Bell & Ross BR02 Review

I can only imagine the expressions on the faces of the Bell and Ross design team as they were given the multiple criteria for the BR02.

“Lads and Lasses, we want a new divers watch. It must reflect our philosophy of peerless legibility in all conditions, it must be water resistant to 1000m and 500m for the chronograph version, it must have a helium escape valve and screw down crown and pushers, “

“OK, sounds easy enough”

“Oh aye, and it must be a completely brand new design to the genre that eludes to assured strength and yet must be beautiful to behold at the same time. Think of a design that conjures thoughts of sub aqua adventures for the wearer. ”

“Err, alright. Anything else?”

“Yes, it must not be round. Do not make it generic. Make me proud and make the other manufacturers jealous”

If this hypothetical conversation did take place then I’m sure that the designers are very proud of their achievements, given the givens above. I can only applaud their innovation and creativity. Most people would have folded under such constraints but you get the impression that the Bell and Ross design teams relished the opportunity. 

The BR02 is most definitely a diver’s watch. You only have to look at it to know this is true. The inner rotating bezel may not be immediately obvious.

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The 1000m scripture or the helium escape valve may not, at first, be visible.

And yet you know it is a watch that is designed for underwater duties. This is mainly because of the superb case design which reflects the aesthetics of a professional diving bell.

The unique case outline looks like it has been designed for optimum strength. It may well have been designed by software and yet I think it has too much character for this to be true. The sapphire glass reminds me of the porthole of diving bells. It creates a wonderful optical illusion by refracting the dial when it is viewed through differing angles. Very similar to the effect given by observing an object partially submersed.

The BR02 really looks like it means business. Although it sings to me it cannot, of course, talk. But if it could I’m sure it would try and reassure me by saying “Don’t worry about me, you get on with whatever you need to do and in whatever conditions you need to do it in. I’ll be here when you need to tell the time, date, elapsed time, etc”. Bless it.

The BR02-92 (non-chrono) and BR02-94 (chrono) are both available in steel and PVD DLC carbon finishes.

I am a big fan of DLC black finishes on watches but the BR02 range looks so much better in the plain stainless steel. This is a true testament to the quality of finishing that has been applied to the cases. There is a perfect contrast between the highly polished and fine grain satin brushed finishes that really lift the BR02 from the ordinary divers watch into the realms of high end watches. I love the way that both the polished and satin finishes reflect the surrounding colours so that the steel version of the BR02 can change its looks quickly and dramatically. Couple this with the stunning design of the case profile and you are left with one of the best looking diver’s watches on the market. It is both elegant, good looking and masculine at the same time.

As with most of Bell and Ross’ timepieces there are a myriad of designs available for the BR02-92 and BR02-94. As mentioned before, there are Stainless Steel and DLC Carbon finishes. Along with this are beautiful solid rose gold or rose gold/DLC versions. There are a few limited edition specials that include a variation on the dials. Highlighted above are the Orange and Blue BR02-92 limited editions. Despite this my favourite of the range and, in fact, my favourite Bell and Ross, is the standard Stainless Steel BR02-94 chronograph. I shall use this fantastic example to highlight the various features of this incredibly legible and functional diver’s watch.

The crown is a screwdown affair with two wonderfully designed crown guards.

The buttons for the chronograph are also screwdown as is the crown for rotating the uni-directional bezel.

A nice feature is the soft rubber grips for all of the crowns. These are wonderfully tactile and offer superior grip over the normal hard plastic options. There may be some concerns over their longevity. However, the rubber used for straps take a considerable day-to-day beating with few issues, in my experience.

I was a little disappointed that Bell and Ross did not decide to use a bi-directional bezel in this instance. After all the crown can be screwed down after it is set, making it impossible to accidentally adjust. This would aid ease of use slightly. I’ve never been a fan of pushers with screwdown collars. I can understand their significance but I do find them a bit of a pain. The BR02s are the nicest I’ve used but I would have still preferred a slight reduction in water resistance and normal, unhindered instantaneous pushers.

The hands are incredibly legible. Orange is thought to be the most legible colour under water and I am in no position to argue. This wonderful hue is subtly applied throughout the BR02 and contrasts wonderfully with the otherwise easy-to-read monochromatic design.

Legibility is further enhanced by the white on black dial with bi-compax chronograph layout. This does, of course, mean that the chronograph is only good for measurements under 30 minutes. After that you have to use some mental arithmetic. The chronograph minutes subdial counts up in real time, which I prefer over the usual minute-by-minute incremental progression of most chronographs. The date is perfunctory and can be considered discrete compared to the rest of the watch. It doesn’t take too much searching for though.

Readability is not lost after the light deteriorates or the watch is submerged. The lume is not the strongest but does last throughout the night. Bell and Ross have tried to find a common ground between aesthetics and utilitarianism throughout the BR02 and the lume is no exception. It looks stunning in light blue and I admire Bell and Ross for using this colour despite it not being as bright as the usual green Superluminova.

Despite their girth and height the BR02s are very comfortable to wear. You are, of course, aware that you have the watch on and it does offer the wearer a considerable reassurance through its substantial proportions and fit-for-purpose design. It is a thick watch and the four buttons/crowns on the periphery will instantly disqualify it from ever having dress-up watch aspirations. However, it doesn’t look out of place alongside a shirt cuff.

Comfort is further aided by the thick but flexible rubber strap. Yet again the strap and buckle give the impression that they could take some serious strains and stresses in their stride.

A second fabric strap is also included as are the requisite tools required to quickly swap them over. This is all offered in a fabulous water resistant presentation case.

The caseback is screwed down and incorporates an etched Bell and Ross “&” logo, which reduces the amount of movement on the wrist without digging in at all.

In conclusion: I appreciate that I used a large chunk of poetic license at the beginning of this article when I envisaged a Designer’s meeting at Bell and Ross. However, I am intrigued to where truly great designs come from. Does their gestation period come from a forced management derivation or marketing criteria or do they come from a single eureka, blue-sky moment of inspirational genius from a single designer? Either way these ideals and aspirations could not have been better fulfilled within the BR02 range to provide a unique diver’s watch with peerless legibility and functionality. The overall design is incredibly efficient in relaying the information from the multiple complications. To then incorporate a design that evokes daydreams of sub-aqua exploration is pure genius by the designers and pure indulgence for the wearer.
This is my favourite dive watch at this price point.

All words and images by Richard Atkins (unless otherwise stated). This article may not be reproduced in part or whole without the permission of the author.

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