BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon Original


BALL wrist sunset

BALL fancies itself the G-SHOCK of mechanical watches. They reckon their timepieces are ideal for hurricanes hunters, big wave surfers, aviators piloting the world’s fastest airplane and first responders rescuing daredevils in daunting conditions. The BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon Original has a relatively simple mission: provide an affordable alternative to the Rolex Submariner. Mission accomplished? On one level, no . . .

No one’s going to mistake a BALL for a Rolex. Or stab them to death to steal it. Then again, bad guys aren’t as good at ID’ing Rolex as, say, Tim Mosso. It would suck to be mugged by someone mistaking a BALL for a Rolex. Especially Tim Mosso. Where was I?

New Rolex Submariners - Black dial with black bezel in Oystersteel

Brand snobbery and bad guys aside, when comparing the BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon Original to the new-for-2020 Rolex Submariner, there’s a small matter of five thousand dollars.

That’s assuming you could purchase a box fresh black dial Submariner for $8k retail. You can’t. But you can buy a gray market new-in-box Sub for around $15k. So, in practice, it’s a not-so-small matter of $11,661.

BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon Original wall 2

At first glance, the BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon Original (BEHO) is pretty damn Subtastic. Like the bougie Rollie, the bargain basement BALL boasts a 120-click black sapphire bezel circumnavigating a black dial with Morse code indices. It’s 1mm smaller than the new Sub and a bit shinier in all regards, but it’s the thought that counts.

On the wrist, the comparo is a much weightier matter. Even with a couple of links removed, the seven-ounce BEHO weighs a full ounce more than an identically de-linked 2020 Sub. I’m not saying the BALL Engineer is excessively heavy, but I am saying it could double as a diving weight.

BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon Original crown guard

The BALL’s crown guard is the dive watch’s most radical departure from the Submariner form factor. I don’t consider the press-to-release-then-swing-out mechanism an aesthetic affront. But I’m the kinda guy who likes wearing a miniature castle on his wrist.

On a practical level, the set-up protects the crown against 7500G lateral shocks and defends against laziness/inattention (the lock won’t click into place until and unless the crown is screwed down to its watertight position).

BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon Original closeup

The BEHO’s slightly convex, “sunray” black dial also diverts from the Sub’s distinctive demeanor. If nothing else, the word BALL sits atop the watchmaker’s commitment to Webb C. Ball’s 1891 “Official RR standard” – performance parameters easily surpassed by any modern dive watch. Or any modern watch, come to think of it.

In terms of water resistance, the Engineer spells it out: 200m – 660 FT. The Rollie’s good to 300m. On the positive side, the Swiss-made BEHO equals the Rolex Milgauss’ magnetic protection. Which is nowhere near as shielding as any OMEGA. So there is that.


Style-wise, the intertwined RR’s on the end of the BALL’s steel second hand go for baroque. Thankfully, there’s enough minimalism to forgive the flourish. Case in point: the watchmaker’s decision not to put a Rolex-style date wart (magnifier) over the day/date window.

The BEHO’s sandwich dial is equally restrained and a more than welcome innovation for the BALL brand. It’s their first such design – a blessed shift from its ungainly predecessors’ matchstick indices layout (e.g. the BALL DeepQUEST II).

Lume shot bed

The Engineer Hydrocarbon Original’s indices are formed by underlying tritium micro gas tubes. As are the bezel’s indices, adorned with the traditional 15-minute “this is when you’ll run out of air and die” markers. The resulting illumination is bright enough to win a MacArthur genius grant.

Whereas Super-LumiNova coating fades to near invisibility after eight hours, BALL’s tritium tubes shine consistently night and day. You don’t have to charge the tubes; they’re good to glow for 24 years.

Taken as a whole, the Engineer’s light show is Phish food. Unfortunately, BALL equipped the hour and minute hands with razor thin tubes. Reading the time in the middle of night isn’t as easy as it could/should be. Times two if you’re a grumpy old man with a large prostate. Don’t ask me how I know.

BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon Original thickness

This much I can tell you: at .57″ thick and two inches lug-to-lug, BALL’s stainless steel behemoth is about as shirt cuff friendly as a court-ordered ankle bracelet.

The beast is built like a brick shit house – I thanked the Lord when a dropped BALL just missed my big toe. The BALL’s brushed and polished H-link bracelet is attached to an anti-magnetic multilayer case by two screws per attachment. The massive folding buckle closes with the finality of a bank vault.

BALL’s patented SpringLOCK (hairspring) and SpringSEAL (regulator) anti-shock systems – in-house mods to ye old ETA 2836-2 – laugh off knocked door frames and easily withstood the aforementioned inadvertent reliability test.

Rechristened RR1102-CSL, the movement’s 38-hour power reserve isn’t as impressive as the Sub’s 70-hour P.R. The BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon Original’s isn’t as accurate as the Rolex Submariner, either. But the COSC-certified BALL is accurate and isn’t a Rolex.

BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon Original final

If you can live without brand flexing, if you prefer the Rolex-free lifestyle, the BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon Original is one of the hardiest Sub wannabes sensible money can buy. If you’re a lumatic, BALL’s night light bright illumination can’t be beat. If it’s yes on all counts, the BALL’s in your court.

Model: BALL Engineer Hydrocarbon Original (ref. DM2118B-SCJ-BK)
Price: $3,349


Case material: Stainless steel
Diameter: 40mm
Thickness: 14.5mm
Lug to Lug: 51.5mm
Bracelet: Tapered stainless steel with folding buckle and extension system
Case back: Sealed, engraved
Dial color: Sunray black
Crystal: Anti-reflective convex sapphire crystal
Movement: COSC chronometer certified BALL RR1102-CSL (ETA 2836-2 base)
Water resistance: 200m/660ft
Anti-Magnetism: Mu-metal shield 80,000A/m/1000 gauss

RATINGS (out of five stars):

Design * * * * * 
At first glance, a Rolex Submariner wannabe. Second glance too. But it’s blessedly simple and the new sandwich dial really makes the grade.

Legibility * * * * 
Excellent during the day and bright AF at night. Too thin tritium tubes on the hour and minute hands ding nighttime performance on an otherwise outstandingly legible dial.

Comfort * * *
If you like a hefty watch, this is your full figured horological gal pal. If you don’t, the BEHO could double as a diving weight. The bracelet’s outside edges aren’t as well polished as they could/should be.

Overall * * * * * 
A rock solid Submariner-esque dive watch with lume aplenty, fairly priced, immediately available.

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    • I can see why you like it! Sweet piece. That’s said, I don’t think it’s comparable. If anything, your Seiko is the LARGE TYPE version of the Sub. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. And a lot right!

  1. They are oddly stingy with the glowstick widths, given that the hands are wide enough to have triangular cutouts at the tips.
    As with the new Timex Waterbury models, the Spencerian lettering on the seconds hand counterweight is an embellishment lacking harmony with the whole.

    • It is a very Baroque flourish on an otherwise utilitarian watch. They should have leaned into it and used a Califorbia dial.

      • I don’t think BALL had the balls to drop their signature move, which clearly clashes with the BELO’s otherwise minimalist aesthetic.

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