronometer required −4/+6 seconds per day standard. With its logo-enhanced screw-down crown, the Pioneer provides 100m water resistance and a 38-hour power reserve.

Ball caseback

All of which makes the 40mm X 12.45mm Ball Engineer III Pioneer suitable for work, rest or play. It’s not a Rolex, but it feels like a Rolex. And it brick shit houses like a Rolex.

Needless to say, the Pioneer costs a lot less than a six-grand-and-up Rolex. We’re talking $1899 msrp. New Jersey’s River Edge Jewelers is talking a box fresh Pioneer for $1239. At that price, the Ball Engineer III Pioneer is a slam dunk.


Case: 40mm X 12.5mm, screw-down crown
Material: 904L stainless steel
Crystal: Anti-reflective sapphire
Movement: Automatic caliber BALL RR1103-C, Chronometer certified COSC
Lume: 28 micro gas tubes (on hour, minute and second hands and dial)
Shock resistance: 5,000Gs
Antimagnetic: 80,000A/m
Weight: 6.1 ounces
Water resistance: 100m/330ft

RATINGS (out of five stars):

Design * * *
A wonderfully minimalist watch dinged by a date wart.

Legibility * * * * *
A wonderfully minimalist dial dinged by a date wart.

Comfort * * * * *
Hefty (in a good way); the same 904L steel used by Rolex is a silken delight.

Overall  * * * * *
A rock solid restrained timepiece with awesome lume for a bargain price.


TTAW is a fully independent watch website. Ball lent this watch for review. No other consideration provided.


  1. If “performance boasts” is not a proper term for the lower dial text, it should be.
    I see that Ball makes luminous moonphase features. Why does nobody make lumed dates, if only for nocturnal visual balance?
    Even a cheapskate like me has to admit that this is a very fair price.

  2. Oh, damn… I like it! And, the wart wouldn’t have bothered me so much, except you’ve drawn my attention to it (over and over). I still might be able to “deal,” though. I’m digging the tritium lume, too. But, what really got my attention was (in the embedded video) the buttery-smooth second hand sweep. Oh, baby!

    I’ve been on a quartz kick, but this may have made my wish list.

  3. We’re talking $1899 msrp. New Jersey’s River Edge Jewelers is talking a box fresh Pioneer for $1239. At that price, the Ball Engineer III Pioneer is a slam dunk.

    Damn you… I’ve been looking at these all over the internet since I read this review. Your NJ River Edge dealer has them listed at MSRP ($1899) on their website.

    What’s weird is that on E-bay, they’re listed at $2200 – $3000+! A few listings at MSRP on e-bay.

  4. I’ve been drooling and jonesing for this watch ever since the review was posted.

    But, I’m reading some not-so-great things about the Ball Watch Company. Things like, they won’t / can’t replace the dial / hands (as to replace the expendable tritium lume), reporting that “parts are not available.” Also they can’t (or won’t) replace straps or bands.

    I was seriously considering getting this one. And, I could even live with replacing the lume (hands and dial) every 7+ years for a nominal cost on a $1200 – $1400 watch. I’d plan on keeping the watch for a long time (and possibly passing it on with the rest of my collection). But if the tritium is going to peter out relatively quickly AND they can’t or won’t replace them… and can’t replace a worn out strap or bracelet… It’s a deal breaker.

    And, that’s a shame. I was cursing RF under my breath for posting this review, as I got excited and was hell-bent on getting the watch. While $1200 isn’t a lot for a fine watch (and this one appears to offer excellent value otherwise), I would not be happy if it becomes effectively un-servicable in ~7 years.

  5. Dear sir,

    I am the after sale manager for BALL Watch SA, your comment has been brought to my attention. I was very glad to read your comments on the Engineer III Pioneer, especially on how much you appreciate the design.
    I am only writing a response to your comment to reassure you and rebuke the false information which can sometimes be found online. For more accurate information, I would recommend you enquire with an authorized retailer or service center, we have many across the world. We will gladly answer any questions if you contact us directly as well.
    I assure you that we perform tritium services on all our watches in need. If the model is discontinued, we will replace the tritium tubes instead of the complete dial which may extend the servicing time a little but is at the same cost.
    Same for the bracelets & straps, we do sell the BALL Watch straps and bracelets. The worn out straps can be replaced of course, and we have a large choice of BALL straps to propose in addition.
    Feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions or if you want more information.

    • That is encouraging to hear! Thanks for your reply – that you did is also encouraging!

      I really do like the E3P (an acronym I coined!)! I’m very tempted. Though many of the stories I’ve read online about service issues are people I don’t know, they are fairly consistent. There is one report from a person I DO personally know and have no reason to doubt. Her story (about not being able to get the lume replaced on a 7-year-old watch) happened last year.

      I’m a bit torn, honestly. And, my intent is not to sow any discord. The watch is gorgeous and appears to be an excellent value proposition.

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