The Parisian brand Bell & Ross is most known for creating aviation inspired watches in a bold, squared style. Of course the collection consists of much more, including round cased watches, like the Vintage collection or the Aeronavale collection. Although most of these are still highly derived from avionics, Bell & Ross is also embarking into the world of automotive and racing-inspired watches. They have teamed-up with Renault F1 as an official timing partner for this year (more on that later in a dedicated chapter of our Watches and Formula 1 series) and now offer the BR-X1 RS16 and BR-X1 RS16 Tourbillon. We’ve had the chance to go hands-on, inside the Renault F1 facility in Enstone, the birthplace of Formula 1.
The BR-X1 model is not new to Bell & Ross, nor is it new for you if you follow us closely. Bell & Ross first introduced it in 2014 with the BR-X1 Skeleton Chronograph (reviewed here) and followed with a several variations of it – and even 5 different Tourbillon models. The entire BR-X1 collection consists of 12 models in total, 7 of which are Skeleton Chronographs, and they come in a wide range of materials. Ranging from titanium, to gold, to forged carbon and even wood, there will be a BR-X1 for everyone (sort of…).
The joint adventure between Renault F1 and Bell & Ross started a new chapter in the brand’s relatively short history – the reasons for this partnership was explained in an interview between Bell & Ross CEO Carlos Rosillo and Monochrome Watches earlier this year. As a hint to this partnership of Bell & Ross (French!) and the Renault F1 team (also French!), the brand introduced bold, quite yellow BR-X1 RS16 and RS16 Tourbillon limited editions. While the technology and specifications are not new, it does offer a very sporty rendition of the common theme within the BR-X1 line-up. Both the regular BR-X1 RS16 and the Tourbillon BR-X1 RS16 are equipped with a chronograph movement, housed in a square forged carbon case of 45mm wide.
The lightweight black cases now feature yellow touches, where the first BR-X1 Skeleton Chronograph Carbon Forgé was totally black, to the exception of markers and hands. The splash of bright yellow is of course a reference to the Formula 1 racing cars, which actually have sort of a gold, almost pearlescent sheen over it. I can personally vouch for the fact that it’s hardly noticeable on TV, but the watches come quite close to the actual color as you can see in the pictures.
The part that probably gets most watch aficionados hearts racing (pun intended) is the technical side, a.k.a. the movement and complications. While the BR-X1 collections shows quite a bit of its machinery through the skeletonized dial, it’s worth spending a few words on this even though we covered most of it in previous articles. The chronograph movement used in the non-tourbillon BR-X1 RS16 is developed by Dubois-Depraz, for Bell & Ross, likely based on an ETA movement or a clone. Two pushers, one on each side of the crown, activate and reset the chronograph function, like traditional chronograph watches.
Another departure from the most common squared cased Bell & Ross watches are the case-backs of both watches. The BR-X1 RS16 Skeleton Chronograph features an almost closed caseback with just a small round window to see the rotor in action and engravings around it with details of the watch, such as the limitation and materials (as normal enclosed case-backs you most commonly find on the BR-collections).
As a thoroughbred watch nut might have noticed before, the movement inside the BR-X1 RS16 Tourbillon watches in known at Monochrome (who said Akrivia…). Choosing this movement to power one of Bell & Ross’ most complicated watches to date might be surprising, however it’s a solid choice if you ask me. A movement with integrated chronograph, activated through a mono-pusher at 2, which is both technically impressive and aesthetically very pleasing. It is not just a chronograph tourbillon movement, but one that has all the running gears visible on the dial side. The chronograph receives power directly from the tourbillon and you can see the lever and gear moving when activating the Monopusher (as explained here too).
The movement has 1 large barrel storing up to 100 hours of power. Just let that sink in for a moment; a tourbillon movement with integrated, column-wheel, monopusher chronograph and 100 hours of power, with most of its parts visible while wearing. You do not see that every day, period! The movement is also visible through the caseback, which features a large sapphire crystal and a little hint to the partnership between Bell & Ross and Renault F1. A nice detail that finishes off the BR-X1 RS16 Tourbillon is the ceramic case-bands that protect the carbon forged case, with the chronograph monopusher and the crowngard on the right side of the case being very similar in design to keep the watch as symmetrical as possible.
The Bell & Ross BR-X1 RS16 and RS16 Tourbillon is fitted on a yellow rubber and carbon fiber strap, but the brand will supply you with a full black rubber strap if desired (as can be seen in some pictures) when the yellow one is a bit too, let’s say, funky for your liking. Bell & Ross only offers these watches in limited edition – 250 pieces for the Bell & Ross BR-X1 RS16 Skeleton Chronograph and 20 pieces for the RS16 Tourbillon, available only in the paddock of each Formula 1 race. As for the price, the Skeleton Chronograph is 22,000 Euros and the Tourbillon is 155,000 Euros.