BALL Trainmaster Railroad Standard 130 Years


BALL Trainmaster Railroad Standard 130 Years money shot

To understand the BALL Trainmaster Railroad Standard 130 Years know this: once upon a time, the American watch industry ruled the world. And then it didn’t. Setting aside the factors leading to its extinction, casualties included two of the greatest watch companies the world had ever seen: Hamilton and Ball. (The latter using Hamilton movements.) Before they breathed their last, Swiss companies swooped in and bought their names. Not their designs, employees or facilities. Their names. They’re both still in business, trading off their horological heritage. Hang on. Their heritage?…

Ad victor spolia. Hamilton and Ball’s Swiss buyers paid for the right use the legendary American watchmakers’ name any way they chose. Besides, today’s Hamilton and Ball make excellent watches, as robust and reliable as anything either company produced in their pocket watch heyday. Shouldn’t we judge the companies’ “right” to exploit their heritage based on the spirit of the watches they create?

Works for me. Meanwhile, both Swiss watchmakers promotional materials assume an unbroken history from the watchmakers’ illustrious past to their current ownership. Which brings us to the product page copy for the BALL Trainmaster Railroad Standard 130 Years:

BALL Trainmaster Railroad Standard 130 Years lume


BALL Watch has been the synonym for accuracy since 1891. In celebration of our 130 years anniversary, we are proud to present the Trainmaster Railroad Standard 130 Years – a classic and elegant timepiece inspired by a BALL vintage pocket watch from the early 20th century to represent our rich heritage and watchmaking ethos.

Limited to 999 pieces, the commemorative timepiece features a 40mm case, micro gas tube luminosity and subsidiary seconds design.

Pocket watch aficionados will smile at the nod to the past. “The Ball Hamilton Pocket Watch Railroad Grade 999B Model 5 [was] one the highest-grade pocket watches ever manufactured,” The Pocket Watch Guy reports. “New, stronger and more flexible metal alloys in both the hairspring and mainspring increased accuracy and durability.”

BALL Trainmaster Railroad Standard 130 Years movement

The 2021 BALL Trainmaster Railroad Standard 130 Years’ engine – a COSC Chronometer certified BALL RR1105-C (base ETA 2895-2) – more than lives up to the 999b’s movement’s reliability, durability and precision. There’s no doubt that Webb C. Ball would approve of the wristwatch’s 4,800A/m magnetic resistance, 5,000Gs shock resistance and 14 micro gas tube illumination. And then Mr. Ball would have a hissy fit.

The BALL Trainmaster Railroad Standard 130 Years is an ill-conceived homage to the dial design the Cleveland jeweler created, that set the standard for all railroad pocket watches, that helped ensure railway safety for millions of Americans, that elevated watchmaking to stunning heights (click here for The Truth About The Ball Railway Watch).

BALL Trainmaster Railroad Standard 130 Years top dial

When it came to Ball pocket watch dials, at-a-glance legibility wasn’t everything. It was the only thing. To achieve that life-or-death goal, Ball pocket watches were minimalist masterpieces. The BALL Trainmaster Railroad Standard 130 Years is anything but.

BALL Trainmaster Railroad Standard 130 Years subdial

I won’t bore you with nerdy watch collector complaints, such as the fact that a true “Montgomery dial” Ball pocket watch (numbers 1 – 60 printed on the outer edge) placed the 6 inside the seconds subdial, which sat lower down on the dial. Or point out that Ball pocket watches never combined a Montgomery dial with an inner ring with 24-hour numbers (a.k.a., a Ferguson safety dial).

 pocket watch

Suffice it to say, Ball’s webpage – featuring a Swiss (!) recreation of an original pocket watch – leads us to the inescapable conclusion that there’s way too much stuff on the new watch’s dial, from extraneous text (“Automatic Chronometer”), to altered text (the number seven is formed by a combination of Ball & Co) to a date window (!).


The BALL Trainmaster Railroad Standard 130 Years is a barely legible farrago of railroad pocket watch design cues that makes a mockery of the clean, crisp, perfectly and instantly legible dials that immortalized Webb C. Ball. It’s a shame. Not to worry. The spirit of the original company lives on in their beautiful, robust three handers like the BALL Engineer III Marvelight Chronometer above. We’re all richer for its existence, heritage-wise.


  1. I’m STILL jonesing for that Engineer III Pioneer, since you reviewed it several months ago. I’ve since looked at pretty much all the Ball models, and that E3P is still the one. Some day…. some day. Just can’t justify the $$ right now.

    I agree… That Trainmaster dial (above) is a hot mess! If they’d get rid of: Small seconds (add a real second hand), date window, and 24 hour labels… It would be a looker.

    • I’d hate to own a ghost date watch (or whatever the term is for when the guts are there but no window) but my recommendations would be the same. The model has central seconds, with that elaborate RR tail. The serial number would have to move, as it is obviously positioned to balance the date window. There are much, much worse looking watches out there, even if they are usually chronographs.

      I will praise them for doing this in a mere 40mm and not super-duper-sizing it. But I’m most confused about how their site has a 135th anniversary edition NM3288D-SJ-WH and it says since 1891 right on the dial.

  2. A great concept, yet I must agree with the author that the dial is not true to its heritage. Speaking of heritage the name has been around for 130 years, yet the company has not and again agree with the author. I’ve owned Ball watches and really enjoyed supporting Ball Watch Co. when they were USA based with pieces made in Switzerland, even after moving their HQ to Switzerland.
    It was only after being sold just like Eterna to a Hong Kong Firm that I lost all interest in the brand.

  3. I’m a big fan of Ball, and I don’t care who owns them, as long as they make watches that I feel have value. I have an Engineer III Marvelight, and I think it rivals my wife’s DateJust. I pre-ordered an Engineer III Legend II last night; very much a fan of the brand.

  4. I’m gonna be an outlier and say I love it and mine is soon to be delivered. Ball is my favorite watch co. I wear them more than my Rolex or Ulysse Nardin. I think they are highly underrated. I’ll take 6 balls over one Rolex any day of the week. This will be my 5th.

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