Bell & Ross fighting against Audemars-Piguet and Hublot? That’s exactly what Carlos Rosillo, one of the two founders of the brand, wants to achieve. While Bell & Ross was used to produce multiple editions of a same concept for years (countless versions of the BR-01), they are now coming with more complicated watches, with quite a strong design. After the B-Rocket presented in Baselworld 2014 (that we’ll review soon), the french brand introduces a limited edition with the ambition to fight in the heavyweight class, the Bell & Ross BR-X1 Skeleton Chronograph.
The Bell & Ross BR-X1 Skeleton Chronograph may represent the exact opposite of Hautlence with the Invictus Morphos in terms of marketing and strategy – remember that this timepiece will be Hautlence’s entry level – the technical specifications are however quite similar. Bell & Ross with its latest collection is raising standards to a complete other level. First, the design is stronger, resolute and complex (the original BR-01 and BR-03 were already quite recognizable). Then, even if the brand is not developing its own movements, it now relies on much more complicated engines, with interesting layouts. If the first collection were somehow representing the birth of the brand, these new watches are showing maturity. Of course, it won’t be everybody’s beater, but it brings some freshness to a known concept.
The case of the Bell & Ross BR-X1 uses the classical and iconic design of B&R – meaning a square box with a round dial aperture, inspired by on-board instruments – with a more complicated conception. The grade-5 titanium case measures 45mm. It is light but has a high level of protection, due to the black ceramic protective band. Ergonomic was also part of the concept: the places where fingers should sit are highlighted in red rubber (for the pushers and the recessed part at 9 for the thumb) for a better grip, even with gloves (remember that Bell & Ross creates watches that are effectively used by pilots and special forces). This combination of a strong, sporty and resolute design reminds us of course of the Hublot King Power or the Audemars-Piguet Royal Oak Offshore. But in order to compete such icons, a design and materials are not sufficient the only requirement. What ticks inside the Bell & Ross BR-X1?
This new Bell & Ross relies on a movement created especially by Dubois-Depraz, a skeletonized chronograph module visible through the sapphire dial. The base movement is not specified – an ETA movement or an ETA-clone (Sellita or Soprod) is more than possible. The main plate is an openworked X treated in black DLC that allows to see the gears and levers of the chronograph moving (remember that on such movements, the chronograph module is often located on the dial side). The elements are finished in a clean and pleasant way: circular graining on the main plate, straight graining on the chronograph bridges, sandblasted and DLC coated levers, sunburst pattern on the X bridge.
The dial shows a central chronograph second, a small second at 3, a minute counter at 9 indicated by a rotating wheel and a date aperture at 6. Around it sits a tachymeter scale. Made from rubber, the black strap is decorated with a braid, which echoes the woven canvas straps used by astronauts. In this configuration, the Bell & Ross BR-X1 could be something able to compete with the Hublot Chronographs or the Hautlence Morphos, that is very close in terms of technical content (let us be more skeptical about the AP ROO, considering the in-house movement and the higher level of finishing – and of course the image of the brand). Something that has to be confirm however with some hands-on, just to feel the quality and to see the movement working.
Like it or not, this is a strong, maybe risky choice from B&R that shows the future ambition of the brand. The Bell & Ross BR-X1 Skeleton Chronograph is a 250-piece limited edition that will be priced at € 15,000 Eur.