Bell & Ross has had a strong aviation identity since the beginning, when you worked with aeronautical socialists on your first creations. Has the focus shifted since then?
The foundations of the brand will always be stemmed in aviation, however, the focus has expanded rather than shifted. This has also been enhanced last year with our campaign tagline, #watchbeyond. The visual concept of this advertising campaign plunges us into the world of the professionals, who work under extreme conditions, where a watch is not only a tool serving their missions but also an ally at every moment. Our ethos is ‘search of extremes’ which means to push your boundaries. We remain faithful to our origin, however, we are also eager to always overcome new challenges, all the while looking to new areas such as Formula One and diving.
All the professions you cater to, while wildly different, are extreme in some sort of way. This comes with its own set of challenges as to how resilient your watches need to be. Why does this appeal to you?
Our watches have always been designed to be functional, therefore it is only natural that they will be resilient to our customer, who is an adventurer in his or her own field. As a brand we really enjoy pushing our own boundaries in design, therefore experimenting with different materials has always come naturally. We take inspiration from several areas – including the military – and our partnership with the Renault Sport Formula One team. The materials that have been used in the RS17 collection are all representative of the materials used on the team’s racing car.
The design focus of your pieces is very much utilitarian, however, your watches aren’t just functional – they are also very attractive pieces of design. How do you manage to find that essential balance?
Design is an extremely important factor to us. We are well-known for the originality and the singularity of our product. It was our Instrument BR01 models that created the most amount of conversation all those years ago, because we created something that was completely different. When wearing a BR01 or BR03, you feel like you have a piece of cockpit on your wrist – it makes people dream. Our designs have always been influenced by the reinterpretation of military watch design history. We are now delving into the past even more to round out our collection. The challenge with this of course lies in our need to remain faithful to present day watch-making standards, all the while adapting them to Bell & Ross design principles. With a modern design, it represents utility in its simplest form and conjures the essence of the original models. We constantly try to do the unexpected when it comes to the Bell & Ross marque, and are always testing ourselves when it comes to our design – and our fans seem to love this.
So what would you say are the key design cornerstones of a Bell & Ross watch?
Our motto is to create functional design that cuts straight to the essentials, with no space for the superfluous. Thus, the design must fit perfectly into technical specifications and not the other way round… We develop our creations based on a key principle, that every detail has its own meaning and function. To design and manufacture watches, the designer adheres to precise specifications, focusing above all on the needs and requirements of professional users. Functionality is key, and minimalism is vital. All of our watches are therefore designed according to four fundamental principles necessary for the completion of missions under extreme conditions for any professional: legibility, functionality, precision and water-resistance.
What limitations are there when it comes to design?
It can be, for example, a restriction in terms of the use of some particular materials. We must make sure that the latter will be hypoallergenic and also that it must not harm the consumer’s skin and comfort.
What comes first – the design or the inner workings?
Above all, form must follow function! Each detail has a purpose and a function. Our timepieces perfectly illustrate this motto which is the founding axiom of design theory. The design is intended primarily to serve the function and aesthetics and is a result of this approach. When drawing a watch, I think about the functions needed by men in extreme situations or professions… A good watch always starts with a precise function. It needs to answer to a specific professional need.
Is there anything you can’t do when it comes to design?
We always want to push ourselves forward, so we would never rule anything out. However, we are not looking to collaborate with brands in the fashion and lifestyle arena, but that is more of a choice rather than the fact that we can’t do it. We are never considering the trends. Instead we always strive to develop watches that serve a purpose.
What challenges have you had to face since you began?
The main challenge for Bell & Ross is to design something new every year, being singular yet remaining faithful to the brand and its vision. The only way to make sure that we are not deviating is to always go to the original objective and vision: create watches for professionals of the extreme that answer to their needs. Production is always a challenge as well, because sometimes what I imagine ends up being tricky to produce, or it has simply never been done before. In those cases I like to rely on our team of experts to help me find the solutions. So far we have always found different ways of producing pieces without compromising on the original idea.
How important is it to you to keep creating pieces that are innovative and original?
This is most essential to us as we are a young and extremely innovative brand that wants to break down the walls of traditional watch design. It’s always important for us to test ourselves in terms of design as well, and make sure we are taking the consumer with us on this fascinating journey.
Who do you tend to see as your nearest competitors?
Brands like Tag Heuer, Panerai, IWC, Breitling, Omega and Hublot all compete with us, but on different levels. Some are due to price and some are due to the consumer’s taste. However, we have a very distinct look, and therefore we stand out from a lot of other brands.
Where do you get the ideas for your new watches?
I think about the functions needed by wearers in extreme situations or professions. We draw our main inspiration from the history of aviation and the military specifications which accompany it. However, it is always interesting for us to put our expertise to use in another field, pushing our limits in both creativity and technical ability. As the creative director of Bell & Ross, I am totally involved in all aspects of the creative process of each timepiece. But we work as a team and this is what I call the combination of expertise. We use the combined skills and know-how of master watchmakers, engineers, professional users and designers to refine each watch design. My belief in functionalist design from Scandinavia, Germany and Denmark, and the heritage of the Bauhaus school, also strongly influences my culture and work.
What are you planning for your next watch?
One of the concepts we have for 2018 really completes a range of watches from different areas of the collection. It will be the final piece in the puzzle – so watch this space.
Which is your favourite model and why?
I would say the iconic BR03 Black Ceramic, the square one with the chronograph movement. It’s the pinnacle of functional design and I think that the black case gives our watches an ‘elegant’ style that I believe is timeless. It’s also one that can be worn in all situations.
Do you collect watches? Which brand would you wear aside from your own?
I like the Santos Dumont of Cartier, or the Urwerk watches are absolutely awesome. Jacquet-Droz is a must for me because it is extremely refi ned simplicity. I also like a Porsche timepiece from the Eighties. It is perfect in terms of functionalist design, minimalism and it is this that makes it timeless.
What would you be doing if not this?
I would probably work in the automotive industry.
BRUNO ON THE WATCHES
One of my proudest achievements remains the creation of our iconic timepiece, the Instrument BR01. It comes from the simple idea to turn a cockpit instrument panel clock into a wrist watch – ‘from the cockpit to the wrist’. What one may not know is that the black case developed for this model is a direct inspiration from the dashboards and tools used in planes, especially military planes. Indeed, most dashboards are black to minimise any light reflection and thereby optimise the readability of all the instruments and dials. Bell & Ross uses black cases with the same objective. It increases the legibility of the dial but at the same time, the black case confers an elegant style to the timepiece.
Some of our pieces, such as the BR-XI Tourbillon and Hydromax 11 100M, have broken records for technical achievements. Both are the reflection and living proof of our quest and the need to push even further boundaries of innovation and creativity. Our marine expertise is the result of the collective experience and knowledge of our designers, master watchmakers and professional users.
The Hydromax holds the world record for water resistance equivalent to a depth of 11,100m and was designed to meet the most extreme conditions of deep-sea diving. Along the years, we have developed measuring tools that are perfectly adapted to the sub-aquatic environment and this explains the success of our latest diving watch: the BR03-92 Diver.
By launching our fifth-generation watch – the BR-X1 line – we wanted to express the perfect synthesis between our watchmaking knowhow and our expertise in modern design. We will continue to work on new materials as well as develop movements. We permanently have research programmes in these fields. It is a perfect showcase of our knowhow and expertise. The goal here is to create desire, make the prospect want to possess a Bell & Ross timepiece on their own, to be part of the club, and to make them dream.
More at: www.bellross.com