A few months ago, French brand Bell & Ross announced a partnership with France’s precision aerobatics demonstration unit, the world-famous Patrouille de France. At that time, no watch had been unveiled, but we recognized the coherence of this connection between the two entities, both sharing the same values, spirit and country of origin. A natural partnership, without a doubt. And we knew that it was just a matter of time before a dedicated watch was to be presented, celebrating this recently signed partnership – which goes beyond just putting a logo on a watch. So here it is, the new Bell & Ross BR 03-94 Patrouille de France (actually two watches… but more on that later)
Background – Bell & Ross’ professional references
Created in 1992, Bell & Ross has always been involved in anything related to aviation and military requests, with a collection of instrument watches answering the needs of special forces, diving commandos, air-forces and all kinds of pilots (military or civilian). These early watches were not just design statements, as they were intended to be worn on the field. As an example, the brand created the Type Demineur, a watch made after a request from the French Civil Defense and designed according to operational specifications.
Following the launch of its most emblematic model in 2005, the BR01 watch with its squared case inspired by antique avionic instruments, under the so-called “circle within a square” motto, the brand will have multiple requests from elite units to design watches that feature specific functions or celebrate special occasions and anniversaries. The brand has certainly evolved over the years, with racing-car oriented watches, vintage-inspired round models and even an urban watch with an integrated bracelet, but this dedication to military requirements remained true.
Bell & Ross still provide watches to multiple squadrons and elite squads. To name a few, there were for instance the BR 03-92 GIGN and BR 01 RAID, both watches made for elite bodies of the French National Police or Gendarmerie. There was also the BR 03 Type Aviation, a multifunction digital watch that fulfils the requirements of French fighter pilots.
The Patrouille de France, one of the world’s best acrobatic teams
The Patrouille de France is one of the world’s most famous precision aerobatics demonstration units. Born in 1953 but active since 1931 under different names, this elite unit under the control of the French Air and Space Force (the Armée de l’Air et de l’Espace) is the oldest of its kind and is considered one of the best in the world. The patrol’s mission is to perform aerial displays consisting of precision aerobatics – for instance, the unit traditionally opens the Bastille Day military parade in Paris.
The squadron is composed of 9 pilots and 35 mechanics. Three pilots integrate the Patrouille each year. The new entering patrollers are chosen amongst the hunter pilots of the French Air Force. The mechanics have for mission to maintain and repair the 12 Alphajet planes assigned to the unit.
While this is often said for most elite military teams, time is particularly important in the context of the Patrouille de France. Indeed, the chains of manoeuvres must be perfectly synchronized between the different pilots, not only in order to avoid dead time for the public but also for the safety of pilots and attendees. The manoeuvres are a perfectly timed choreography where error isn’t an option. During aerial shows, the pilots travel at speeds of between 300 and 800 kilometres per hour and are spaced just two to three meters apart.
The Bell & Ross BR 03-94 Patrouille de France
The new Bell & Ross for the French precision aerobatics demonstration unit is the result of more than just the brand designing a branded object. It results from joint work between B&R and the pilots who expressed their operational needs. Hence why it actually looks rather different from all other members of the BR 03-94 family, with multiple special features to make this watch adapted to the Patrouille de France.
There is a bit more to the story than the watch you see here today. There are actually two watches involved, which are visually identical but not powered by the same movement. The Bell & Ross BR 03-94 Patrouille de France that is actually worn by the pilots in the cockpit during the demonstration flights will not be automatic, but a quartz model – which is known for its even better accuracy, a specific demand of the team. Also available, this quartz model will be made in 100 pieces only. But today, we’ll focus on the watch that has been designed specifically for a broader audience, which is entirely the same with the exception of the movement.
The Bell & Ross BR 03-94 Patrouille de France is part of the BR 03 family, as such measuring 42mm x 42mm, with the typical “circle within a square” case, defined by its combination of geometric shapes and screws at each corner. The right side of the case classically houses the crown and the pushers, and water-resistance is comfortable at 100 metres. As per the request of the pilots, the case is crafted from black ceramic, known for its lightness and resistance, and has been treated in matte to avoid reflection during flights.
An important point of differentiation in this watch is the presence of a bi-directional bezel, also made of black ceramic, equipped with a scale for 60 minutes or 60 seconds – depending if you use it in conjunction with the minutes or the seconds hand. The scale is made of white luminescent markings. The watch is, as often with Bell & Ross, worn on a black rubber strap closed by a PVD-coated steel pin buckle, and an ultra-resilient black fabric strap is also included in the presentation box.
The main update and most noticeable element in this Bell & Ross BR 03-94 Patrouille de France is its dial, which relies on the aerobatics demonstration unit’s colour codes and emblem. The dial is matte dark blue, once to create great contrast with the white markings and to avoid reflections. The hands, typical of B&R’s production, are largely covered in SLN and so are the hour markers and the large 12 o’clock numeral. As requested by the team, the watch is equipped with a chronograph function, with all indications pointed by red-coloured hands. This function will help them when needing synchronisation and the tachymeter scale on the inner flange allows for the calculation of average speeds. And of course, there’s the logo of the Patrouille de France proudly printed at 6 o’clock, a gold emblem with nine jet silhouettes and the tricolour banner as a symbol for France.
Under the solid caseback is the calibre BR-CAL.301. This automatic movement, based on the ETA 2894, has a modular architecture and beats at a 4Hz frequency. It displays the time, running seconds, a chronograph with central seconds and a 30-minute counter, and finally a date in a circular window with a tone-on-tone disc at 4:30.
Availability & Price
The automatic Bell & Ross BR 03-94 Patrouille de France will available to the public, in a limited run of 500 pieces, through the brand’s online boutique and authorized retailers, at the end of July 2021. This version will be priced at EUR 5,900. As for the quartz version of the BR 03-94 Patrouille de France, 100 of them will be made available to the public and priced at EUR 4,900.
For more details and orders, please visit bellross.com.