This watch is important for Bell & Ross, not only in terms of sales (clearly, it’s not intended to be their bestseller) but also – and maybe mainly – in terms of image, of perception of the brand for both the potential clients and the competitors. It is like if “beware, we’re going to play on your field” was written in red capital letters on the dial. To whom this message is addressed? Well, to make it simple, Bell & Ross with this BR-X1 Chronograph is frontally attacking Audemars-Piguet with the Royal Oak Offshore and Hublot with the Big Bang (and that’s the main target). Is this watch convincing enough? Does Bell & Ross have the right weapons to win the battle? That’s what we tried to find out by testing the Bell & Ross BR-X1 Chronograph in the luxurious Pink Gold / Black Ceramic edition.
There’s a clear upscale wish with this Bell and Ross BR-X1. The case, the dial, the hands, the movement… well, the overall watch feels like Bell & Ross but with something extra. It has the brand’s DNA – for the design – with something more in the feel, something more technical, more achieved, more advanced. There’s no doubt about it. However, the extra-luxury feeling is not everything. Bell & Ross already has some complicated watches (some tourbillons) and some more luxurious timepieces (in gold or with diamonds) in their collection. The BR-X1 plays on another level. It’s not just about making the BR-01 (the iconic watch of the brand that just turned 10) looks more refined. It’s a complete concept, a new line, that even if keeping the strong B&R attitude, brings something different, something good enough to look at Hublot (and some others) directly in the eyes.
Design / Case
What are the weapons used? First, the design. The concept of a navigation instrument for the wrist is kept, meaning that the Bell & Ross BR-X1 still relies on a square-shaped case, with 4 screws to secure it and a round bezel / dial. Look at previous watches we introduced or reviewed and you’ll have a direct link between this BR-X1 and the rest of the collection. Now, while keeping this concept alive, the brand adds a modular construction, with the possibility to play with colours or materials. And even if the watch is quite young, we already have 3 editions showing this versatile construction: the titanium and black ceramic edition, the black carbon forgé and ceramic edition and this more luxurious pink gold and black ceramic edition (there is also a Monopusher Tourbillon, but that’s another story). As you can see, the titanium example features some red accents on the casebands while the carbon edition has a fully black design. Well, considering the several interchangeable parts, it will be easy for Bell & Ross to create different editions.
Is this concept new? Not really and we can even argue that it’s one of the main trend of the industry for a few years. Modular cases have been the key factor of Hublot success. We can even see some other brands like TAG Heuer doing it now. Even Audemars can do it with the Royal Oak Offshore. Well, you’ve understand that the receipt used by the competitors has been applied by the Bell & Ross BR-X1 – and very well applied, as the overall look is impressive. To be factual, we have many parts: there’s a case back (that is here in black ceramic), a central contenair, an upper case part (here in pink gold), a intermediate bezel (here in black ceramic), an upper bezel (here in pink gold), some inserts at each corner of the case (here in black ceramic), squared-pushers (with play / pause / stop logos), lugs (here in black ceramic) and casebands (here in black rubber). So it is easy to imagine dozens of combinations for the BR-X1, with titanium, black DLC, coloured ceramics, coloured rubber… but without loosing the aviation roots of Bell & Ross.
Movement-wise, there also a clear upgrade. Without having their own movement (Bell & Ross is not an integrated manufacture), this BR-X1 comes with an interesting skeletonized chronograph. The thing is, when you’re using a modular chronograph movement, that the most interesting part (the chronograph module) remains usually hidden by the dial. Not here. On the Bell & Ross BR-X1, the entire movement is visible through the dial – and be reassured, it’s not just about looking at the main-plate. All the parts have been opened and design specifically to let the gears, levers and pinions appear. The central bridge is shaped like an X and the sapphire dial allows a to see the activation of the chronograph when pushing the buttons. Quite cool actually. The base movement is an ETA (only the balance wheel is visible through a small aperture) and on the top sits a Dubois-Depraz module. The module is finished in a clean and pleasant way: circular graining on the main plate, straight graining on the chronograph levers, sandblasted and DLC coated bridges, sunburst pattern on the X bridge.
Dial and hands
The dial is also quite complicated. First of all, you have an inner flange with a tachymeter scale. Then, on the periphery of the dial, sits a second track printed on a brushed ring and on the top of which are applied some baton indexes, that are actually floating on top of the rest of the dial, creating an interesting 3D effect. Then comes the main dial, or actually the transparent sapphire plate that is used as a dial. The logo and inscriptions, as well as the indexes of the running second at 3, are directly printed on it (very sharply by the way) and you’ll find two apertures, one for the date (that is contrasted on a white background) and one for the minute counter, with an applied track in gold on the periphery. This dial is busy and highly technical but the hands are bold and create a very good legibility (considering that the watch is skeletonized of course). The movement isn’t always appearing and in most situations, you’ll have the effect of a black background, except with a closer look that let appear the chronograph module.
On the wrist
On the wrist, the Bell & Ross BR-X1 sits quite well for a 45mm watch. Of course it’s massive and quite visible (especially in this gold edition) but it remains wearable, even on smaller wrists. The square shape and the super-short lugs are making this watch comfy. Furthermore, the DNA of the brand is clearly present and anyone who have seen a B&R in his life will recognize this watch BUT it will also be a question magnet. It feels B&R but people notice something more in it, not only because of the gold case. The watch transpire higher-level quality. Now comes the big question. Can this watch play on the field of Hublot and AP?
Well, in terms of price, this B&R can compete with Hublot. The titanium edition comes for 16,000 Euros (limited to 250 pieces), the Carbon Forgé edition for 19,000 Euros (limited to 250 pieces) and this Gold / Ceramic edition for 25,000 Euros (limited to 99 pieces). It’s lower than Hublot and from my point of view the case / strap / dial are on the same level. The entire watch is very robust, adjustments are sharp and clean, the dial is superb, the finishings are qualitative. Then comes the question of the movement. Well, the BR-X1 doesn’t have the manufacture movement of an AP or a Hublot (well, for some of them). However, the top module is pretty interesting, well finished and pleasant to use (good feel when activating the pushers). Furthermore, the base movement is hidden. Considering the price difference, I’d say that the package is interesting and the choice between this BR-X1 and a Hublot Big Bang Chronograph (with Valjoux movement or in-house calibre) is clearly possible. It makes sense for Bell & Ross to offer such a watch, first to gain in popularity (towards hardcore and more fortunate collectors) but also in maturity. The base design should be kept but the concept had to evolve after 10 years of existence. And they did it quite well. It’s modern, complex, high-tech. Find out more on www.bellross.com.
- a real upgrade of quality for the brand
- an interesting chronograph module (both visually and technically)
- a strong design (not to anyone’s taste but those seeking for a roust, masculine watch, it will be very attractive)
- a DNA kept but a good evolution
- the overall finish and the dial
- the modular construction that allow for many variations
- the weight of the gold edition (165 grams) – this won’t happen with the 2 other editions
- the rubber strap a bit too large (even if participating to the design a lot)
- the price… interesting compared to Hublot for sure, but still quite a lot of money