The folks at Ballast are on a mission to reboot the submarine-themed brand, adding a host of new models to their line up like the Trafalgar BL-3133-02. The watch will officially debut at next month's JCK Show in Las Vegas in June, but sent me one early to put it through its paces, and I'm glad they did, as the watch incorporates a unique mechanism that I was dying to try.
I first encountered Ballast in July 2014 when I reviewed the Trafalgar Dress GMT. The Trafalgar watches are named for the famed British nuclear submarines, and incorporate a fanciful interpretation of military chic. I recall marveling at its Byzantine aesthetics while dropping gratuitous references to "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea." I'll spare you the Jules Verne this time, but know that the new Trafalgar picks up that same steampunk theme and then dials it up to 11. It is by no means subtle. On its left side is a plaque proclaiming the motto of the Royal Navy Submarine Service: "We Come Unseen." With this watch, that is hardly likely.
It starts with a 46.5mm case (not including the canteen) that is 14mm thick. Relatively short and steeply angled lugs manage to keep overall length to 54mm. This imposing case wears three distinct finishes. The main body is brushed IP rose gold with a polished beveled edge that runs lug-to-lug. The side plaque and bezel grip are a high gloss IP black, and the bezel insert is brushed stainless steel. The tri-color motif even extends to the canteen guard, which sports a stainless cap, black arm, and rose gold hinges. It is a busy affair that presents some interesting contrasts. I rather like the way the slim steel bezel insert is sandwiched between its black grip and the dramatic turbine-like rose gold rehaut, which creates the illusion of a much larger structure. Overall fit and finish are excellent, with none of the unfinished edges or uncomfortably sharp corners I have encountered on some other watches lately.
The dial is equally bold. White luminant and grainy black surfaces peek through cutaways in the upper layer. I love the fact that the big Ballast logo at 9 o'clock is also cut away and lumed. I am not generally a fan of oversize logos, but if you are going to place one on your dial, you might as well go all out and make it a design feature. It looks particularly cool at night. A channel exposes three-quarters of the date wheel for reasons that will become apparent soon. Applied rose gold numbers mark the 12 and 6 o'clock positions. Everything about it is big, filling the entirety of the space. Fortunately, the polished, pencil-shaped hands are large as well, extending to graze their markers. A red-tipped, gloss black second hand caps it off.
Turning the watch over reveals a display window etched with a ghostly Ballast logo, and a Miyota 8215. This reliable automatic movement has 21 jewels, a 40+ hour power reserve, and 21.6k bph vibration rate, but this old news for us watch nerds. The real fun is in its "Patented Bezel Control Engineering." To set the watch, unscrew the canteen cap and push the button beneath. This causes a smooth, low profile button at 3 o'clock to spring forth. You now turn the bezel to set the date and see that ring of numbers respond. Press the pusher again, and use the bezel to set the time. Finally, press the 3 o'clock button flush and wind the mechanism by turning the bezel counter-clockwise. It sounds complicated but makes more sense when you see it in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-DfE656fno.
This new approach is all very cool, but a bit of a head scratcher. Arguably, bezel control could make setting easier if you were wearing gloves, but it also means that you cannot use the bezel for timing. Besides, nautical allusions aside, the Trafalgar is more fashion statement than tool watch. A double-domed sapphire crystal and 100m water resistance provide ample, but not scuba worthy, protection, and frankly, you wouldn't want to mess up all that fancy finishing by doing anything too rough. Viewed as a purely aesthetic feature, the system does eliminate the crown so using a more discrete 4 o'clock pusher would streamline the case, but on the Trafalgar, this advantage is undone by the canteen lock. All said and done, bezel control is just a nifty curiosity on this watch, but it has the potential to offer more.
Ballast lavished a great deal of attention on the Trafalgar, and they did not spare the strap. It is 22mm wide and made of brown Italian buffalo hide leather that has fabulous grain and tone. It is brown, edged in black, and accented with tonal X stitching. The very PAMesque buckle is rose gold and decorated with a submarine. Theis trap looks fabulous and its rugged leather complements and balances the intricate head.
The Trafalgar is big, and this isn't a matter of perception or illusion. It's just a beast. A 46.5mm wide case is pretty imposing in and of itself, but factoring in the canteen lock tips the watch over 50mm and that my friends, is too much for The Time Bum's slender 6.5" wrist. What can I say? I am just not a big dude. Were I 3" taller and 50 lbs heavier, I might pull it off, but as I am not, the watch makes me look like a Flava Flav wannabe. Clearly, it is a timepiece for a much bigger man.
The Trafalgar is currently listed on the Ballast web site for $499 and should be ready for release next month. While its size and flash may not be to everyone's taste, the watch is nicely finished, undeniably eye-grabbing, and the bezel control function is truly unique.
Pro: Brash looks, odd setting mechanism.
Con: Brash looks, odd setting mechanism.
Sum: Love it or hate it, this one won't go unnoticed.