A couple of weeks ago we had the chance to spend some time with the people of Bell & Ross to check out the brand’s latest releases for ourselves. Not only did we get another chance to look at the new BR 03 collection, but also the BR 03-92 Diver Tara, the BR 03-94 Blacktrack and the very cool BR 03 Gyrocompass, but also to sit down and have a talk with CEO Carlos Rosillo. The “Ross” in Bell & Ross explained to us why the revamp of the BR 03 was needed, the expansion of Kenissi movements and how the brand aims to develop in the future.
Robin, MONOCHROME: Carlos, you’ve recently updated your iconic BR 03 collection. Can you explain to us why and what’s been done to the collection in the process?
Our philosophy behind the updated BR 03 collection is to refresh it while keeping the strength of the product alive. When you’re lucky enough to have an icon, you need to cultivate it and stay on the right side of things. There was room for improvement, and you should always look for that if you want to stay iconic. I always make the analogy with the Porsche 911, a car perfected over generations. Between each model, the changes might not look that big but compare the first to the last, and it’s evident how different they are. But it’s still the icon that is the 911.
We wanted to keep all the elements that make the BR 03 the icon it is and to perform an evolution instead of a revolution. When we launched the circle-in-a-square design with the 46mm BR 01 in 2005, we took the style of an aeroplane instrument to the wrist. The BR 03 came to life in 2006 and moved down to 42mm, and now, with the updated BR 03, that’s slimmed down one more millimetre to 41mm across. Looking at the old and the new individually doesn’t reveal that big of a change until you put them side by side. That’s because we did more than just reduce the size. We totally redesigned the case with more rounded corners, slimmer lugs, a different profile for the bezel, updates to the dial and hands, etc. On top of that, the movement has also improved, as it now has 52 hours of power reserve instead of 42.
You’ve explored the world of aviation, racing, and diving with the BR 03 collection. Are there any other fields you’d still like to investigate?
If you look at what we’ve done with the BR 03, it can be split into three different universes: land, sea and air. The world of aviation is, of course, the most important source of inspiration; that’s where our signature square design comes from. We held the record for the most water-resistant watch with the oil-filled Hydro Challenge, we had the tonneau-shaped BR 02, and now we have the square BR 03-92 Diver. We’ve also been partnering with a Formula 1 team since 2016, first with Renault and now with Alpine. The BR 05 also fits in with its urban chic style, perfect for city life. There’s not much that we haven’t done or that could be done for us. Maybe space with a mechanical watch, but we’re not working on that right now.
One of your latest limited editions of the BR 03-94 Blacktrack was presented alongside a custom bike designed and built by Sacha Lacik. How does a project like that come about?
Bruno and I love cars, but I cannot create anything like that; that’s Bruno’s side of business. Such projects are always quite special, as it is not often that two designers find mutual ground like this. Bruno has created a car before (the Aero GT) and other vehicles, but Sacha Lacik is known for his motorcycles. He and Bruno worked together on the design of the bike, and the watch followed naturally from that. And over the course of such a project, the design changes many times. The first sketches and the final product look almost nothing alike.
Even when a design is agreed upon, changes to the bike can influence the design of the watch at a later moment in time and vice versa. Change something on one, and you might find new ideas to incorporate in the other. But this one, both the watch and the bike, turned out really, really cool! I’ve just come back from New York, where we presented the two during the Watch Time New York event. The bike will be sold to a collector instead of being displayed in our HQ in Paris like the B-Rocket we did in 2014 (see below).
The BR 05 was launched in 2019, about a year before COVID-19 stopped the world dead in its tracks. How is that performing as a collection for you?
That was indeed Baselworld 2019. The idea for that collection was to make our square watch with screws on each corner less instrument-like and a bit more chic, fit for an urban lifestyle. We wanted to transfer the design of our BR 01 and BR 03 into a sophisticated luxury sports watch, and that became the BR 05. All the hallmarks are there, with a rounded square case, raised bezel, circular window, screws on the corner etc.
Another big difference that sets apart the BR 05 from the BR 01 and BR 03 is the fact it comes on a bracelet. That’s something we introduced with the BR 05, an integrated bracelet instead of leather, rubber or velcro straps. It’s a much more stylish watch because of it, with a seamless transfer from case to bracelet. Again comparing it to cars, it’s like the Land Rover Defender. The BR 03 is the more rugged, older model, and the BR 05 is the newest generation. Still a Land Rover, still a Defender, but with a different style. It also gives people the chance to change from a casual outfit paired with the BR 03 to a more formal suit with the BR 05.
The collection as a whole has been performing very well. Of course, our main focus is the BR 03, but the BR 05 takes up a very large percentage of our sales. A lot of collectors have a BR 05 alongside the BR 01 or BR 03, or even multiple ones. We’re very happy with how it performs.
Within the BR 05 range, you’ve also introduced the BR X5, a higher-end sports watch with a movement by Kenissi. Can you tell us more about the partnership with Kenissi and future plans for these movements?
As you know, we’re partially owned by Chanel, which also owns a stake in Kenissi. We wanted to use that connection somehow, and the answer was the BR X5. The Calibre BR-CAL.323 was specially developed for us, and it’s our first real manufacture movement. It comes with a three-day power reserve indicated on the dial, a big date, COSC certification, and a five-year warranty.
We are planning on expanding that movement, or maybe others, into the collections as we don’t want to limit it to the BR 05/X5 models. With a company like Kenissi, however, we need to plan far in advance. It’s an industrial process, and developing something like this takes a lot of time. We also want to do it in a very complementary way and not force it. We’re very happy about this partnership as the movements are very reliable.
The world is in a difficult state right now, with a global economic downturn, supply and demand issues, and some major conflicts affecting us all. How does that impact Bell & Ross?
I prefer it when the market is down, actually, as it requires you to think differently and adapt to the challenges it presents. You can stand out when the market is not good. When the market is up, there’s a lot of competition in the industry, limiting capacity from suppliers, for instance. We’re too small to get the amount of watches made we actually want to make. But when the market is down, and you’re in a good spot going into it, things can change quite quickly. You might be able to benefit from capacity that frees up at manufacturers and suppliers.
It opens up opportunities. Opportunities that might not occur when the economy is up as everyone benefits from it, not only Bell & Ross. Even small steps forward for us are hugely important, so we’re happy with how we’re doing despite all the challenges around us. So I would say I’m more comfortable when the market is not so good actually.
Looking forward, how do you aim to keep Bell & Ross on a growing trajectory, and what can we expect in the future?
Bell & Ross was actually one of the very first brands, if not the first overall, to launch an e-commerce platform. This was 14 years ago already, and our clients have grown accustomed to it, and it’s performing very well. People can always go into boutiques and dealerships, but if a specific watch is not available, they can order it online and we will deliver it to anywhere they want. We’ll continue to progress this and provide even more versatility for our clients.
We currently have 25 boutiques worldwide and 600 points of sale. We do notice that some retailers keep stock low, but our boutiques are growing in volume. We’ve just opened up two new locations, Nagoya in Japan and Malaysia. Just before that, we also opened a store in Madrid, so the network is growing.
Next year also marks the 30th anniversary of the Space One, the very first watch by Bell & Ross. Is there any chance we get to see something along those lines make an appearance?
Yes, the Space One is a very important watch for us, and we are looking to celebrate that first watch, but I can’t tell you much more about it at the moment. You will have to wait and see.
For more information, please visit BellRoss.com.