Even with a cluster of watch collections in its catalogue, with models addressing aviation, motorsport and marine concerns, the name ‘Bell & Ross’ immediately conjures up images of its BR 0 models. This distinctive design, with its round-dial-in-a-square-case format, has become the signature range, its novelty value undiminished because it still looks fresh well into its second decade.
Oft-admired (and oft-copied), it now dominates the company’s output, and a plethora of new looks and concepts attests to the platform’s flexibility, as well as to Bell & Ross’ ingenuity. Blue dials, gold models, and new chronographs (plus a tourbillon in the Renault Sport) series, the choice is vast among the timepieces unveiled at Baselworld 2019, possibly to the dismay of collectors who want to own everything in each of the BR 0 subdivisions.
Those acquisitive brand enthusiasts will have to move quickly for the most arresting of the limited editions, the eye-catching BR 03-92 MA-1 Flight Jacket. Issued in a run of only 999 examples, this is a base model in that it only shows hours, minutes, seconds and date, but its inspiration is the garment that provided the name.
They chose a colour scheme to match the classic MA-1 ‘bomber’ jacket of 1958, initially issued to US Air Force pilots, but for decades a fashion item for civilians, from bikers to catwalk models and, of late, online influencers. Think: Steve McQueen, Tom Cruise, Ryan Gosling in Drive and too many other icons to name, both real and fictional, who were seduced by the look.
To make reference to both the dark outer fabric and the vivid emergency lining of this reversible garment, the company has housed its BR-CAL.302 automatic movement in a matte khaki-coloured 42mm ceramic case. Its sandwich dial consists of two overlapping inserts with the khaki upper insert’s numerals and indices drilled through to expose the lower backing plate in orange Super-LumiNova®, with its bold matching hands. Completing the look are the straps, in reversible khaki/orange calfskin leather and a synthetic fabric.
A personal favourite for this writer is the diver’s watch in the BR 0 family, each of which is water-resistant to 300m and meets ISO 6425 standards. Square-cased diving watches remain rarities, but Bell & Ross applied the mandatory rotating bezel to the shape with an ingenious juggling of the case and bezel dimensions. Carefully crafted, the serrated edge of the bezel extends just far enough beyond the case edge to provide grip. Wisely, they ensured that it does not overlap too far, which might cause it to get caught on an obstruction.
This year, two new variants join the BR 03 Diver series: the Black Matte and the Green Bronze. Both feature the BR-CAL.302 automatic movement in a 42mm case, black ceramic for the former and bronze for the latter. As with all BR 03 Divers, they employ unidirectional rotating ceramic bezels with 60-minute scales, the Bronze’s in on-point, ultra-fashionable green, as is its dial. The Black Matte comes with black rubber and woven black synthetic fabric straps, while the Bronze is supplied with khaki calfskin leather and black rubber straps.
Bell & Ross hasn’t forgotten its circular, vintage-inspired roots. Following the wildly successful Bellytanker in steel is the BR V2-94 Bellytanker Bronze. Limited to 999 pieces, it houses a BR-CAL.301 automatic movement with hours, minutes, small seconds at three o’clock, date and chronograph, with 30-minute timer at nine o’clock and central chronograph seconds. Its 41mm case is made of CuAI7Si2 bronze, offset by the black dial and bezel and black leather strap.
Even more cognisant of Bell & Ross’ early, round-case days is the new line-up’s most discreet (and affordable) entry. The BR V2-92 Military Beige oozes nostalgia because it reminds us of all the design essentials that defined Bell & Ross’ intent from its very origins. This is a serious tool watch in every way, a time/date-only three-hander with steel case, superlegible dial and rotating bezel for marking elapsed time or synchronisation, but with a style that satisfies a certain kind of desire: a vintage look in a modern timepiece.
Bell & Ross was ahead of the curve in this area, and has always featured models which employ the details that truly set period timepieces apart – specifically military and tool watches of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s – plus a certain panache, which makes them the ideal choice for those who prefer not to wear fragile 60-year-old wristwatches on a daily basis. The sand-coloured dial carries black numerals in the cleanest of fonts, with hours and minutes indicated by dagger hands, the sweep seconds hand tipped in red.
Water-resistant to 100m, the 41mm Military Beige is offered with a steel bracelet or a colour-coordinated black over/under fabric strap with a beige stripe. As is Bell & Ross’ speciality, it looks like it could have been issued a half-century ago. OK, OK, so the watch world is absolutely bursting with revived 1960s diving watches, but – as with Italian red wines, white truffles or cashews – the more, the merrier. And this one is a knockout. Find out more at Bell & Ross’ website.