The Beckertime Brand Series: Bell & Ross
One of the industry’s relative newcomers, French brand Bell & Ross also has one of the strongest identities in the business.
With the needs of professional aviators clearly the main source of inspiration, they have created some of the most distinctive pilot’s watches available, all bending to their establishing idea of ‘function shaping form’.
What started out as a university project between two friends has now exploded into one of watchmaking’s most bankable manufactures. Their idiosyncratic collections cater to military and professional personnel from all fields, with a range of models which are among the toughest you can buy.
Below we take a closer look.
Bell & Ross: History
The brand was founded by industrial designer Bruno Belamich (Bell) and business graduate Carlos A. Rosillo (Ross).
The two met originally as 14-year olds at school in Paris, the beginning of a lifelong friendship, joined by a passion for technology and, in particular, watches.
In fact, so great was Belamich’s love of horology that he was able to secure a design position with German firm, Sinn, makers of not only fine tool watches but also aircraft cockpit instruments. Rosillo, on the other hand, studied finance.
The two joined forces in 1992 to build functional timepieces for professionals in some of the world’s most demanding careers and, in the beginning, collaborated with Sinn itself on their construction. The original run of models were actually labeled ‘Bell & Ross by Sinn’ on the dials.
It was an inspired idea by the two young entrepreneurs, and the name of the well-established marque opened doors for the new arrivals. Almost from the off, Bell & Ross started to supply NATO and the French Air Force, their debut offering a reissue of the famous Sinn 140S, the first automatic chronometer worn in outer space. Bell & Ross renamed it the Space 1.
Buoyed by the success of that release, the company’s team of designers set their sights on more military targets, and specifically those services which have to work in the harshest environments; astronauts, pilots, bomb disposal and divers. That last group got an especially remarkable watch in 1997, in the shape of the Hydromax 11100m. A quartz piece, and one filled with mineral oil (again taking their lead from research done into the type by Sinn) the Hydromax was water resistant to an incredible 11,100m, securing an entry in the Guinness Book of Records.
Bell & Ross: Open to the Public
It was only after the first two years in business, supplying exclusively military clients, that Bell & Ross started selling their watches commercially.
However, they still were very much focused on fulfilling their original remit. The Bell & Ross Type Demineur was the next big talking point, made at the request of the French Security Services. A quartz-powered, hyper-legible and antimagnetic piece, it was created for the country’s bomb squad (Demineur means bomb disposal in French).
Following that, the brand extended its Space range with the Space 2, a rebranded Sinn 144 GMT, a definite tool watch, with day/date, chronograph and dual time zone complications.
But 1998 proved to be the biggest year yet for the fledgling firm. They launched the Space 3, the first of their watches to move away from Sinn’s influence, and one with some innovative features. The T-Crown, for instance, was especially impressive, sliding away into the case to avoid snagging on clothing. The chrono pushers were similarly recessed for the same reason, and the model also included a date display and GMT.
Attracted by the watch, and the brand’s vision and early success, Chanel Horlogerie announced they were buying shares in the company. That was followed up by two further buy-ins from Chanel, in 2000 and 2002, ending Bell & Ross’s association with Sinn and giving them the funding to open up their own manufacturing facilities in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.
It was really from this moment on that B&R cemented their own distinct personality.
The BR Series
In 2005, Bell and Ross unveiled the BR-01, the start of perhaps the most recognizable and iconic pilot’s watch collection of the last 20-years.
The round dial inside a square case with softened corners was obviously reminiscent of the dials in an airplane cockpit, and it brought the manufacture to the attention of an even wider audience. The original run of 46mm three-handers and chronographs were soon supplemented by other versions with brightly colored hands and different case finishes.
The BR-02 followed, which featured a more tonneau-shaped case, but the BR-03 was back to being square, and was scaled down to 42mm for a more all-inclusive vibe.
Since then, the BR range, otherwise known as the Instrument series, has expanded and diversified wildly, and now includes some spectacular watches.
The Bell & Ross Collection Today
As of now, the brand’s watches are split into four fairly loose classes; Pilot, Diver, Racer and Urban.
Within each of those groups you will find models from Bell & Ross’s Vintage, Instrument and/or Experimental sub genres.
So, for example, the BR V2-94 Racing Bird, a beautiful round-cased 41mm chronograph, is a Vintage watch sitting in the Pilot category. But the Pilot collection also includes a whole host of square-cased BR-03 Instrument models, with both time-only and chronograph examples, mechanical and quartz.
The Diver group contains only Instrument watches, all three-hand 42mm BR-03s with 300m water resistance.
It is in the Racer category that things start getting shaken up. Along with Vintage chronographs and Instrument driver’s models, this is where you will find the Experimental pieces.
The BR-X1 Tourbillon R.S.20 is one such, crashingly expensive, example. A limited edition of just five pieces, the 45mm chrono is crafted from satin-polished titanium and matte ceramic and, inside, the BR-CAL.283 with its hand wound flying tourbillon, beats at 21,600vph and has a four-day reserve. The skeletonized dial lets you see the engine underneath and the whole thing signifies the latest in a line of models created with the help of the Renault F1 team, another great French brand with whom B&R have been partnered since 2016. Should you fancy getting your hands on one, you’d be unlikely to see much change out of $200,000.
They may be a comparative newbie in the cutthroat world of watchmaking, but Bell & Ross’s ability to change and evolve beyond their original military roots has seen them become a major player in the horology circuit. Dynamic, exciting and with a character unlike any other, they have created some of the industry’s most inspiring designs.
— Featured Photo Credit: Rama, CC BY-SA 2.0 FR, via Wikimedia Commons.