Two leagues under the sea or 11,100m, rather — that is the unfathomable depth achieved by the Hydromax, the diver’s watch Bell & Ross debuted in 1997 to survive the most extreme conditions of deep-sea diving. Surface light penetration expires at 200m, after which there is nothing but pitch black darkness and a hostile environment in which only the hardiest of bacteria can survive.
Able to withstand a phenomenal nine tonnes of pressure per square inch, the Hydromax broke a world record with water resistance of up to 11,100m. It could theoretically be used to explore the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, the deepest known point in the Earth’s oceans, with its extraordinary specifications.
Most diver’s watches would implode at a fraction of the depth and pressure the Hydromax is capable of withstanding. A case filled with patented transparent oil, known as Hydroil, protects the timepiece underwater without interfering with the operations of the calibre 955.162, a quartz movement with a five-year battery life. While impressive, few divers will ever achieve the depths that would necessitate such specs. Having proved its expertise and catered for elite deep-sea explorers, Bell & Ross has since refined its diving releases to practical and increasingly sophisticated collectibles.
Two decades after its diving inauguration, Bell & Ross launched two BR 03-92 Diver iterations amid the tropical splendour of Langkawi. The celebration at Four Seasons Resort Langkawi began with a retrospective on the evolution of the watchmaker’s dive instruments. An evocative exhibition, with marine cues to recreate the intended environment for the timepieces, contextualised the brand’s progress in design and know-how. The round-cased Hydromax was naturally showcased, juxtaposed against the Diver 300 Classic (2002), the BR 02-92 Pro Dial (2007) and the two new models, the square-faced BR 03-92 Diver Blue and Bronze.
Withstanding up to 300m in diving depths, the Diver 300 Classic boasts a notched one-way rotating bezel, protected crown and elegant photo-luminescent hand. The BR 02-92, which followed five years later, was designed for professionals looking for a serious diving tool: high readability of the two counters and water resistance to 1,000m render it the ultimate utilitarian watch.
The BR 03-92 Diver Bronze and Blue are the result of a decade of studying the practical realities and aesthetic of the sport. The historical exhibition commemorates the unexpected inspiration that prompted the design of the new models, particularly the Bronze edition — from diving helmets, which similarly evolved from heavy, functional gear to lightweight accessories that ease, rather than encumber, underwater exploration. An example each of the old and new helmets were displayed to visually articulate this progress.
The BR 03-92 Diver Blue incorporates hues of the sea into its dial, rubber strap and aluminium inserts on the bezel. Maximum legibility is achieved in indices coated in White Super-LumiNova and a yellow hour hand. In the murky depths of the ocean, colours vanish due to the lessening of light intensity. The yellow hour hand therefore fades to give precedence to the minute hand, whose visibility ensures the diver’s safety.
Meanwhile, the Bronze model uses its namesake alloy to forge its case and bezel as a tribute to the material used in the diving helmets of the past. The alloy is renowned for the sturdy properties that make it appropriate for deep-sea adventure but it also reacts to the wearer and the environment to develop a patina over time, immortalising the story of its use in its changing shades. An aged leather strap asserts the authentic vintage spirit of the timepiece, a replaceable rubber strap available for diving. Just 999 pieces of the limited edition watch were issued, each engraved with a diving helmet on the caseback in reference to its design stimulus.
Both are built on the template of the BR 03-92 Diver, whose 300m water resistance and robust Swiss self-winding mechanical movement were fabricated with professional practice in mind. Worked into ergonomic and durable externalities, it is able to withstand extreme temperatures, violent acceleration and immense pressure. The square case is equipped with a 60-minute calibrated unidirectional rotating bezel for immediate calculation of time spent underwater and a luminescent dot at 12 o’clock is used to set time references both on the surface and at depth.
The ocean is an unforgiving challenge for the unprepared and reliability is a crucial trait for the mechanical companions that escort divers underwater. It is a vow Bell & Ross takes seriously and is qualified to fulfil, making its case from the outset with the exceptional Hydromax, then cultivating its siblings. The BR 03-92 Diver Bronze and Blue are the culmination of 21 years of designing instruments for professionals who, when not traversing the ocean depths, want to carry a witness to their aquatic adventures while on terra firma.
This article first appeared on July 30, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.