Seen from the sky, it looks like a hyphen dug into the side of the mountain. This geographical punctuation mark is the runway of Ilulissat, North Greenland’s International airport. A sum total of just one terminal, two desks and 384 metres of tarmac on which landing is a challenge even for a Dash airliner.
When taking off again, it’s impossible to resist taking one last lingering look: five kilometres on, we’re already at the foot of the icebergs. This theatre of rock and ice will be the playground for Ball Watch’s Engineer Hydrocarbon Spacemaster Orbital II. An extreme watch? That’s what the brand claims. And that is what we are going to check out – in real-life conditions. The aim: 200 km in a kayak, completely alone for two weeks, while travelling up the icebergs from Iulissat to the Eqi glacier further north.
An ultra-rugged high-performance ‘monster’
The watchmaking brief for this expedition would have put off more than one brand: a watertight, featherlight watch with dual-time and date display, a steel bracelet, resistance to negative temperatures, a self-winding chronograph movement, perfect readability, along with absolute imperviousness to magnetism – since the magnetic North Pole is not far beneath our feet… Ball Watch stepped up to the plate. Its experience in extreme watches, notably including those approved by the Navy Seals, is an established fact.
The Engineer Hydrocarbon Spacemaster Orbital II is the brand’s latest model. It is equipped with an Amortiser device comprising a protective ring surrounding the mechanical movement, and designed to absorb the energy resulting from lateral shocks. Another aspect of the Amortiser system consists of a rotor-locking mechanism, thanks to a propeller-shaped switch located on the case-back. During risky activities, this locking system helps to avoid the energy of frontal shocks being propagated up to the movement. When the rotor is locked, the watch continues to function on the power reserve of its calibre. Once the turbulence is over, unlocking the rotor re-activates the automatic movement winding. Lastly, the piece is made of titanium, a material that makes a timepiece measuring 45 mm wide and 1.8 cm thick considerably lighter.
This minimal 205-gram weight is the key asset of the Spacemaster Orbital II. On a kayak, alone on the sea amongst the icebergs, exertions must be carefully measured. Even slightly excessive weight on the forearm, multiplied by thousands of paddle strokes, could have serious consequences and even result in tendonitis.
Another major advantage is the readability provided by the 45mm diameter. To move ahead smoothly, one doesn’t want to be bending constantly to check the watch. A quick glance must be enough. Although daylight lasts around the clock in Greenland during the month of August, it is precisely due to this absence of night that one has to keep an eye on the effort expended and not be lured into expecting a night of rest that will never come.
"A quick glance must be enough".
Nights in a tent confirm this necessity: open one eye at 4 am and it will be broad daylight outside, meaning bright sunshine if the weather is good. Here too, one needs to be able to check the time at a quick glance and if needs be, return to the arms of Morpheus without giving in to Apollo…
Changes in temperature are amongst the other local pleasures to look forward to. Against bare skin, the Spacemaster Orbital II enjoys a temperate 25° C. But the kayak is a craft that is as agile as it is frail and a nearby whale, or chunk of falling iceberg causing a tsunami can result in a dunking in 2°C water just a second later. It must be noted that the Ball Watch stands up to this type of event a lot better than its owner, who has just 30 minutes to haul himself out of the fatal polar liquid element.
"All features of daily experience are a living hell for a mechanical movement"
During excursions such as these, knocks and bumps are the rule rather than the exception. A hit with a paddle, loading and pulling the kayak, inevitable falls on ice or rock, making camp: virtually all features of daily experience are a living hell for a mechanical movement. The Spacemaster Orbital II has been designed for this life and one can definitely sense this: despite being bashed around on all sides over two weeks, the original precision tolerances of the model – close to COSC chronometer standards – remained unchanged.
Ball Watch has shown praiseworthy common sense in three particular ways. The first is the GMT, which is discreetly indicated by a red hand moving across a 24-hour display. With all due respect to watchmakers with a penchant for ridiculous complications, there has never been a better way of reading a second time zone instantly and intuitively. And in the hostile polar environment, home time is the only thing connecting the explorer to his family, his nearest and dearest and whatever one imagines them to be doing peacefully at that particular moment. With this duly tested and approved method, at times when morale is tending to flag somewhat, the little red hand becomes the best friend of the isolated polar explorer…
Then, one notes the date magnifier. Once again, this might seem an obvious feature, but when the sun is shining round the clock, this window at 3 o’clock becomes an indispensable means of keeping track of the passing days!
Finally, we love the non-secured chronograph. A technical aberration? On the contrary: when you’re hard at it in arctic seas, you don’t have time to mess about unscrewing two crowns to measure a given time, such as how long it takes to cover a certain distance, or quite simply to calculate your speed in relation to the distance indicated on the map. Securely locked pushers are the privilege of armchair adventurers. In polar reality, they are heresy.
"The watch kept all its promises"
Tested and approved
After 15 days of arctic crossing, the Spacemaster Orbital II has shown itself to be an unstoppable ally. It has kept all its promises. The watch has kept running flawlessly despite outrageously hostile treatment. Ball Watch has thereby effectively demonstrated its comprehensive expertise in the realm of extreme watches.
The model has undoubtedly been designed by true explorers and athletes, thus avoiding any potential fashion or trend-related pitfalls that might impinge on its total efficiency. It is the absolute contemporary timekeeping ‘weapon’, and what’s more at an unbeatable price. In the tongue-in-cheek words of the popular saying: you can always find a model that is not so good as this one… but it will prove more expensive.