The Bell & Ross BR-X2 Collection
Even in a collection as chock full of unorthodox eccentricities as Bell & Ross’s, their BR-X2 collection is a standout in the oddities category.
At their heart, the models carry on the brand’s iconic Instrument series, the square-cased, cockpit gauge-inspired watches that debuted in 2005 and first set the manufacture on the path to horological heights.
But those original pieces, the BR 01 and its successors, were very much tough tool watches—mainly three-handed time tellers with the occasional expansion into relatively simple complications such as a GMT or chronograph.
The BR-X series’ use the same basics as the rest of the Instrument range, but then takes the gloves off and gives Bell & Ross’s designers license to go wild.
The precursor to the BR-X2, the BR-X1, is now an extensive collection with more than 20 models in it. 11 of those pieces are tourbillons, a highly complex mechanism which keeps the balance wheel and spring, and the escapement in constant motion to counter the effects of gravity and increase timekeeping precision.
As of now the BR-X2 contains just two models, both of which are also tourbillons, but are very special indeed. Below we take a closer look.
The Bell & Ross BR-X2 Collection
Bell & Ross’s X-Collection first appeared in 2014 with the BR-X1 Skeleton Chronograph, a piece which did a great job of announcing the intentions of this all-new family of watches. Here was the first in a series which vowed no compromises on complexity or price, with multifaceted case construction and a whole slew of never-before-seen (from this brand, anyway) complications.
While the BR-X1 only housed a chronograph, it did so inside a 45mm x 45mm titanium case with a completely openwork face allowing wearers to see all the goings-on inside. One of the most technical pieces from Bell & Ross thus far, it was quickly followed up with a version sporting a tourbillon-chrono movement and, in 2016, a full sapphire model costing well over half a million dollars. However, it was that watch that set the tone for the extreme BR-X2 collection released the following year.
The BR-X2 Tourbillon Micro Rotor came out in 2017 and seemed determined to do battle with the sort of high concept, haute horlogerie offerings from manufactures such as Richard Mille, MB&F, Hublot and Greubel Forsey.
The limited edition (restricted to 99 units) 42.5mm square model came with a mid case forged from satin brushed stainless steel, with sapphire crystal upper and lower cases and a partially skeletonized dial. The sections cut out reveal parts of the gear train underneath but it is the large flying tourbillon at the six o’clock which dominates the face.
A flying tourbillon is a more aesthetic variation on the standard type in that, instead of being held in place on both sides, it is secured only from below, removing the top bridge to allow for better visibility. The one on the BR-X2 is shaped with Bell & Ross’s brand logo ampersand.
Inside is the 31-jeweled BR-CAL.380, an automatic movement with micro rotor built for Bell & Ross, just as with the BR-CAL.285 in the BR-X1, by MHC (Manufacture Haute Complication) in Geneva. Like the dial itself, the caliber is nicely finished, in an industrial sort of way. There are both vertical and circular satin-brushed surfaces and razor sharp chamfered edges, all pointing towards this being a far higher end product than B&R’s regular collection.
The ‘Other’ BR-X2
Launched the following year, 2018 saw the arrival of the BR-X2 Skeleton Tourbillon Micro Rotor.
This took the same underlying treatment as its X2 associate and came with the added benefit of subtraction. The movement here which, like the original, essentially formed the case itself, got an almost complete stripping back to reveal even more of the mechanism at work.
Sandwiched between its two sapphire crystal plates (which act as the bezel and case back) the renamed BR-CAL.381 has a composition and arrangement which deserves to be seen. The beautifully machined parts have all been finished with the same impressive subtlety as on the original BR-X2 and, in fact, the two movements are the same except for here the bridges and base plate have also been skeletonized. Not only does that give a better view of the caliber, it lends the entire watch a completely different edge.
Where before, the eye was inextricably drawn to the tourbillon at the six o’clock, with this version there is so much more to look at and observe in motion that you end up taking in the movement as a whole.
Turning the watch over, you can see the micro rotor at the nine o’clock, constructed from Reconit 18, an alloy twice as dense as steel and containing 95% tungsten. From there, you can follow the workings up and around the caliber, through the various gears and down to the tourbillon.
However, if the engine is plain to see, the dial is barely there at all. It too is made from clear sapphire but consists of little more than applied metal batons filled with SuperLuminova, floating above the movement. The hands are more or less the same, simple lume-filled sticks but with a frosted surface which catches the light and gives them a good legibility.
Both of these watches are limited editions (just 50 units issued of the fully skeletonized piece) but have been responsible for elevating Bell & Ross in the minds of many collectors. Whereas the fully sapphire version of the BR-X1 came with an astonishing price tag, the two X2 watches are far more down to earth.
The BR-X2 Tourbillon Micro Rotor retails around $67,700, while the completely open-worked model comes in at about $82,000. Still not cheap by any means, but competitive in this industry for high quality, quirky timepieces with the hypnotizing fascination of a tourbillon.
The success of the pair will hopefully entice B&R to expand further on their X2 collection. And if or when that happens, we’ll be sure to report on it here.
Featured Photo: BeckerTime’s Archive.