There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of the Navy Experimental Diving Unit. It’s not the most well-publicised arm of the American armed forces, despite being one of the most critical. It is, in its own words, “The most credible and respected research, development, and test and evaluation centre for diving as well as the focal point of leadership for biomedical and bioengineering solutions for undersea military operations.”
In short, they are the dog’s bollocks of US Navy tech, the Top Gun of the deep if you will. And while there are obviously a good number of naval forces in the world that require the best equipment, these guys go one step further: they build that equipment.
So, if you were looking for a partner to help create a serious, boundary-pushing, deep-defying diving watch, that’s where I’d start. Watchmakers can keep a movement ticking, but when it comes to sealed environments on the ocean floor, best bring in an expert – which is precisely what Ball Watches has been doing since 2012.
There’s a touch more synergy than that of course; back in the 19th century, Ball (back when it was a US brand) was in good part responsible for the chronometric standards that helped lay down the railroad system. The NEDU established the vital decompression tables used by divers across the world. Both have helped solidify standards that we couldn’t do without today.
Needless to say then, when the first joint timepiece, developed in collaboration between the engineers at the NEDU and Ball’s own watchmakers, it caused a splash. And then sank to the bottom of the ocean where it kept time nicely at crushing depths. Now, the latest, enhanced edition of the watch is here and the Engineer Hydrocarbon NEDU is as uncompromising as ever.
You can tell at a chance that the Ball NEDU is a performance timepiece. There’s no ornamentation or excess finishing, just the kind of form from function, technical look of a serious instrument. The most striking aspect of that is the bezel, which is of course a unidirectional rotating number, but one with dramatic contours developed to be gripped in a full diving suit if necessary.
A mix of chromed ceramic for hardness, corrosion resistance and all-round survivability, oversized numerals for immediate legibility and bright luminous paint applied directly to the material, it proves that there’s a lot more to a diving bezel than the number of clicks. Which in this case, incidentally, is 120.
What’s less noticeable is that the case also has two chamfers cut into the flange supporting the bezel, which helps drain out any water that gets trapped between the two. It’s the kind of touch only the engineers at NEDU likely would have thought of.
Of course, the bezel is just one of the necessary tenets of a professional diving watch, the most obvious one being depth. Fortunately, the NEDU goes above and beyond there, with a solid 600m water resistance, far above the usual benchmark of 300m – and that’s despite it being a chronograph. Add in Ball’s patented automatic helium escape valve for saturation diving and its (also patented) crown protection system, and you have a watch that can survive almost anything.
It’s also a substantial chunk of metal. Despite being 42mm across, it looks and feels a good deal bigger. Not over-the-top, just perhaps larger than my wrist can get away with. Fortunately, that’s been alleviated a little by the tapered titanium case. It’s still not a featherweight, but it’s easily wearable, even if you’re more desk-diver than naval specialist.
The last tenet of professional diving is readability and the fact that the NEDU is a Ball should give some indication that that’s not a problem here. The watchmaker’s known for its H3 tritium gas tubes, which glow like neon. They’re 100 times more effective than luminous paints; just compare them to the bezel.
Powering all of those diver-slanted innovations is Ball’s RR1042-C automatic movement, a reliable COSCcertified calibre with a 12-hour chronograph. It’s solid, precise and protected from shocks and magnetic fields that would put less intensely-engineered timepieces back into the workshop – and therefore its wearers, most likely, into the hospital. Or worse.
Sure, the Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon NEDU isn’t the most handsome watch in the world; the only concession to style is the new, admittedly lovely, gradient blue dial, which does little to dent its utilitarian feel. But that’s not the point. The watch has been developed as a deep-sea instrument, an unassailable underwater timekeeper.
If the specs sheet – and various patents – weren’t enough to prove that, the endorsement and involvement of arguably the most demanding diving institution in the world should be.
Price & Specs:
Model: BALL Watch Engineer Hydrocarbon NEDU
Ref: DC3026A-S4C-BK (black dial)
DC3026A-S3C-BE (gradient blue dial)
DC3026A-S6C-BE (blue dial)
Case/Dial: 42mm diameter x 17.3mm thickness, titanium
Water resistance: 600m (60 bar)
Movement: Calibre BALL RR1402-C, automatic, chronometer certified COSC
Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 42h
Functions: Hours, minutes, subsidiary seconds, day and date, chronograph
Strap: Stainless steel and titanium bracelet or rubber strap with standard buckle
Available at BALL Watch.