Ariel Adams & I Discuss the BALL Watch Engineer II Marvelight
Ariel Adams is the founder of aBlogtoWatch and a writes about luxury watches for Forbes. A few weeks ago we had the idea to do a post where we exchange a few emails about a watch we both find interesting. First up is the Engineer II Marvelight.
Rob: Ariel, I remember seeing the Ball Marvelight watch with you at Baselworld 2014. We were sitting next to each other and you seemed to pick it up before anything else. You said it reminded you of a Rolex Datejust and that it was a sort of good alternative. What did you mean by that? What made you take interest in this particular Ball watch?
Ariel Adams' wristshot of the silver dial Marvelight, the "T25" model taken at Baselworld 2014
Ariel: I suppose it was the first new Ball watch I saw and I always seem to be interested in their dressier watches. The Marvelight isn't a dress watch per se, but it's more akin to a Rolex Datejust that works for casual to dressy attire. If you think about it, the Datejust is neither a sport watch or dress watch. Anyhow, I like the idea of a conservative "do anything" watch, and Ball makes a lot of those. I liked the thick flatter tritium gas tubes that I noticed on the dial, and I probably picked up the watch to examine the dial legibility and face better. Lots of brands from Ball to Omega aim for Rolex alternatives that are often less expensive and, in many instances, offer extra functionality. Maybe I am just trying to really define the type of watch a Rolex Datejust is by paying attention to all the watches that are in its space.
Rob: I like the look and shape of the Marvelight's tubes as well. You may find it interesting that the version that shipped to the U.S. has even bigger tubes than the model you saw at BaselWorld. Here are some pictures of the Marvelight version that shipped to Topper and other U.S. Retailers. Do you feel like the bigger tubes affect the watch's aesthetic? On a related note, are you surprised that more brands haven't followed Ball's lead and switched over from Superluminova to tritium? Do you think it has anything to do with not wanting to have to make different models for different countries and their respective allowable thresholds of tritium?
The U.S. model of the Marvelight features tubes of similar proportion but are significantly taller.
A close up of the taller tubes of The U.S. Market version of the Marvelight.
Ariel: Your question about why more brands don't use tritium gas tubes for illumination is valid. I don't know the answer, but I am glad that Ball has decided that it works for them and their line of higher-end pieces compared to most of the other watches out there with tritium. I think the tubes are very handy but perhaps the Swiss watch industry thinks they are too sporty and it's difficult to design around them. A good example are the hands with tubes in them. I understand the tubes add considerable height and weight to the hands which puts constraints on design. Frankly, I would like for them to go further with tritium hand design as those are never as cool as the hour markers. You also mentioned the legal element which has a lot do with using tritium. In addition to Japan and Canada, I think France has issues with tritium. They might altogether ban it if I am not mistaken. So brands that use it are limiting their sales to a degree. Good thing the US allows the T permit watches with extra gas! The Marvelight is a handsome watch, and certainly more suitable for business attire when compared to a Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon.
The tritium tubes of the Marvelight require extra clearance. Here you can see the extra space between the second hand, minute hand, and hour hand.
Rob: You're absolutely right about how tritium tubes affect the height of the watch. If Ball had a thin dress watch that could end up at around 8mm using Superluminova, the switch to small round tritium tubes would add at least a few mm of thickness due to the required extra spacing. If they used some of the taller tubes like the Marvelight hour markers we've been discussing, the spacing would be greater and design altering. Still, you bring up a good point that there hasn't been a lot of innovation for tritium tubes on the hands over the past several years. However, if anyone's going to think of a cool new way to do it, there's a good chance it will be Ball's CTO Philippe Antille. Maybe he will come out with a watch with dauphine hands and a thin tube in a new shape that is suited for that hand style in years to come. Any final thoughts on the Marvelight?
Ariel: Like the Datejust II, it's a watch that's hard to categorize. You can call it a dressy sport watch, but I'm not sure that really meaningfully defines it for watch consumers. While I find watches like the Marvelight and other "dress" watches with tritium gas tubes to be interesting, I am more interested in sport watches with tritium gas tubes. A Ball Hydrocarbon Engineer with its squared Arabic numerals made from tritium gas tubes for me makes a lot more sense than trying to include the added utility, but also bulk of gas tubes into a "suit watch" which is supposed to be elegant. Frederique Constant has some watches like that, and while I am curious about them, I don't know that I would buy them over something sportier. Then again, I am the type of person who likes the idea of having many watches for various purposes. The Marvelight reaches for more versatility, which as a hybrid between casual and dressy could work well for those with smaller collections.
The Marvelight (left) features 15 tubes with 12 extremely large, while the Spacemaster X-Lume features 80 smaller tubes. Ariel is more drawn to the Ball watches that feature more intricate lume patterns.
Rob: I think it would also work well for those who might have large collections, but want to be able to wear the same watch at work that they do for their sport activities. Thanks for the emails Ariel, I hope those who look at the Topper Blog and read Watchuseek find the discussion interesting.