The Luxury Sports Watch… The hottest of the categories these days, the one everybody talks about, the one everybody wants and the one that creates most premium over retail (sadly…) So, hardly surprising, there have been new brands appearing on the market, some high-end, some on the other side of the spectrum, some expected, some clearly not. Bell & Ross was in the ‘unexpected’ category and launched its own vision of a luxury sports watch, a full collection we’ve already presented. And today, I’m going to share my personal take on this Bell & Ross BR05.
What’s a luxury sports watch?
Quick reminder, to give a bit of context. The luxury sports watch is a concept born in 1972, with the creation of the Royal Oak, a watch designed by Gerald Genta, as Audemars Piguet’s reaction to changes of the market – arrival of quartz watches, new trend for steel watches. The idea of Genta was to create a bracelet to indicate the time, a coherent piece where the case, bracelet and dial were part of a whole, shaped like one piece, and not the sum of separated elements.
This meant a shaped case, integrated lugs with a bracelet in continuity with the case, a dial that designed accordingly to the rest of the watch and a slim profile. In addition to that, the brand mixed classic Haute Horlogerie elements, such as guilloché dial and an ultra-thin and decorated movement, with more casual aspects, such as the use of stainless steel, vigorously brushed surfaces and decent water-resistance. As the first of its kind, the Royal Oak is also used as a benchmark to define the category.
Later, most of the mainstream brands of the era would follow in the footsteps of AP. The most noticeable examples are Patek Philippe in 1976 with the Nautilus, Girard-Perregaux in 1975 with the Laureato, IWC in 1976 with the Ingenieur SL, Vacheron Constantin in 1977 with the 222, and even Rolex in 1977 with the (final version) Oysterquartz. The “integrated” style would go out of fashion in the coming decade, until recently and the resurgence of the Royal Oak and the Nautilus as the most sought-after watches on the market.
Following this, multiple brands entered the luxury sports watch market, such as Maurice Lacroix as an entry-level option, Chopard with the Alpine Eagle, Piaget with the Polo S, but also independent watchmakers such as Laurent Ferrier or Urban Jurgensen. Some were even more unexpected, such as Lange with Odysseus or, today’s topic, Bell & Ross with the BR05.
Why is Bell & Ross in this market?
From its earliest days, Bell & Ross is a brand associated with military inspiration and tool watches – mostly pilot’s and diver’s watches. From 1992 to 2005, the brand created its own designs based on watches manufactured by Sinn – back in the days also associated with tool watches. In 2005, the brand gained its independence and created a watch that would become its signature design, a model that would define the brand for the decade to come: the BR01. As we’ve explained in this in-depth article, the design was based on aviation instruments. In short, a no-nonsense, military-inspired watch with a round dial within a square case, and 4 decorative screws.
So why did B&R move beyond this successful range of military/pilots/aviation/officers watches to create the new BR05? Well, let’s make it simple. Bell & Ross is a company, and as such, its main goal is to sell watches, to create value and to generate profit. Certainly, people passionate about watches don’t want to hear that, but that’s the blunt reality for all manufactures/watch brands. Bell & Ross was certainly successful but also reached a point where it would have remained a niche brand, based exclusively on its military watches. It needed to evolve, to expand: hence the creation of the BR05.
You just have to accept that this watch is a new chapter in the brand’s history, and departs from military inspirations.
Now, we’ve heard a lot of comments regarding legitimacy. Was Bell & Ross a legitimate player in this luxury sports watch field? Well, to me, everybody is legitimate and no one is… Let’s put it this way. Has anyone ever complained about Patek creating the Nautilus in 1976? It was simply introducing a competitor to the commercially successful Royal Oak. And so did IWC, VC and others. The Royal Oak is so iconic that people tend to give it more credit than it should. It created the market, no debate. But so did Mercedes with ML when creating the concept of modern SUVs, followed by pretty much every other car manufacturer – BMW, Audi, Porsche… The question for Bell & Ross shouldn’t be about legitimacy. There is a successful type of watch and demand for it and the brand rises to the occasion. Period.
What’s more important than legitimacy is faithfulness and respect for the brand’s design codes. And here, I think Bell & Ross has done a great job. It has managed to mix classical elements of a luxury sports watch – shaped case, integrated bracelet that tapers, raised bezel, clean dial, brushed surfaces with polished accents – with the brand’s iconic “round within a square”. Even the screws, also a typical element of luxury sports watches, are legitimate here and have been widely used by B&R in the past.
A closer look at the Bell & Ross BR05 “Blue Steel”
OK, now that we have the context part done, let’s be more objective and look at the Bell & Ross BR05 as a watch, not just as a strategic development for the brand. We’ve introduced this new collection already, and looked at all the models, including the rather expensive full-gold model (EUR 30k) and the skeleton version, which I did not find really attractive – but let’s be fair, I don’t really like openworked watches. The main model, the 3-hand version in steel with a full dial, is not just the core product, it is also the most accomplished version. It is available in 3 options, black with minute indexes, in order to create continuity with other B&R watches, a grey-dial edition which works great in the metal, with its monochromatic look, and the “Blue Steel” we’re covering today, with the most classic colour of the category, dark blue.
The BR05 Blue Steel offers the right combination, with contrast and a relatively discreet splash of colour – the blue used by B&R, also in other collections, is nice and quite saturated. This version also benefits from the absence of the painted minute markers, providing a cleaner and more contemporary look – which is more in line with the whole “urban” concept of this watch.
But first things first, the case. Luxury sports watches are first and foremost about design displaying unity and a continuous flowing line between the case and bracelet. The Bell & Ross BR05 doesn’t depart from the rule, with its shaped case and continuous lines between casebands and bracelet links. The case of the BR05 has been designed after the BR01/BR03 concept, yet with an evolution. The corners of the case have been softened, allowing for the bezel to be integrated into a squarish barrel middle-case. The construction is classic, in three parts, with a shaped central container, screwed caseback and bevelled bezel on top. All of them have brushed flat surfaces and polished accents. The bezel is decorated with typical B&R screws, also polished.
Design-wise, the B&R codes are immediately recognizable, however, with a totally different flair. The combination of classic 1970s elements and military/cockpit features is well-dosed, and in my opinion, results in a watch with nice proportions and its own personality. I could live with a slightly slimmer bezel, as there’s a lot of metal on the front of the watch – something less visible on the Grey Steel model. The integration of a crown protection device is somewhat debatable. I personally like it, but I can understand that some won’t.
Quality-wise, the case and bracelet are very satisfying. The surfaces are well finished, the junctions between polished and brushed parts are neat and clean and the watch offers a pleasant feeling of solidity. It is tight, well adjusted, well executed all around. It has a higher-end feeling than other watches from Bell & Ross.
Something that can’t be overlooked with such watches is the bracelet. For obvious reasons, we wanted to test the Bell & Ross BR05 on a steel bracelet, even though it is also available on a rubber strap. The bracelet contributes a great deal to the design and the appeal of this watch.
The bracelet is, once again, a classic design from 1970s luxury sports watches, yet it has a flat profile – no rounded centre links. Its geometric design complements the case and its integration is good. One thing that I like is the relative thinness of the links and the highly tapered shape – the buckle is 16mm while the first link is 25mm. Also, visually pleasing, the triple-folding clasp is fully hidden under the links, again to create a continuous design.
The main drawback of this design is the absence of a fine adjustment system for the bracelet. This is something that I didn’t feel was missing once the watch was sized according to my wrist, but I know that some watch collectors do like to have this feature. Still, this can’t be used with a concealed clasp and inevitably adds thickness to the bracelet, which I wouldn’t recommend. The quality of the bracelet is on a par with the rest of the watch, with edges that are sharply executed but not cutting.
Wrist comfort and proportions
Let’s talk specs. The Bell & Ross BR05 is 40mm in diameter (from 3 to 9 o’clock), 10.5mm in height and 47mm lug-to-lug. This is relatively small compared to some of the massive sports watches on the market currently, still there is something important to remember. First, a square watch necessarily has more presence than a round watch – simply, it covers more surface. Those who have tried a Monaco will understand. Second, a shaped case, having its lug integrated into the whole design, also adds more presence.
Now, the 40mm diameter of the BR05 was, on my 17cm wrist, an adequate size. The shape of the case, combined with short lugs with a pronounced angle, allows for a watch that feels compact and a bracelet that rolls around the wrist and that doesn’t fall straight… The watch has some presence but never felt oversized (and my wrist is rather small).
If I want to be a bit picky, I would have liked a bit more thinness. I know 10.5mm doesn’t make the BR05 a thick watch, yet such designs work even better with ultra-thin profiles. This watch is 2.5mm thicker than a Royal Oak “Jumbo” but the exact same height as a Royal Oak 15500ST, two watches we recently compared. All in all, the BR05 has classic luxury sports watch proportions and does wear as such. And more thinness would mean a different movement, resulting in a totally different price.
Dial and display
Once again, the Bell & Ross design codes have been adapted to the more urban idea behind this BR05. Numerals are softened versions of the classic, military-inspired Arabic numerals found on the BR01/BR03, or in the vintage collection. To add a more luxurious appeal, numerals and indexes are applied, rhodium-plated but filled with Super-LumiNova, providing good contrast in the daytime and very decent nighttime legibility. Also, a nice detail, the date window is framed by a polished metal ring. And on such a watch, it makes sense to have it, so better not to try to hide it.
The dial and its elements – hands, applied numerals and markers – if not impressive, are well-executed. The blue colour of this edition also works well in the luxury sports watch context, yet I have a personal preference for the monochromatic look of the Grey Steel model. All the dials are sunray-brushed, offering nice reflections and playing with ambient light.
Bell & Ross has never claimed to be a movement manufacturer and relies on its long-time partner Sellita for this new BR05 collection. The movement used here is based on the higher-grade SW300-1, a clone of the ETA 2892. This means a longer power reserve and better chronometric results. However, the Bell & Ross BR05 doesn’t rely on a standard movement, but a personalized version with sandblasted and grey coated bridges, together with an openworked rotor shaped like a rim. The decoration remains industrial but is unique to this watch and modern, which works well with the whole concept.
Regarding the choice of movement itself, this Sellita base is a wise choice. Bell & Ross, being partially owned by Chanel, could have gone with the Tudor base movement (Chanel and Tudor share production facilities, with a company named Kenissi), but this movement is much thicker – 6.5mm vs 3.6mm for the SW300-1 – which doesn’t match with such a luxury sports watch.
I don’t think it is necessary for B&R to use anything other than Sellita for its watches. Not only would the added value on a 3-hand movement be limited, but the brand would need to invest a huge amount to develop a movement – does this make sense for B&R? Not in my opinion. Finally, it allows for a controlled price and for the brand to focus on the habillage parts instead. And altogether, the SW300-1 is a solid and reliable base, and the personalized decoration adds value to the watch.
Did I like wearing the Bell & Ross BR05? A short answer would be yes. Is it a perfect watch? No. I would love a bit more thinness and a slightly larger crown, as it isn’t the most practical one to use. Now, regarding the design, it’s an entirely subjective topic, and I’ll leave the final conclusion to each of you. Personal take: I like the design of the BR05, I like its feeling on the wrist.
In a more objective way, I think the integration of the brand’s codes into this 1970s luxury sports watch context is well balanced and achieved. Quality-wise, the watch doesn’t disappoint and feels solid, neat and tight. With prices starting at EUR 4K, it isn’t cheap but it offers a lot regarding its case and bracelet – which are better executed than anything else Bell & Ross has produced so far. You just have to accept that this watch is a new chapter in the brand’s history, which departs from the classic military codes.
Price and Availability
The Bell & Ross BR05 in steel with steel bracelet is priced at EUR 4,500 or USD 4,900. They are now available at retailers and on the brand’s e-commerce website. More details at bellross.com.