Hands-on Bell & Ross BR-01 Laughing Skull (and a video of its unexpected animation…)

Why so serious...? Bell & Ross goes playful with the Laughing Skull
ic_query_builder_black_24px | ic_dehaze_black_24px By Brice Goulard | 4 minute read

Bell & Ross is now well-known for its Skull-inspired watches. Everything started in 2009 with BR-01 Skull, followed by 3 other watches (see some of them here and here). And for those who remain doubtful about the relevance of such watches in the B&R collection, you’ll see that the link with the brand’s military roots isn’t that far. Following this trend for Skull watches, Bell & Ross introduces its fifth iteration, the new BR-01 Laughing Skull – and this one has more than one surprise to show.

Bell and Ross BR-01 Laughing Skull

The Skull symbol could easily be seen as just an artefact when used by Bell & Ross. Yet, this brand with strong military inspiration has more than one trick up its sleeves. This symbol has first been used for centuries, particularly by pirates. Later, military forces will use the Skull for two reasons: to frighten off their enemies and as a reminder of their vulnerability. The Skull is a recurring symbol of various special forces and Bell & Ross thought that this would make quite a nice inspiration for some of their watches – but not only by printing them on simple round dials but by shaping the dial as a Skull.

4 Skull watches – plus one unique piece for Only Watch – have already been introduced by the Parisian brand, all of them based on the large BR-01 case. Two of them have been reviewed here, by MONOCHROME – the BR-01 Skull Bronze and the BR-01 Burning Skull with its “tattoo-inspired” case. All of them are definitely bold pieces, with largely proportioned cases and voluntarily exuberant style. Like it or not, but these watches make an impression. And the latest Skull creation by the brand isn’t shy either.

Bell and Ross BR-01 Laughing Skull

The new Bell & Ross BR-01 Laughing Skull is still based on the same basic principles as the rest of the collection: the BR-01 case, meaning a 46mm x 46mm square case, the equally skull-shaped dial with crossing bones circling the 4 screws of the case, the minute track engraved around the skull face and a highly decorated case. For this edition, Bell & Ross chose to use micro-blasted steel, giving the watch a matte finishing, and to adorn this case with a deeply engraved “Clous de Paris” pattern – a motif usually used on traditional guilloché dial but here reshaped to be much more modern.

No question about the feel on the wrist… The Bell & Ross BR-01 Laughing Skull is a statement piece, both due to the dimensions of the case and to the looks. A true “hate-or-love” piece. The skull face used in this watch is close to the one employed already in the Burning Skull watch, with a 3D effect and the traditional sword-shaped hands. However here, it is applied on top of a skeletonized movement. Indeed, that’s the main novelty here… Previously, Skull watches by Bell & Ross (at least, the ones without tourbillon) were powered by ETA/Sellita movements. This one is powered by something special.

Bell and Ross BR-01 Laughing Skull

Inside the Bell & Ross BR-01 Laughing Skull is the brand’s first exclusive movement, developed in-house especially for this watch and its rather special shape. It is skull-shaped so that the mechanism fits the case perfectly. In the extension of the 4 bones, the 4 bridges secure the main plate to the case and come together to form a single assembly floating in the centre of the watch. The movement is sand-blasted with black coating and bevelled angles. Its decoration is modern, yet pleasant.

Bell and Ross BR-01 Laughing Skull

The second – and main – surprise on this watch is the automaton found on the skull head. When winding the watch – and thus when the barrel unwinds – the skull’s jaw moves up and down, opening and closing as if laughing at you – take a look at the video on top of this article to see this automaton in motion. Definitely useless but very cool to look at, this is an unexpected move from Bell & Ross, adding to the “out-of-the-box” style of the BR-01 Laughing Skull.

Bell and Ross BR-01 Laughing Skull

The Bell & Ross BR-01 Laughing Skull is a limited edition of 500 pieces and will be priced at EUR 8,900 or USD 9,900. More details on www.bellross.com.

7 responses

  1. I love the deep dimensionality of the skull itself and think the skeletonized background works to increase this effect. It’s ridiculous size and design makes it present as a childs toy, although a bit of an expensive one. The jaw moving would be impressive if it happened every hour or was in anyway perceptible in normal wear, rather than being a cam connected to the train. As such it really strains the term “automaton” (this clearly wasn’t dreamed up at Jaquet Droz). Overall, a watch that a teenager would think is cool, but even aging hipsters wouldn’t be caught dead wearing.

  2. There seems to be a trend for all sorts of things having a human skull as the major part of the design which I think is in really bad taste. This offering remind me of the kind of thing you might pull out of a luck bag that would have cost 6d when I was kid. I wouldn’t give it house room if it was free.

  3. Hi Brice,
    thanks for the review.

    Actually as other said it looks as an expensive toy. Not much taste in it, even if I agree someone might like it. What really counts from horological perspective is that it is not an automaton, as you can’t call an automaton an unusual sort of power indicator which moves as you wind-unwind the watch.

    Regards,
    slide68

  4. I have the 2009 first edition and the bronze models and currently on the look out for the burning skull to add to my collection. These watches are stunning. Yep they look different but that’s the point.the build quality speaks for itself. They never fail to get admiring looks and comments. I’m 65 and no aging hipster and I have all the usual suspects Rolex,Hublot, Breitling and Omega etc but nothing gets the quality of attention the Bell and Ross skulls get. I would imagine none of the above have ever tried one of the skull watches on. It takes confidence to carry them off. Each to their own.
    Regards
    Stewart

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