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REVIEW: The Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon Magnate>>>>>>>

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Published on 10-01-2009 06:36 AM

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Review of the Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon Magnate
By: John B. Holbrook, II

For the past couple of years, I've wanted to pick up a Ball watch, but really struggled with the question of "which one?" I determined that my favorite Ball Watch model (which I had the opportunity to sample "in the metal" at my local Authorized Dealer) was/is the Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon Magnate (so named after the US railroad "magnates" of years past). Unfortunately, the Magnate was discontinued not long after its introduction. So while they're not impossible to find, it will take some patience to find one. Last week, I finally got the opportunity to pick one up new in the box. Without further adieu, here's a photos of my new Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon Magnate:

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If I had to describe the styling of the Magnate, I'd call it a hybrid between a Rolex and a Panerai, without being overly derivative of either. Which is interesting to me because the Magnate succeeds in being an extremely distinctive watch - and let me emphasize that designing a watch which is truly both distinctive and attractive is exceedingly difficult to do. The Magnate has a 40mm case (not including the crown) - a very comfortable size for me as I'm a shorter guy and anything much over 40mm just doesn't look right on me. The case has an attractive mix of both brushed and polished finishes, with a smooth polished bezel - the feature which separates the Magnate from the rest of the Hydrocarbon line which more typically uses a rotating diver style bezel. The watch is water resistant to 300m, and has a lovely case back engraving of a submarine which signifies the diving theme of the Hydrocarbon line for Ball. Unique to the hydrocarbon is the large crown lock which has to be flipped open before the crown can be unscrewed. One can debate the true value this lock down system provides in water resistance. I tend to look at it as more "dummy proofing" - to whatever degree it's easy to overlook an unscrewed traditional crown prior to entering the water, there's no mistaking that a Ball Hydrocarbon crown is not properly screwed down. Thus, the chance of a costly accident is that much more reduced. Of course, it also provides some additionally distinctive styling to the Hydrocarbon line. Here are a couple of photos where you can see the crown lock system, as well as the Magnate's case back engraving:

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Another "over engineered" aspect of the Hydrocarbon line is the double screw attachment where the bracelet attaches to the Hydrocarbon case. I'm sure the design is quite secure, but this design does limit the user to straps and bracelets made to accommodate it for a proper fit. Ball does make a rubber strap for the Hydrocarbon line (which is included with some of their watches, but not the Magnate). But no leather strap options are available that I'm aware of, which is a bit of a letdown. While I'm not instantly attracted to the Panerai style, I've always found the sub-hobby of strap collecting for Panerai watches interesting - something I wish I could do with my Magnate, but can't. Here's a photo of the Magnate case which shows the twin screws which secure the bracelet:

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The Magnate bracelet is a thing of beauty - you simply can't find a higher quality, better designed bracelet at this price point from other manufacturers. The stainless steel bracelet is completely solid in construction - no hollow links to be found. And the adjustable links are secured with screws and not friction pins. The majority of watch enthusiasts just prefer adjustable links with screws - friction pins links are less expensive, and you certainly don't hear about bracelets with friction pins failing, but screws are so much easier to work with. I had this bracelet sized in less than five minutes with zero frustration. Of equal quality to the bracelet is the two-button "hidden" clasp found on the Magnate. Everything about the design and execution is well done - right down to the logo engraved on the outside of the clasp, and again in the deployant. Again, the execution here is a little different as compared to the typical hydrocarbon clasp which as a more traditional flip lock style in most of the other models. Absent on the Magnate is as dive suit extension in the clasp, or even a fine adjustment for size (instead the bracelet has a removable "half-link.). But the Magnate bracelet has a much slimmer, dressier profile with its hidden clasp - I really like it. This thick, robust bracelet combined with the case makes for some serious heft though - if you don't like a heavier watch, look elsewhere.

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The Hydrocarbon Magnate is powered by the tried-and-true ETA 2892. When one considers the best three-hand watch movements ever made, the ETA 2892 is on most watch enthusiast’s short list - mine included. It's inclusion in the Magnate was no small reason why I wanted the watch. The ETA 2892 is a mechanical, self-winding movement with 21 jewels, a balance wheel which vibrates at a speed of 28,800 BPH, and a power reserve of about 42 hours when fully wound. And while the Magnate movement is not COSC certified, I did find that this example runs within COSC specifications - it seems to run at about -3 per day according to my Orbita Watch Tester:

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The decision between the three dial choices available for the Magnate (black, blue, white) isn't an easy one. The first example I ever saw at my local Ball authorized dealer had the white dial, which I fell in love with. The black dial wasn't my first choice, but I took it when a white dial choice wasn't available for me. But I've also grown quite fond of the black dial. Regardless of the color choice, the Magnate has excellent legibility and contrast, and of course has an abundant number of Ball's signature tritium gas tubes as you can see in this photo:

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The dial is protected by a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, which has an anti-reflective coating applied to the underside of the crystal. Even the cyclops bubble over the date is AR coated and greatly improves legibility - a feature even Rolex has only begun implementing in recent years.

The retail price of the Ball Hydrocarbon Magnate (if you can find any examples left of this discontinued model) is $1699.00. That puts the watch roughly in the same price range as some functionally comparable Tag Heuer watches, and about half the cost of many comparable Omega models. Against such comparable models I've owned or tested, the Magnate would be my first choice personally speaking - particularly when comparing the design and build quality of the bracelet. I do anticipate acquiring more Ball watches based on what I'm seeing from this young but impressive company.

Support WATCH TALK FORUMS by purchasing the Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon Magnate from one of the authorized dealers who advertise in the Ball Forum of WATCH TALK FORUMS!
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**Photos & Text Copyright 2009 WATCH TALK FORUMS. No part of this report can be reproduced outside of WATCH TALK FORUMS without the expressed permission of John B. Holbrook, II.

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REVIEW: The Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon Magnate>>>>>>>
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