The Same But Different: A Look At Bell & Ross’ Uncommonly Common Novelties
By tackling contemporary watchmaking crazes with their signature flair, Bell & Ross stays both on-trend and on-brand.
Bell & Ross makes watches that a lot of people recognize but not a lot of people talk about. Their design inspiration draws heavily from aeronautical instruments in an airplane’s cockpit, and their signature look combining a square case, large numerals, and bold hands is so readable, it practically jumps off the wrist. All this is to say, you certainly know a Bell & Ross when you see one. The French brand was founded as a university project in 1994 by two men named - not Bell and Ross exactly - but Bruno Belamich and Carlos Rosillo.
Today, the brand creates watches for aviators, divers, and even bomb defusers (because someone has to, right?). Through years of close collaboration with military personnel, Bell & Ross has become the official supplier to the French Air Force, the GIGN special forces unit, and France’s SWAT team equivalent, the RAID police force.
Their watches of late have hit many of the design trends pulsing through the watch world but all feel distinctively Bell & Ross. The brand divides their pieces into three categories: Vintage, Experimental, and Instruments, and for a look at our favorite novelties, we’ll do the same
VINTAGE - BR V3-94 R.S.19 and BR 03-94 R.S.19
For the fourth year of their partnership with the Renault F1 Team, Bell & Ross is unveiling four new racing-inspired chronographs in the R.S.19 collection. Each features an electric colorway of black, white, yellow, green, red, and orange on a woven carbon fiber dial. The result is, as one observer put it, “so busy yet so clean.” Let’s take a look under the hood with two pieces from the lineup.
The BR 03-94 R.S.19 and the BR V3-94 R.S.19 have the most saturated racing aesthetic that we’ve seen in a long time. Both are limited editions of 999 pieces and both feature a caliber BR-CAL.301 automatic movement, a date window at six o’clock, and an anodized aluminum bezel with a countdown timer.
The BR V3-94 R.S.19 is different from its brother offering with its screw-down crown, sapphire caseback, and its round, satin-polished case, in 43mm as opposed to 42mm.
And as if this collection needed more going on, there are also two versions BR-X1 skeleton chronograph on offer: a 250 piece limited edition with the automatic BR-CAL.313 movement and a 20 piece limited edition with a hand-wound flying tourbillon at six o’clock.
VINTAGE - BR V2-94 BELLYTANKER BRONZE
First, let’s talk about the name. A “Bellytanker” is an exposed-wheel race car crafted from a WWII fighter plane fuel tank. Not street legal in the slightest, these bullets on wheels were used set and break land speed records on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats during the 1940s and 50s. Which makes us think if there’s anything to name a watch after, it's a homemade plane/car Frankenstein flying across the desert at nearly 200mph.
This is another 999 piece limited edition that houses the BR-CAL.301 chronograph movement and is completed by a CuAI7Si2 bronze bezel, screw-down crown, and a sapphire caseback.
EXPERIMENTAL - BR-X2 Tourbillon Micro-Rotor and BR-X2 Skeleton Tourbillon Micro-Rotor
The watch market now features more skeletons than a politician’s closet. Veterans of high horology and Amazon off-brands alike are clavicle-deep in the trend. By being different, many look the same, but true to form, the Bell & Ross skeletons wear their design DNA on their sleeve.
The distinctive treatment features a sapphire sandwich around the movement, connected by four not-quite-straight screws in the corners. The 42.5mm glass case gives a much-appreciated terrarium vibe that plays up the scientific intrigue of a skeletonized watch. This, along with ampersand detail on the tourbillon and the square case, provides distinctive flair that’s fun and serious at the same time. Like the aforementioned B&R racing chronographs, the design sentiment is dialed up to ten. After all, why not skeletonize the case too?
The micro-rotor is machined in a very dense alloy, Reconit 18. This alloy contains 95% tungsten with 18.5 density, compared to steel at 8.0. The watches arrive on a sleek, gray alligator strap and come in limited editions of 99 pieces for the BR-X2 Tourbillon Micro-Rotor and 50 pieces for the skeletonized version.
INSTRUMENTS - BR 03-92 Diver Green Bronze
It’s the Bronze Age all over again and brands such as Panerai, Blancpain, Oris, TAG Heuer, and Tudor have all released bronze watches in the last year. Bronze is well-suited for watches, particularly dive watches, due to its natural anti-magnetism, neo-retro look, and patina-potential.
What distinguishes the Bell & Ross model from the rest is not only the signature square case but the olive green dial. This particularly military-focused shade of green complements the bronze beautifully and only adds to the rugged appeal of the watch. Add the classic “&” on the crown and you have an undeniably Bell & Ross watch that will only get better with age.
Bell & Ross is a brand that moves full-speed ahead with their signature aesthetic, even when navigating well-traveled waters. The brand’s largely ETA-based movements aren’t pushing the needle on engineering, but they have proven to be able to take on considerable design risk and still come out on top. The close military affiliation and unshakeable form-over-function approach present a clear and consistent message in an increasingly crowded field.
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell & Pierre Vogel)