Bell and Ross first started producing wrist watches in 1992. They are owned by two Swiss designers Bruno Belamich and Carlos Rosillo. Belamich and Rosillo, hence Bell and Ross. Their first watches were designed by Belamich and Rosillo and made by German watch company Sinn. The collaboration with Sinn ended in 2002 when Bell and Ross opened its own production facility in La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland.
Bell and Ross have always designed their timepieces for professionals with four main principles: Legibility, functionality, precision and water resistance. Their brand motto is “The essential is never compromised by the superfluous”. In other words Bell and Ross has set itself a main objective to create utilitarian tool watches.
They supply watches for extreme professions such as astronauts, pilots, divers and bomb disposal experts.
In 2005 Bell and Ross introduced the BR01. A watch designed to closely resemble the cockpit clocks of aeroplanes along with the rest of the Bell and Ross Instruments range.
The design is incredibly bold and courageous in that it is like no other wrist watch like it before. I’d like to think that it wasn’t mere fluke that Bell and Ross happened upon a design icon in the watch world with the BR01. Bell and Ross still had to turn this great dial design into a complete watch. They achieved this by making the watch square and raising the circular dial from the square base. The overall effect is of a tool watch like no other, and just as Bell and Ross aspired. Despite using an industry standard display design for the dial these timepieces have a character all of their own.
Not even Bell and Ross could have dreamed of the positive reaction the watch gained upon its release. The 46mm square BR01, and its smaller sibling the 42mm square BR03, have been a huge success and are what are commonly thought about when Bell and Ross are mentioned.
Bell and Ross appreciate that they have been fortunate with their design of the BR01 and regularly celebrate by bringing out special editions.
I was recently lent two of these special editions by Andrew Michaels Jewellers for review: The BR01-94 Blue and the BR01-94 Commando (the 94 in the title indicates chronograph. The BR01-92 is non-chrono).
Many brands bring out alternative versions of their timepieces. These may include different case sizes, different dial colours, different case materials, different finishes, etc. However Bell and Ross take this to a whole new level. There really is a BR01 or BR03 for everyone who appreciates the fundamental design.
Other editions of the BR01 and BR03, most of which are limited to small numbered editions, include but are not limited to (deep breath) the BR03 Type Aviation, BR03 Phantom, BR03 Heritage, BR03 Military Ceramic, BR03 GMT Titanium, BR03 Black and White, BR03 Carbon, BR03 Steel, BR01 Grande Date, BR01 Power Reserve, BR01 Titanium, BR01 Pro Titanium, BR01 Carbon Fiber, BR01 Gold and Carbon, BR01 Gold Ingot, BR01 Heritage, BR01 GMT, BR01 Radar, BR01 Compass, , BR01 Airbourne, BR01 Gaucher, BR01 Yellow, BR01 Orange, BR01 Red, BR01 Phantom, BR01 Tourbillon, BR01 Tourbillon Phantom, BR01 Tourbillon Airbourne, BR01 Minuteur Tourbillon, BR01 Carbon and finally the original BR01 Steel.
Most of these are available in both Chronograph (94) and non-chrono (92) versions as well! I recommend you check them out. An education in how to take a brilliant design and add something else unique and compelling. Very clever and a true indication of what a great canvass the original BR01 design is.
Despite being oversized at 46mm square the BR01 is remarkably comfortable. The crown is relatively small and doesn’t dig into the top of the hand at all, which is the usual crime of an oversized watch. It is also remarkably light for its imposing dimensions. The rubber strap is not only one of the best designed on the market, in my opinion, but also very thick and flexible, which also aids comfort.
The movement is a highly reworked Swiss tractor ebauche. The winding mechanism is very smooth and the stop, start and reset functions of the chronograph are easy to initialise with just the right amount of pressure required on the push buttons. These are both signs that meticulous care has been taken on the final movement construction.
As with most of the limited editions the legibility of the original design has been passed over to the “Blue” limited edition. Despite using blue superluminova the hands and markers are all incredibly legible in bright, dim and dark conditions.
Sadly, the same cannot be said of the “Commando” limited edition. Bell and Ross have diverted dramatically from their usual philosophy on legibility and designed a watch that is incredibly cool but very difficult to read in dim to dark lighting conditions. It has to be looked upon as Bell and Ross intended: A stealth watch, as befits the Commandos. It is very much in the same vein as the Phantom Limited Edition. As I said: Very cool. It’s Bell and Ross’s own tag line that includes legibility as a pre-requisite so I suppose they are allowed a little poet license in this instance.
I just love the look of this watch. Having the time instantly readable is a luxury we’ve become used to but those willing to sacrifice this immediate legibility and use the Commando on a regular basis will be rewarded with a unique style of watch with barely contrasting colours that work so well together as an aesthetic. Don’t get me wrong: The “Commando” can be read by candle light but it requires extended study of the dial. Which is actually not a bad thing I suppose. Incidentally, in pitch black conditions the lume really does work so reading the time easily after lights out is easier than when the light begins to fade!
Needless to say it’s a nightmare to photograph. I apologise in advance for my best efforts:
In contrast the “blue” lume works very well. However, Bell and Ross have made the strange decision to include superluminova on the tip of the chronograph seconds hand for the “Commando” version and not the “blue” version.
The caseback highlights the limited edition number. Both of these models are limited to juat 500 pieces worldwide. 500 is a common limited quantity for Bell and Ross Limited Editions. There are also a few that are limited to 250 and as little as 25.
A special mention needs to be made about the packaging received with each Bell and Ross BR01 and BR03 timepiece. Within a great looking rectangular presentation box is a spare synthetic material strap and the tools required to easily swap it over from the standard supplied rubber strap.
In conclusion: The BR01s and BR03 from Bell and Ross epitomise what a tool watch should be. Tough, reliable, legible (yes, yes I know……not the “Commando” and “Phantom” models), functional, comfortable and looking as if it has been designed purposefully with all these attributes in mind.
I’ve very much enjoyed experiencing these two exceptional BR01s. I now fully appreciate the functionality and aeronautical design references of the BR01. Sadly though, my time with these BR01s has ruined any dreams I had of one day owning one because I admit that they look far too large on my 6.5” wrists, to the point of looking ridiculous.
Fortunately, Bell and Ross realised that not everyone has a wrist size large enough to pull off the BR01 so they released the aforementioned BR03. This is identical in all design elements but is only 42mm square. Perfect.
And here we have a wrist shot modelled by Sam of Andrew Michaels with his more substantial wrist:
If you are looking for a utilitarian small numbered limited edition tool watch that is attractive and comfortable to wear look no further than the BR01 and BR03 lines by Bell and Ross. Deciding to buy either one of these is easy. Choosing a particular model from the myriad of wonderful designs available is where the difficulty lies.
As always, I would like to thank Andrew Michaels Jewellers for lending me these two Bell and Ross Limited Edition BR01-94s.
All words and pictures by Richard Atkins (unless otherwise stated). Please ask if you wish to reproduce any of the material in this article.