A year ago, Bell & Ross introduced the BR 03-92 Diver, the brand’s take on the dive watch. While it was not the first time B&R produces a watch to explore the deep blue sea – some of the earliest models were dive watches (incl. the impressive Hydromax 11,000m) – this new watch was the first to mix the iconic square case with proper diving capacities. Utterly different from the rest of the crowd and at the same time genuinely familiar, it was an immediate success. This year, the collection expands with 2 new versions, in blue or in bronze. I spent my summer with the latter and here’s our take on it.
The dive watch category is certainly one of the most coveted and boasts some of the most iconic models: Submariner, Seamaster, Fifty Fathoms, 62Mas, Luminor and many, many others. On the other hand, this category is dictated by strict rules, creating a sort of uniformity on the market. The reason: the ISO 6425 standards for diving watches, which define test standards and features for watches suitable for diving. Multiple aspects of the watch are covered by these standards, including the unidirectional bezel, the dial and its markers, the display, the reliability or the resistance of the watch and its movement. While these standards guarantee the minimum requirements for mechanical dive watches, they also impose boundaries promoting strong resemblances between the models.
While still complying with the ISO 6425 standards, Bell & Ross decided to bring something slightly different to the dive watch market – at least regarding the shape of the watch. The idea was to mix the iconic square case – inspired by the BR 01, a military/pilot watch designed with dashboard instruments from fighter jets in mind – with the requirements of a dive watch, meaning, for instance, the need for a unidirectional rotating bezel. The inaugural black version of the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver was both surprising, fresh and convincing. Following this successful edition, the Parisian brand now offers two new versions: one with a deep blue dial, bezel and strap and one with a full bronze case.
A summer with the BR 03-92 Diver Bronze
What about the bronze version of the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver? Well, basically, it is the same watch as the two other models introduced by the brand in steel, yet with a different case material and a slightly different dial. In short, it shares the same specifications and technical aspects. However, a bronze case implies a completely different look – well, in fact, several different looks, as this watch changes while you wear it (more on that later).
Since the brand discontinued the BR 02 a few years ago, there was no proper dive watch in the collection. Knowing the history of the brand and some of its previous watches, this created a void in the brand’s offering. For this reason, Bell & Ross decided to introduce this BR 03-92 Diver, a watch that mixes the square case with the rotating bezel of a dive watch. Not that easy on paper, and we were rather sceptical before seeing the watch in the metal. However, the result was original, accomplished and different enough. Altogether, Bell & Ross managed a balanced mix between the ISO 6425 requirements and its iconic design.
The case of the BR 03-92 Diver is based on the same “round within a square” concept found on most of the military pieces of the brand. The only true difference is about proportion and the integration of a raised unidirectional bezel around the dial – which feels pretty natural once you handle the watch. This means that even though the watch has nothing to do with the usual military/pilot inspirations, it retains the iconic look of the brand allowing for a perfect integration into the rest of the collection.
To make this watch a true diver, with a respectable 300 water-resistance, the case has been reinforced with a thicker caseback (2.80mm on the BR 03-92 Diver, compared to 1.80mm on the BR 03-92 Steel), with the addition of a soft iron cage to increase its resistance to magnetic fields (another ISO 6425 requirement). The sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating is an impressive 2.85mm thick, compared to the 1.50mm on the classic steel BR 03-92. These increased protections combined with the addition of a rotating bezel increase the overall thickness of the watch, however to a reasonable level (below 13mm).
The main novelty with the present version of the BR 03-92 Diver is the material used for the case: bronze. More precisely, Bell & Ross uses CuSn8 bronze. This highly pure alloy contains mostly copper, 7.5% to 8.5% of tin and low levels of lead, zinc and iron. It is one the most resistant bronze alloys and shows a homogeneous structure as well as a high resistance to corrosion (at least, for its internal structure) making it a suitable material for a dive watch. It is slightly more dense than stainless steel (8.8g/cm3 vs. 8g/cm3 for steel) and has a slightly lower resistance to scratches (but not much).
Enough for the chemistry lesson. What about the looks? The change of material implies a completely different feel on the wrist. While the steel models are cold and technical, as well as having a contrasting bezel, the BR 03-92 Diver Bronze is entirely crafted in this warm and bold material, including the bezel’s insert. This changes the perception of the watch once worn and offers a different contrast to the dial. Also, the design becomes much more vintage-oriented and less toolish than before. From an instrument-like watch in steel, we move to a more casual piece here.
For obvious safety reasons, the caseback of the BR 03-92 Diver Bronze is made of steel. It presents an embossed diving helmet – a reference to the material of the case, as antique helmets were made of bronze. The watch is attached to a distressed leather strap and a black rubber strap, much more suitable for diving, is also included in the box.
As for the dial, the BR 03-92 Diver Bronze features gold-plated indices and hands to match the case and the water-resistance printed in the same colour. We also find the same large luminous indices and hands, all filled with Super-LumiNova® providing a very decent night-time visibility. The contrast between the hands and the dial is also excellent and the anti-reflective coating on the crystal does a great job.
On the wrist, the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver Bronze is far from being a discreet or restrained watch. Even though it measures 42mm, the square case makes it bigger than expected, however still comfortable – the lugs are extremely short, making it wearable even on smaller wrists, and the thickness remains reasonable at 12.2mm. It has some presence, especially with this warm gold/green colour. One thing to note is the weight, rather important. As always, we encourage you to test the watch.
This watch is powered by the Calibre BR-CAL.302, which is an automatic Sellita movement – a workhorse based on an ETA architecture. It displays the hours, minutes and seconds centrally, as well as the date in a small, discreet window at 4h30. Nothing extraordinary about this movement but it does the job in this dive watch context.
The Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver Bronze is a limited edition of 999 pieces. Deliveries have just started (August 2018) and the watch is now available at retailers as well as on the brand’s website, at a price of EUR 3,800. More details on bellross.com.
Bronze Patina in action
There’s one topic that we haven’t explored yet, and a very important one when it comes to this model: bronze patina. On the contrary of most materials used to manufacture watches (steel, titanium, gold or platinum), bronze is a lively metal. Whatever you do, whatever way you wear the watch, however much you take care of this watch, it won’t stay the same as when it was new. For those who are afraid of a tiny scratch on the case of their watches, run away. Bronze isn’t for you. For others, patina is part of the fun – and the good point is that each watch will become unique, depending on its wearer’s activities.
When new, the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver Bronze feels almost as though it were crafted in gold (see above). Slightly darker, slightly warmer, less precious but still golden. This look won’t last long. As soon as you start wearing the watch, the bronze alloy will oxidize. It’s worth pointing out that bronze only oxidizes superficially. Once a copper oxide layer is formed, the underlying metal is protected from further corrosion. This superficial green layer is what makes bronze so unique. In normal wearing conditions, the alloy will react when in contact with ambient humidity and sweat. In such cases, the oxide layer will remain thin and the case will retain a (darker) golden colour.
However, if you’re like me and enjoy sailing in the sea, splashes of salty water will have an immediate effect on the case and the oxide layer will form much faster. The case will turn an uneven dark green and spots will appear. Again, this is part of the fun and can’t be prevented. However, it can be cleaned. Bringing the watch to an almost pristine condition is pretty easy – toothpaste or a mix of baking soda and lemon juice have proven to be quite effective in bringing the shine back.
Do keep in mind that this patina/oxide doesn’t affect the structure of the metal, which means that it retains its mechanical properties and the watch will still be water-resistant to 300m. A playful watch, with a playful material. Hate or love…