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From rail to air
The Pilot Watch Magazine
25 March 2024

The railroad standard in the sky

Ball is a luxury watch brand based in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, whose history is closely linked to that of American railroad history. It was founded in 1891 by Webb C. Ball in Cleveland, Ohio. The brand is one of the most respected and established watch manufacturers, especially in the United States. While Ball was still a traditional family business until the 1990s, it is now owned by Asia Commercial Holdings Ltd. in Hong Kong.

From an original jewelry store, Ball establishes his watch manufacturing business. He initially began by rebuilding movements from other American manufacturers, such as Hamilton and Waltham. Later, he devoted himself to building his own extremely precise timepieces.

Every detail, from the shape of the hands to the style of the numerals, was determined by the founder in his quest for precision in timekeeping.


The standard for precise timepieces

Time and again, serious accidents occur on the fledgling U.S. railroad network due to inaccurate timekeeping. This was the case in 1891, when a train driver’s watch was four minutes too slow, causing two trains to run head-on into each other. Eight people lost their lives in this disaster.

As a result, Webb C. Ball, who enjoys an excellent reputation due to his great expertise in timekeeping, is commissioned by railroad company officials and members of the U.S. Congress to develop a binding standard for reliably functioning railroad chronometers in the format of a pocket watch. Ball’s standards for the manufacture of precise timepieces not only helped to prevent further accidents, they were also the inspiration for the COSC certification still in use today – the testing of an original Swiss chronometer confirmed by a certificate from the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres, which places particularly high demands on its quality and accuracy.

Ball stays on the ball

From the very beginning, Ball watches have been equally popular with men and women. Already at the turn of the century, accuracy and reliability are the great trademarks of Ball pocket watches. Later, in the 1920s, wristwatches become popular. Ball recognizes this trend and serves the market with a variety of models. In the following decades, Ball continues to develop its collections. And yet, to this day, every Ball watch also reflects a little bit of the look and feel of the original railroad watch – whether it’s a luxury watch, a sports watch or, of course, a pilot’s watch.

More from Ball

More information at

H. Moser & Cie.
H. Moser & Cie.

H. Moser & Cie.

Works of art with great attention to detail

OW Rallychron precision racing chronograph

OW Rallychron precision racing chronograph

A motorsport timepiece for pilots too