Bell & Ross
Swiss/French luxury watch manufacturer
Bell & Ross is a relative newcomer in the industry, founded in 1992 by childhood friends and college students Bruno Belamich and Carlos Rosillo ("Bell" from Belamich and "Ross" from Rosillo). The brand is headquartered in Paris with watch production in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. It wasn't always this way, however, as Bell & Ross partnered with German watch manufacturer Sinn for a decade of production. The Space 1 was the brand's first watch in 1994, a chronograph featuring a Lemania 5100 automatic movement and labeled Bell & Ross by SINN on the dial. This was a reissue of the first automatic chronometer worn in space by German astronaut Reinhart Furrer in 1983. In 1996, the Bomb Disposal Type watch (TYPE DEMINEUR) was adopted by the French Security Services for their bomb disposal unit. The anti-magnetic, highly legible piece (along with the Space 1) established Bell & Ross as a professional grade brand with the slogan, "function shapes form." A world record was set the following year with the Hydro Challenger, featuring a water resistance rating of over 11,000 meters. Innovative watches continued with Sinn, such as the Space 3 chronograph with a retractable crown in 1998 and the Function in 2001 with both an analog and digital display. The Sinn partnership ended after a decade of success as the brand sought manufacturing independence (following an investment by Chanel Horlogerie), and a clear identity was established in 2005 with the iconic BR 01.
Many think of the round dial in a square case aesthetic when talking about Bell & Ross, which has become emblematic. The BR 01 was inspired by military airplane instruments with square cases for easy installation in dashboards, and four exposed screws in the corners to mount them in place. Both of these elements are found in the BR 01 (and subsequent models), bringing an aeronautical instrument to the wrist. It was functional, basic and highly legible, and solidified a brand identity for the company. It was a large piece at 45mm x 45mm, but the BR series evolved over the years with smaller cases and experiments in design. The BR 03 introduced a 42mm x 42mm case and date window, allowing for a more mainstream daily driver. New materials and complications have also been introduced (BR-X2 Skeleton Tourbillon Micro-Rotor and BR03-92 Diver are examples), but the core design remains unchanged from that first BR 01. Models continue to be provided to European special forces, including French police tactical units like GIGN and RAID as the brand never forgot its roots as a professional grade manufacturer.
Notable designs include the Skull series, introduced in 2009 to pay tribute to US parachutists of World War II (who’s logo was a skull with “Death from Above” as a mantra). The first BR 01 Skull Airborne was a playful variant of the original model, replacing the circle with an oblong, skull shaped dial and hands shaped as a dagger and sabre. In 2011, the BR 01 Tourbillon Skull Airborne took things in a radical new direction, introducing a regulator style for the dial (all hands in separate registers) and a tourbillon complication at the bottom (along with power reserve and trust indicators). The BR 01 Skull Bronze launched in 2015 with a more conventional setup in a bronze case, and the skull itself was uniquely ultra-luminous. A one-off BR 01 Skull Bronze Tourbillon also launched that year for the prestigious Only Watch charitable auction. The following year saw the BR 01 Burning Skull with tattoo-like engravings surrounding the dial and hands between the skull’s eyes. The brand went “exotic” again in 2018 (after the BR 01 Tourbillon Skull Airborne in 2011) with the BR 01 Laughing Skull that featured an animated bottom jaw that moved up and down as the movement was wound. The balance wheel was also exposed at the top with additional gears visible on the left side of the skull. These limited edition models showcase the brand’s creative prowess within the original BR 01 formula.
The square design evolved again in 2019 with a new luxury sports watch, the BR 05. This 1970’s-inspired urban sports watch retains the brand’s DNA, but with a rounder, more elegant theme. The four exposed screws and circle in a square motif remain, but softer angles and an integrated bracelet add some grandeur. The signature Arabic numerals and indexes, and rounded baton hands are also present on the dial. The brand offers more conventional round cases, of course, with the vintage-inspired BR V1, V2, and V3 series (chronograph and three-hand models). This design has been part of the company’s portfolio since 1997, but the circle in a square motif has come to define Bell & Ross as a world renowned, military-inspired luxury brand.