Bell&Ross BR0394 RAFALE CE Limited

Bell & Ross BR 03-94 Rafale

Bell & Ross’ new limited range of chronographs is based on the solidity and versatility of the combat aircraft to which it pays tribute. More than just a mention or a signature, there is a genuine partnership between the watchmaking brand and the engineers at Dassault Aviation.

By Frédéric Brun

With its fine nose, its sharp airfoils and sophisticated outline, the Rafale combat aircraft already promised good performance. A promise also held on the dial of the new Bell & Ross BR 03-94 Rafale – a very exclusive chronograph produced in 500 pieces.

Spirit of conquest

A raucous rumble rips through the silence and the asphalt in the tarmac seems to be cracking. On the airbase, people turn towards the noise but they do not look in the least surprised. Indeed, they are familiar with the rumble of the 7.5-tonne thrust. But they are proud to witness the taking-off of the Rafale – one of the most beautiful combat aircrafts ever.

Bell & Ross BR 03 Rafale Limited edition BR0394-RAFALE-CE Bell & Ross BR 03 Rafale Limited edition

Unlike the Bell & Ross watch, the Rafale is not a limited-edition aircraft anymore. Indeed, the numerous orders received make it a rather successful aircraft. The 2015 Le Bourget show – where the aircraft starred again– reinforced this spirit of conquest.

The power of versatility

The Rafale was designed in 1972, with the Cold War at its peak. It is an “omnirole” combat aircraft, i.e. it was designed to intervene in multiple territories. It was also intended for a range of missions such as strategic attacks with nuclear weapons and surveillance, reconnaissance or intelligence operations.

Bell & Ross Rafale BR 03-94 Bell & Ross Rafale BR 03-94

As we were saying, its conception dates back to 1972, in the extremely tense atmosphere of the Cold War. French, British and German leaders wanted to be a step ahead with the aim to protect Europe from a possible massive attack from the Soviet armor whilst at the same time cutting loose from American domination through NATO.

A team was set up at the instigation of Bruno Revellin-Falcoz from Dassault Aviation to partake in the call for tenders to design the European aircraft. In 1981, when power changed hands in France with the election of François Mittérand as President, Marcel Dassault negotiated with the American company Grumman for a transatlantic collaboration. In the end, however, the French solution prevailed.

Bell & Ross Rafale BR 03-94 Bell & Ross Rafale BR 03-94

Materializing against all odds

Yet, the Rafale might have never seen the light as it caused serious discord and rivalry amongst European leaders between 1983 and 1986. With the cohabitating government from March 1986, the matter caused tension between both French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac and President François Mittérand and within the government. French Defense minister André Giraud was openly in favor of abandoning the Rafale project and finding a European or even an American solution. It took the firm determination of Finance minister, Edouard Balladur, and the minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Bernard Raimond, to validate the project on a long-term basis.

Marcel Dassault passed away on April 17, 1986. He did not live to see the launch of his last and cherished project that also reflected his famous motto: “For an aircraft to fly well, it must be beautiful”. Yet, the aircraft would indeed be made, as was announced on January 26, 1988 by an interdepartmental committee. The contract was signed on April 21, 1988. Serge Dassault led the project and on May 19, 1991 the prototype of the Rafale C01 flew for the first time.

Bell & Ross Rafale BR 03-94 Bell & Ross BR 03 Rafale Limited edition

Competitive advantages

The Rafale does not possess the stealth qualities of the famous F-22 American aircrafts. Neither does it have a suitable nose to execute the very ostentatious Pugachev Cobra manoeuvre like the powerful Russian aircraft Sukhoi SU-35. However, the aircraft’s versatility has become one of its main appealing features, as opposed to the Eurofighter that was specifically designed to be used during the Cold War. The Rafale has two engines which provide greater autonomy than the Gripen or the F-16 have. Whilst it is less powerful than the SU-30 or the F-16, it can be boarded on aircraft carriers, which the weight of the other two does not allow. The commercial success of the export of the Rafale has been hindered until 2015, only due to obscure political reasons, with the military now judging the aircraft to be superior to its competitors in every international competition.

A technical and efficient Bell & Ross

Bell & Ross combined high technicality and simplicity in this watch that pays tribute to the combat aircraft. The brand has renewed its close collaboration with Dassault Aviation engineers to celebrate the ten years of its emblematic BR-01. This collaboration started with the creation by Bell & Ross of a watch for the 50th anniversary of the Falcon business jet.

Bell & Ross BR 03-94 Rafale Limited edition Bell & Ross BR 03-94 Rafale Limited edition

This sharing of knowledge was reinforced by the complicity that arose from the passion for aeronautics both companies share. Carlos Rossilo, CEO of Bell & Ross, was candid about it when they introduced the celebratory watch at BaselWorld for the first time.

As with all other watches in the Bell & Ross collection, the BR-03 Rafale was also designed as a board instrument and it focuses on the essential function of chronographs. It may appear simple but is it very useful for pilots, who need to be able to focus on the important things in order to avoid losing track of their objective.

The dial and case of the BR 03-94 Rafale were treated in grey monochrome, as a metaphor for the fuselage of the Rafale. This is just one of many distinctive signs, none of which will escape experts of aeronautical aesthetic codes. The numeral’s typography is based on military registration. The large (as usual) black rubber strap is very distinctive. The hands sport a touch of orange, as this is aviation jargon for flight tests. A top view of the plane’s outline can be seen on the sub counter of the small seconds at 9 o’clock.

Bell & Ross BR 03-94 Rafale Bell & Ross BR 03-94 Rafale

The choice of caliber was based on the aircraft’s technical materials and its two SNECMA M88-4 engines. Hence, Bell & Ross used the reliable, tested and also very versatile mechanical self-winding BR-CAL 301caliber. The space the 42-mm case provides, the Superluminova-coated hands and the refined tachometer scale on the flange provide maximum readability. Just like a flight instrument.

But it’s not all about looks, for Bell & Ross took the research and development of this unique piece to another level by embedding a steel tank in the ceramic case. This was a touch of originality and innovation as ceramic is a technical material that is very difficult to use and as hard as diamonds. This “sarcophagus” is shock-resistant as well as water-resistant to 100 meters. The movement is housed in a case affixed with eight exterior screws. The watch is solid, resistant and a great performer and it could not have been any other way, as with the Rafale as inspiration, Bell & Ross would only ever seek excellence.

Technical details

  • Movement: mechanical self-winding Caliber Bell & Ross BR CAL.301
  • Functions: hours, minutes, small seconds at 3 o’clock and date
  • 30 min counter at 9 o’clock
  • Central chronograph seconds hand
  • Case: matt black ceramic
  • Diameter: 42mm
  • Dial: matt grey. Superluminova®-coated numerals, index as well as hour and minute hands
  • Glass: anti-reflective sapphire
  • Water resistance: 100m
  • Strap: black rubber with black PVD-treated steel pin buckle
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