If Bell & Ross wanted to drive discussion, their recent release of the BR 05 was a home run. To say that it has suffered a difficult few days would be an understatement, yet in this article I would like to give my opinion on this new release and why it is perhaps not worthy of such condemnation.
Firstly we should address that which is concrete. This watch is 40mm in stainless steel (or 18K rose gold) with a 100m water resistance and an integrated bracelet. The case and bracelet are brushed longitudinally whilst the edges and mid links are attractively polished. Aside from the bracelet, the watch is also available with a ribbed rubber strap which uses a single polished link to meet the case. Where the case itself is concerned, the bezel is screwed into place and square in shape in much the same way as other BR models. Interestingly, Bell & Ross have used the same technique as Audemars Piguet to allow the screws on the bezel to be aligned. Masquerading as screws, these are in fact bolts secured by true screws passing through the case back, a concept seen on other Bell & Ross models and which gives a very refined appearance to the watch.
Furthermore, the dial is finished with a sunburst texture in grey, black and blue and is adorned with polished applied luminescent markers including Arabic numerals at 12, 6 and 9 to fit the Bell & Ross aesthetic. Alternatively, and exclusively available on the steel model, a skeletonised dial is offered to entice the lovers of clockwork. For purity, the Arabic numerals are entirely replaced by batons on this version whilst the date is deleted entirely. In my opinion, this version is the most appealing as it complements the highly sculptural automatic rotor whilst not costing an awful lot more than the base model.
Mechanically, this watch follows the lead of other Bell and Ross models and includes a relatively conventional Sellita SW-300 automatic Swiss movement which, under the guise of a rebranding as the BR-CAL. 321 (of BR-CAL. 322 in skeletonised form), features a bespoke rotor which is open worked to resemble an automotive wheel. Otherwise, it is a practical, 25 jewel movement with a 38 hour power reserve. The surface of the movement, as is more apparent on the skeletonised version, is treated with an industrial surface rather than a refined one in keeping with the style of the piece.
More than just Specifications
With that being said, to discuss this watch in specifications alone would be missing the point. I think that it goes without saying that the Bell & Ross BR 05 bears more than a passing resemblance to the iconic Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus, both hailing from the brilliance of the designer Gerald Genta. In truth, it is difficult to defend this accusation considering that even the hands are a similar rounded shape to those of the Nautilus, despite the numerals adhering to the B&R’s design language. Even the quintessential square instrument-panel appearance has been subverted into a smoother shape without even mentioning the lugs and bracelet.
However, I do not so much aim to make a case for this watch’s originality as for the fact that it is not necessarily a problem for a watch of this type to exist. As was excellently explained by Hodinkee’s Jack Forster, this offers a more approachable design than this brand’s previous square watches, especially with a diameter of 40mm, significantly less than its forebears. Likewise, the growth of a market for this kind of watch, as is so vividly shown by the rising prices of both designs to which the accused is compared, is inevitably going to encourage exploration from other brands. The fact of the matter is that Bell & Ross is a company with the natural primary objective of selling its products, thus making a move like the BR 05 sensible from a corporate perspective.
In this regard, Bell & Ross is not trying to create a product which adheres to the sometimes-harsh ideals of watch connoisseurs but to a wider audience. This approach is evident amongst their other pieces such as the BR V2-93 GMT which borrows more than a touch of other designs to provide a handsome and functional pilot’s GMT watch. In spite of this, these models are not condemned due in part, I suspect, to the lack of as broadly celebrated a designer as Gerald Genta being emulated at the height of his posthumous celebration.
All in all, it is undeniable that this watch is somewhat derivative, an aspect which will be a no-go for certain buyers. Objectively, however, they have created a watch with an attractive design and build quality which will survive submersion and rough handling whilst still being stylish. The value of this watch is debateable due to the use of a more conventional movement, but then again, this is not their brand’s area of expertise and promises reliability. For these reasons, I am not ashamed to say that, whilst not to my personal taste, I see this watch as a sensible and appealing addition to the Bell & Ross range, if not a terribly original one.
Pricing: BR 05 Steel: £3,600 – £3,990 / BR 05 Skeleton (LE of 500 pieces): £4,900 – £5,300 / BR 05 Gold: £18,000 – £27,000
- Dimensions: 40mm in diameter
- Material: Stainless steel or 18K rose gold
- Crystal: Flat sapphire with anti-reflective coating
- Dial: Sunburst black, blue or grey with applied indices (matching the case colour) coated in Super-LumiNova®
- Water Resistance: 10 ATM / 100m
- Movement: Calibre BR-CAL.321. / BR-CAL.322. (skeletonised variant)
- Strap: Matching integrated metal bracelet or integrated rubber strap