Monochrome Watches
An online magazine dedicated to fine watches

Joining the Light Side – Hands-on with the Ball Fireman Night Train DLC

| By Xavier Markl | 4 min read |
Ball Watch Fireman Night Train DLC

‘Accuracy under adverse conditions’ – Headquartered in La-Chaux-de-Fonds with American roots going as far back as 1891, Ball Watch manufactures sturdy mechanical watches with a focus on reliability and legibility. This obsession with readability has led the brand to literally incorporate light into their dials. Monochrome goes hands-on with one of the brand’s best-sellers, the Ball Fireman Night Train DLC.

History of Ball Watch

The story of Ball Watch is connected to that of the American Railroad. Before the invention of a unified time system each city had its own local time, the sun dictating the law of time. Even neighbouring cities needed to set their clock differently and as a result there were over a 100 local times in the United States. The industrial revolution opened the way for cross-country travel, prompting the introduction of standard time arrangements, specifically in accordance with the development of the rapid expanding railway networks. (read our Technical Perspective on Travel watches for more of the story).

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In 1891, after a dramatic accident caused by a defective watch, a Cleveland watchmaker, Webb C. Ball was entrusted to investigate ‘time and watch’ conditions. Web C. Ball ended up instituting standards for all watches used on the trains. He created the Time Ball Service that would go on to be used by most of the railroads in America.

A list of watches were certified by Ball – deemed to meet the official RR standards –  to ensure the accuracy for all timepieces used on the railroads to coordinate traffic and make travel safer. Originally Ball was only involved in the approval ofwatches made by various companies (specifically American makers such as Waltham or Hamilton) before it made the transition to becoming a manufacturer.

The Ball Watch Night Train DLC

Today, Ball Watch is headquartered in La-Chaux-de-Fonds and manufactures watches with a special focus on accuracy and legibility. This never-ending quest for increased legibilty led the brand to add luminous H³ gas tubes to the dial and hands of all their watches in 2001, ensuring the time can be read even in the most extreme conditions.

In a nod to the brand’s history, the Ball Fireman collection was named in tribute to the workers who would shovel coal into the steam engines’ firebox on locomotives. The Ball Night Train DLC is a sporty/versatile three-hander from this entry level collection.

Its sporty case is crafted from DLC coated stainless steel. DLC (diamond-like carbon) is applied as coating to provide hardness, wear resistance and sleekness, and of course to give some color to the steel case. The case back is bare steel and engraved with a steam train moving at speed. The crown is also non coated steel which is rather unexpected. It features a stepped bezel and the contonour of the thin elongated lugsis discreetly outlined on the case-band. Although it is 45mm in diameter, it wears rather well, being light and comfortable.

One of the main attractions of the watch is its black lacquered dial and large sword-shaped hands that feature 75 micro gas tubes that light up in three different colours. These GTLS markers have become a Ball hallmark and are indeed unique. They create three-dimensional depth and the way they light up the dial in the dark is impressive.

Ball Watch is one of the few brands to use laser-sealed gaseous tritium light sources (GTLS) – Tritium (H3) is hermetically sealed in small tubes coated with phosphorescent paint. This paint produces a glowing light when activated by the electrons emitted by tritium. The brightness and most of all the continuous illumination is indeed striking. It proves super useful in case of long periods in dark environments as it does not need to be charged from a light source to glow. They are manufactured by mb-microtec hg (Trigalight) in Switzerland – the picture below shows some of their thinnest tritium tubes.


The Ball Fireman Night Train DLC is powered by the Ball RR1103 (ETA2824) caliber with automatic winding, a work-horse with 38h power reserve and beating at 4Hz. It is worn on a sporty faceted rubber strap embossed with the brand’s logo and a pin buckle.


The Ball Fireman Night Train DLC is a versatile casual/sporty watch. Its hallmark tritium light display is impressive and useful if you need to read time in adverse conditions. More simply it is unique if you just want a watch that will stand out in the dark. Personally I would have preferred the crown to be DLC-coated too but that is not a deal breaker. Priced below 1’500 Euros, the Fireman Night Train DLC is indeed a worthy pick at this competitive price point, being affordable while offering a cool feature with its Tritium tubes.

Ball Watch Fireman Night Train DLC

Technical specifications Ball Fireman Night Train DLC

  • Case: 45mm diameter x 11.65mm thick – DLC-steel – sapphire crystal with antireflective coating – screw-in crown – water resistant to 100m.
  • Dial: 75 micro gas tubes on hour, minute, second hands and dial for night reading capability
  • Movement: Ball RR1103 with automatic winding – 38-40h power reserve – 28,800 vibrations/h – hours, minutes, central seconds and date
  • Strap: rubber strap on pin buckle
  • Price: 1’640 CHF / 1’460 EUR

2 responses

  1. A no nonsense timekeeper. In the railroad tradition an easy reader day or night and perfect for an old man like me. A favorite among all the American brands bought out by the Swiss, with Bulova coming in a close second.

  2. I recently got into this brand and oddly enough I am a train conductor. I’ve always worn dive watches because of their readability in any weather and could handle the beatings they’ll inevitably take. While I truly enjoy the few I’ve bought, I’d never be able to wear them on duty because in no time they’d be ruined cosmetically. My old Tissot Seastar 1000 steel case with the trusty ETA movement has kept great time and taken more beatings than Ike gave Tina for past 18 years, sub zero and record heat and humidity. It goes to show I believe that the construction of timepieces is more important sometimes than their movements. I’m not sure many manufacturers other than Sinn or other German watch companies would qualify for the small segment of watches never spoken of and that’s work tested. My Zenith, Rolex Datejust,Ball and Paneri watches would not last long on duty, but they are of course superior in name sake.

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