The launch of the BR 05 was Bell & Ross’ most feted in recent times, and as we have had time to get used to this collection, we can see why — it is the perfect amalgamation of all the design elements that make the French watch brand’s aesthetic so immediately recognisable, presented in an incredibly crowd-pleasing package. This may not be the watch that wins the watchmaking company any technical awards, but it is likely to bring the greatest number of new fans because of its style: accessible, simple and ergonomic.
The BR 05 is envisioned as an urban, timeless watch, and in its design, incorporates all the codes one would associate with a luxury sports watch — an integrated steel bracelet with a tapered profile, a relatively thin case, a simple time-and-date display, a combination of satin-finished surfaces with polished accents and an iconic shape. The lattermost aspect is important for Bell & Ross, which created history with its square-in-a-circle case when it launched the BR 01.
Unveiled a little more than a decade ago, the BR 01 — and subsequently, the BR 03 — was quite polarising in terms of design: You either loved it or were repelled by it, and fortunately there were enough people who appreciated the Gerald Genta-esque design language and the direct references to the aviation instruments of the 1970s. This design became Bell & Ross’ strongest calling card, because you could recognise it on someone’s wrist even from a good distance away. Completely reinventing the wheel may not have been in Bell & Ross’ best interests, so the plan was to evolve an idea which was already working very well — and that is how the BR 05 was born.
The new BR 05 collection comprises a total of 10 references, with six classic steel models, two with a skeletonised movement and two with a solid gold case. Design elements from the BR 01 include the raised bezel, decorative screws, rounded baton markers and the stylised Arabic numerals, while what is new is the shape of the BR 05’s 40mm case, which combines a softened square with rounded angles. Sloped lugs that are not too far apart makes this watch exceptionally comfortable, even embracing my small wrist perfectly. There is an option of a supple rubber strap as well, but I cannot recommend the metal bracelets enough for its superior fit and comfort.
The BR 05 collection is powered by the BR-CAL.321, which is based on the reliable Sellita SW-300 architecture. It is further endowed with personalised decoration, sandblasting treatment for the bridges, and its oscillating weight is open-worked. This automatic movement, with 4Hz frequency and 42-hour power reserve, is visible through the caseback. The time and date are told on the dials — black, blue or grey sunray brushed — with applied markers, while the date window at 3 o’clock is framed by a metallic ring. Although the blue dial is the most arresting of the three, the skeletonised model, limited to 500 pieces, also presents an extremely compelling case for ownership — the beautifully finished movement is displayed and visible from all angles, while the Arabic numerals have been replaced by baton markers.
From its launch to the present, there has been quiet talk on the resemblance of the BR 05 to other models in the luxury sports watch sphere — the Royal Oak, the granddaddy of the category, and Patek Philippe’s Nautilus come up a lot. But might this come from merely being part of the luxury sports watch genre? The Royal Oak, Nautilus and even Vacheron Constantin’s 222 were all designed in the 1970s, the time period from which Bell & Ross also drew much of its design inspiration.
After much consideration, we feel that the visual codes of Bell & Ross come through evidently enough to set them all apart quite distinctly. Indeed, this collection is probably Bell & Ross’ most genuine and honest for the way it melds the maison’s identity with accepted design codes distilled from the industry. It may have been a gamble, but one that has resulted in a collection of well-executed, beautifully styled watches that anyone would be happy to own.
This article first appeared on Feb 3, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.