I had the privileged pleasure of being leant the brand new and stunning BR01 Ceramic the other day. As I was taking in the remarkably exquisite details of the ceramic case my wife was watching some nonsense cookery program on a lifestyle channel. It dawned on me that being a great watch designer has psychological comparisons to a great chef. It’s all about the individual ingredients, how well they work together and how much of each ingredient should be used.
It’s all about evolution and embellishment. A great designer will hardly ever consider a design finite, despite commercial success and industry awards. Similar to a chef, new ingredients become available and educated trials will result. In the case (no pun intended) of the BR01 Bell and Ross decided to utilise ceramic as the main material. Final finishing flourishes aid all-too-important presentation. The similarities between the thought processes required for each profession becomes more evident.
Bell and Ross created the perfect aesthetic and utilitarian horological dish in 2005 when they took the watch world by surprise with the BR01. This was designed specifically to encapsulate the fundamental design criteria that Bell and Ross bestows upon itself:
Legibility, Functionality, Precision and Water Resistance.
Bell and Ross have previously successfully introduced Ceramic into the BR03 models with these visually striking Green and Blue examples. These both still retain their utilitarian aspirations with the matt finish to the Ceramic.
However, the introduction of the highly polished black ceramic BR01 has pushed this oversized tool watch into classy dress watch territory.
I appreciate that the BR02-92 Ceramic is seemingly too large and too square for such a description but whoever said that a dress watch has to be small and round. A better definition would be a non-utilitarian timepiece that has a timeless, elegant, well proportioned design, is fabricated from high end materials and has exceptional quality of finishing. There is no arguing that the BR01 Ceramic does not fit these criteria. I guess I’m still stretching the limits of poetic license here so suffice it to say that the BR01-92 Ceramic is the most dress watch oriented example derived from this range of tool watches thus far.
Before I heap justifiable prose onto the BR01 Ceramic I think it would be prudent to offer an introduction to the material that makes this watch unique within the range:
The word "ceramic" is derived from the Greek word keramikos meaning pottery. It is related to the older Indo-European language root "to burn".Ceramics are inorganic non-metallic materials. Metal oxides (Al2O3, FeO, etc.) are common examples of ceramics, but other compounds such as carbides and nitrides are also included. Porcelain, glass, bricks and refractory materials are some examples of traditional ceramics. In the last 30 years, advances in material science have transformed formerly brittle ceramics into materials tough enough to withstand the environment of engines, for example. Ceramics are used in a variety of applications including window glass, implantable teeth, brick, ceramic bones, nuclear fuel, tennis racquets, solid-state electronic devices, engine components, cutting tools, valves, bearings, chemical-processing equipment and fairly recently, of course, watch cases.
The properties for which ceramics are most often selected include:
High-temperature resistance (High melting temperatures.)
High hardness (Many ceramics are brittle.)
Good chemical and corrosion resistance.
Good appearance control through surface treatments, colorization, etc.
High electrical resistivity (Although some ceramics are superconductors.)
Broad range of thermal conductivity (Some ceramics are excellent insulators)
Ceramics are generally more brittle than metals and can have similar stiffness (modulus of elasticity) and similar strength, particularly in compression. But in a tensile test they are likely to fail at a much lower applied stress. This is because the surfaces of ceramics nearly always contain minute cracks ("Griffith cracks"), which magnify the applied stress.
Since ceramics often have very high wear-resistance and hardness, most ceramic parts are formed as near net shape as possible. Ceramics are most often produced by compacting powders into a body which is then sintered at high temperatures. During sintering the body shrinks, the grains bond together and a solid material is produced. Other ceramic forming processes include: Dry Pressing, Isostatic Pressing, Roll Compaction, Continuous Tape Casting, Slip Casting, Extrusion, Injection Molding, Pre-Sinter Machining, Hot-Pressing, Hot Isostatic Pressing, Grinding, Lapping and Polishing. So, as I’m sure you can appreciate, it is quite an expensive and labour intensive process.
Here endeth the lesson.
Thank You Wikipedia for this information.
Cool technology and stunning aesthetics aside the main benefits of the ceramic case to a wrist watch is its scratch resistance. One of the main issues owners of high end watches have is how prone they are to scuffing and scratching from everyday use. This causes some owners to not really get the full potential out of their expensive timepieces. All too often they’ll want to remove them or hide them under a shirt sleeve to protect the case. This means that the wearer is never 100% relaxed whilst wearing the watch, which is detrimental to the full enjoyment of owning such a meticulously and exquisitely manufactured timepiece. Some people are the opposite and like a few dings and scuffs as that automatically concedes ownership. The BR01 ceramic offers the best of both of these worlds. The former can be consoled by the ceramic case and sapphire glass which are almost scratch proof. The latter are provided for by the piano black exterior which can take on its own individual owner created patina over time. Of course, a quick polish and it looks like new again.
There would be no point in creating the stunning piano black highly polished ceramic case and not furnishing the rest of the watch with the same meticulous detailing. This would be the equivalent of marrying a Steinway piano with an Ikea stool. Fortunately the Bell and Ross designers realised this and have included a deeper than deep black lacquered dial, hand-made black leather strap with ceramic buckle, polished hands, applied silver logo and applied numbers. I particularly love the hands. They have a brushed metallic finish except at the centres where they are lacquered. This gives the optical illusion of them floating independently like some sword shaped star in the night sky. A wonderfully realised transposition from the original BR01 hands.
Strap and Buckle
Despite being oversized the BR01 range does fit a normal sized wrist very comfortably. This is due to the non-protruding lugs being the same width as the strap and the flat, smooth caseback.
The crown is black DLC, to maintain the theme, and is inscribed with the Bell and Ross logo.
The luminosity is not the best I’ve witnessed but it is perfectly legible in the dark and lasts throughout the night.
The BR01 and 03 packaging has always been some of the best at the price point. You get a second strap and the tools that enable this to be swapped over. My only real criticism is that there is a Nylon strap included which doesn't suit the watch, in my opinion. I'm sure most prospective owners would like to change the personality of the watch by using the brilliant rubber straps that Bell and Ross are known for instead.
As with the other BR01 watches that I have reviewed I am always left with a slightly hollow feeling because I have always truly liked the unique design but these 46mm square timepieces have an inappropriate girth for someone with slim wrists such as myself. However, I’m left more disappointed in my genome than the BR01 itself.
The BR01 is, and has always been, a fantastic design. It has represented Bell and Ross and their design philosophies perfectly with its highly legible tool watch . It has always been aimed at a particular demographic. However, I believe this ceramic version can now claim to be a very classy looking dress watch. It’s still a little too large to be understated but I see it as an alternative to dressing up and accessorising with a gold and diamond encrusted timepiece. It’s definitely a lot cooler and cheaper as well.
In conclusion the BR01 Ceramic is a beautiful, robust, refined, tool watch that can be worn in any situation. Tough enough for a children’s party and classy enough for a dinner party. It will look after itself and will allow the wearer to concentrate on the demands of life until, of course, they find themselves concentrating on that gorgeous ceramic exterior.
All words and pictures by Rick Atkins, unless otherwise stated. This article may not be reproduced in part or in whole without permission from the author.