Watch Snob on GMTs and Trying Not to Be Rolex
Watch Snob on Two GMTs and an Insider’s Movement Question
Value vs Brand
I’ve come to admire your column, and the unbiased insights you provide. As a watch enthusiast, I’m torn between value vs. brand.
Ball has released the Roadmaster Marine GMT. This is a GMT with Day/Date, that is protected with the Amortizer system. Cosmetically, it looks great in the 40mm case with Ceramic bezel.
How does this stack up on your list? Compared to a similarly priced Longines or Tag, or Oris. I just want to wear a watch that I’m confident is worth the thousands it costs.
As always, your recommendation is very much appreciated.
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Ball watches have a rather specific identity, which for many years has meant timepieces built around tritium gas-tube technology. Tritium, as you are undoubtedly aware if you are looking at Ball watches and considering owning one, is a radioactive substance — an isotope of hydrogen, in fact — which when combined with the appropriate materials, can produce a luminous material. This was once used to paint dial markers and watch hands, however tritium, while safer than radium, is still a radioactive substance and moreover, has a tendency to fade over time, so the watch industry in general has passed on to using Super-LumiNova and the like.
Ball, rather than using tritium-based paint, uses tritium gas confined to small tubes, which are lined with additional substances which phosphoresce. The same basic disadvantage exists in Ball’s watches as in any watch that uses tritium, which is that the material will eventually need to be replaced (tritium decays at a half-life of twelve years) but while it is in its youth it glows consistently and brightly, without needing to be charged by light.
The watches made by Ball have never particularly appealed to me personally, but on the admittedly rare occasions on which I’ve had a chance to actually see one they have struck me as very well made, especially for the asking price, if a bit over-large and a bit heavy. Still, the substantial cases, bracelets, and technical features are reasonably compelling especially relative to some of their competition. I suppose the tritium decay might be theoretically troubling, and practically troubling if Ball for some reason fails, and no one can be found to replace the gas tubes, but to some extent that could be said of almost any modern watch.
A Lange Movement
Thank you for your column, which has been a wonderful source of education and entertainment for me over the years.
My question pertains to the caliber L901.2 movement that powers the first generation of Grand Lange 1 watches (e.g., ref. 115.021). Specifically, what distinguishes this movement from the original caliber L901.0? There is abundant information available on the evolution of Lange 1 movements, including those that added complications to the L901.0 base, but I have been unable to find any specific information on the L901.2 (other than dimensions and specifications in online watch databases that appear identical to those of the L901.0).
My best guess is that the difference relates to maintaining balance in the dial layout of the larger watch (perhaps maintaining the golden ratio?). I assume that there must be some difference to warrant the assignment of a new designator, but perhaps this assumption is incorrect.
I understand that my question might not present broad enough interest for publication, but I would appreciate any knowledge that you would be willing to share.
If there is anything that we all should embrace wholeheartedly with respect to the hobby, it is that there is no detail too minute nor insignificant to investigate. After all, this is a field where the most serious enthusiasts can be swayed to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars over what, to a non-initiate, are apparently invisible differences in something as trivial as a dial typeface or color, and at least you have demonstrated that it is possible to be engaged in a love of watchmaking and actually care about something more than cosmetics.
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Were there more of your ilk, good sir, it would make the hobby a far richer one than what it has become as it has gained in popularity — a deplorable mob, by and large, of surly, reflexively hostile and reliably strident individuals who would rather defend a mistaken or uninformed opinion to the death, than be educated. In other words a more or less exact reflection of the general state of public discourse in our time.
I am not entirely sure why Lange chose to give the movement in the first version of the Grand Lange 1, which came out in 2003, a different caliber designation because as far as I can remember the L901.0 and L901.2 are exactly the same movement — Lange simply took the existing Lange 1 movement and put it in a slightly larger case. This is partly (again, this is from personal recollection) the reason for the redesigned, and more aggressively overlapping dials on the 2003 Grande Lange 1. The Grande Lange 1 did not get a really new movement, until the L095.1 in 2012, which had among other things, a single large mainspring barrel rather than the double barrels in the L.901.2.
Picking the Right GMT
Last I wrote, I was worried about my too-narrow taste, which leans towards simple, classic, less sporty watches. At that point I was ready to sign my watch funds over to the folks at JLC.
While my taste hasn’t changed, my needs have —I’ve come to need (want) a GMT, but most GMT watches tend to be quite large. For 38mm or below, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of interesting options (well, the Patek world time is perfect, but about 10X my budget). Anything that comes to mind for you – new or vintage?
Yes, it is a perennial problem; it is difficult to find a GMT watch that does not want to ape, either in actual design details, or in spirit, the GMT Master II. Patek as you say makes a dual time zone watch that is a lovely and straightforward alternative but of course as with anything Patek does, especially nowadays, you are paying at least as much — probably more — for the privilege of having a Patek on your wrist, as you do for actual watchmaking. Montblanc used to do a two time zone watch in the Heritage Chronometrie collection that wasn’t bad at all but it’s discontinued, or at least so it seems (and I am not entirely sure it was 38mm or less, in any case).
Right now the best solution I can think of for you is a bit larger than 38mm but it is a wonderful watch which has lately achieved something of a cult status amongst watch enthusiasts — it is the ivory dial Grand Seiko GMT, model SBGM221. It is 39.5mm in diameter but I urge you to not let that dissuade you from looking out for one and trying one on if the opportunity presents itself. It is one of the best offerings that Grand Seiko currently makes and is available for $4600, which is a remarkable bargain for one of the nicest, non-sports, non-Rolex GMT aping GMT watches anyone has ever made.
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