Hands-on Bell & Ross BR V2-94 Bellytanker Bronze – The “John Player Special” Touch

A cool, vintage-inspired chronograph with black dial/bezel and lots of accents in gold... sorry, bronze!
calendar | ic_dehaze_black_24px By Brice Goulard | ic_query_builder_black_24px 6 minute read |

It isn’t the first time we’ve seen a “Bellytanker” watch by Bell & Ross – see here; nor is it the first time we’re in front of a bronze-cased BR V2-94 Chronograph piece – just look at the Revolution/The Rake Bellytanker “El Mirage”. So what’s new here? In short, just another variation on the model, with new colours… But that doesn’t mean this new Bell & Ross BR V2-94 Bellytanker Bronze isn’t worth a close look (far from that!).

Bellytanker?

The name “Bellytanker” refers to a post-WWII practice. At first, bellytanker was the name given to an emergency drop tank fitted in the belly of fighter planes. Once the Second World War ended, this word took on another meaning and became a nickname for the high-speed race cars manufactured directly from these spare tanks. In 2017, Bell & Ross used this historical practice to conceive its own – imaginary – “Bellytanker” car, which provided the inspiration for a series of watches.

bell and ross vintage BellyTanker collection inspiration

This sub-collection comprised two watches. First was a simple 3-hander piece with a flat bezel and restrained diameter, the BR V1-92. Second, and more interesting for today’s topic, was a chronograph watch, the Bellytanker BR V2-94. Based on a collection that already made quite an impression when it was launched in 2017 – slimmer, thinner, more vintage-oriented, nicely shaped and much more comfortable on the wrist – Bell & Ross added a cool copper-coloured dial, a solid steel bezel with a tachymeter and an overall “tropical” vintage look.

Bell and Ross Vintage BR V2-94 BellyTanker

This theme would later be used by Revolution and The Rake to create two limited watches dubbed “Dusty” and “El Mirage”, the latter being a bronze version with a patinated theme (chocolate-coloured sub-dials over a gold background). Bell & Ross today brings its own vision of a bronze chronograph.

The BR V2-94 Bellytanker Bronze

What’s new then with this year’s edition, the Bell & Ross BR V2-94 Bellytanker Bronze, introduced at Baselworld 2019? Well, in short, it is more or less just an update of colours and materials. But one that really works.

The case of the BR V2-94 Bellytanker Bronze relies on the same base as other watches of the Vintage collection, meaning a well-proportioned, well-executed 41mm round case – no squared case for this collection – which is a rather massive update compared to the previous watches of this collection. In 2017, the brand created a watch that was more in line with its name “Vintage”, with a smaller, slimmer and less sharp design. The result is a balanced and pleasant piece on the wrist.

For the occasion of this limited edition, the case is made of bronze, or in fact a specific alloy: CuAI7Si2, also known as Aluminium Bronze. On the contrary to certain watches that will develop a thick and quite weird green patina – with the impression that you’ve grown some mushrooms on your watch case (to each his own) – the alloy chosen by Bell & Ross is more stable and will only develop a light, greenish patina over time (which, as always, can easily be removed). Then, the metal itself is bright and yellow, almost gold-like. A surprising choice for a Bell & Ross you’ll admit, however, this Vintage collection isn’t targeted as a hardcore military piece. Thus, in the metal, it works.

This BR V2-94 Bellytanker Bronze also gets rid of the solid metallic bezel and now features a bronze fixed bezel with a black aluminium insert, offering a great contrast with the case – and making it more discreet than a solid bronze bezel. An indispensable tachymetre scale is printed on it – motor-racing theme obliges. The watch is worn on a simple black calfskin strap with a bronze folding clasp – I’d suggest changing the strap for something a bit ‘racier’.

The dial of this Bellytanker Bronze is the pièce de résistance, with a new two-tone layout – a gold reversed Panda dial. The black background is enlightened with gold-plated applied hour markers and hands, as well as gold-coloured sub-dials for the small seconds and the 30-minute chronograph counter. Altogether, it is legible and very appealing, especially combined with the ultra-domed sapphire crystal.

Powering the watch is a somewhat utilitarian automatic chronograph movement, the modular Calibre BR-CAL.301, based on the ETA 2894-2 architecture. This engine is well-known, easily serviceable and has been tried and tested over the years. Nothing fancy, but a calibre that will get the job done. It is visible through a sapphire caseback with a transferred Bellytanker image.

Cool Fator – The undeniable “John Player Special Touch”

Why is this watch so appealing…? It not only looks quite cool, but it also feels vaguely familiar. In short, that’s the “John Player Special Effect”. But what is the JPS touch?

For that, we have to go back to the 1970s, the golden era of Formula 1 and of racing chronographs. As early as 1972, according to Phillips Watches, cigarette manufacturer John Player & Sons started sponsoring one of the leading F1 teams, Lotus, and gave them what has to be one of the coolest liveries ever. Dressed in black with gold accents and trimmings, the Formula 1 car became an instant hit and an icon.

The iconic Lotus 72d Formula 1 car, sponsored by John Player Special.

Again, according to Phillips, this black-and-gold livery inspired collectors to nickname a specific version of the Exotic Rolex Daytona. “Donning the same colors, the “John Player Special Paul Newman” shares its name with the racing vehicle. While the watch was conceived some years before the car and has no relation to the sporting event, the similarities between the two are absolutely uncanny, from the contrasting black and gold graphics to the intricate trim and details.”

Indeed, one rare version of the Daytona Paul Newman, the reference 6241, made from 1966 to 1969 in around 300 examples, features an 18k yellow gold case, a contrasting black bakelite tachymeter bezel, and a two-tone black-and-gold dial. Phillips sold one recently for CHF 912,500 (the watch you can see above, photos to be credited to Phillips Watches).

And guess what? That’s exactly what this Bell & Ross BR V2-94 Bellytanker Bronze looks like… Not saying that B&R deliberately took inspiration from the JPS Rolex, but still, the result is very close and this is exactly why it looks so cool – and the addition of bronze for the case, which makes it more affordable and more playful, as it will get some cool signs of wear.

Price and availability

The cool-looking Bell & Ross BR V2-94 Bellytanker Bronze is a limited edition of 999 pieces, which will be priced at EUR 4,900. The watches will be available end of April 2019, but can already be pre-ordered on bellross.com.

4 responses

  1. Is it still the nice and tidy 14mm case thickness of the regular V2-94?

    Have to say I quite like it.

Leave a Reply