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This wonderful and informative review was originally posted in the General Forum and written by WTF member Ben:




“There I was...sitting in the cockpit of one of the most advanced flying machines in the world. This baby can really maneuver. I made a final adjustment to the seat belt straps, keeping them from cutting into my shoulders, while going over the preflight checklist in my mind for the third time. It was a beautiful day for flying. Yes sir, unlimited visibility for the entire mission. The plane shudders slightly as the front wheel locks into position on the catapult track. I glance down at the instrument cluster to check the clock. Right on time! I reach to pull down the sun visor on my helmut; it makes a snapping sound as it locks into place. I look to my right to see the catapult officer with his finger poised on the pickle. Thumbs up. Return the salute. Here come the G’s.....” HOLY CRAP!!! LOOK AT THE TIME! I’m in a Ford and I’m late for work!

Introduction:

In 1992, Frenchmen Carlos Rosillo (Ross) and Bruno Belamich (Bell) teamed up to form the Bell & Ross watch company. Initially their efforts, in conjunction with SINN, were in the production of cockpit mounted timepieces for the aeronautical and space industries. But soon after they began creating wristwatch designs for European professional (police, bomb squad etc.) and military organizations. And by 1994 they were offering their products to the general public.

I’m personally attracted to people, organizations and companies that have a passion for what they are doing and aren’t afraid to let you know about it. In an interview for www.easyjetflight.com in 2003, Rosillo declared, “I’ve always been obsessed with watches. To me, they’re things with so many elements: the design and the technical aspects, even the philosophy. Watches are about your relationship with time, the happy and the sad moments in your life. I remember the watch I was wearing when I got married, the one when I launched the company... All this in such a small object. It’s incredible!”

Bell & Ross has its headquarters in France, where their designs are created, but the watches are made in their “manufacture” in La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland. [Note: In a 2000 interview with Michael Disher at TimeZone.com Rosillo stated that SINN was one of their assemblers, but I do not know whether that is still the case.]

If you peruse the Bell & Ross catalog on their web site ( http://www.bellross.com/ ) you will immediately notice that their watch designs really embrace the concept of “tool watch” in just about every aspect (with maybe the exception of their stunning Jump Hour). Also in the 2003 www.easyflightjet.com interview Rosillo said of their designs, “We’re certainly not about fashion. Fashion watches are in and out in six months. Like JEEPs in the car world, technical watches last in terms of looks as well as make. For us it’s all about not having superfluous detail. There’s nothing on these watches that is useless. You might say there’s not much color to them, for instance. But until we find that color has a real function, there won’t be.” The Bell & Ross lineup seems to follow this pretty closely, though you will see that 4 years later several of their designs, including the Instrument Series we’ll get to in a moment, are available with gold and rose gold cases - not to mention ultra-bling diamond encrustations (BARF). [I guess they found that the “real function” for color is to increase your customer base, by appealing to vanity buyers, and thus enhance the bottom line.]

At Basel World 2005 Bell & Ross introduced their “Instrument Series” line of watches. This square design was certainly inspired by one of their cockpit instruments and is to me one of Bell & Ross’ most striking designs - and indeed its styling differs from just about every other watch. This is one of its most appealing qualities for me and initially why I was drawn to it. I kept finding myself on the Bell & Ross web site drooling and after 6 months of always having it at the top of my “most wanted list” I finally decided that I’d tortured myself enough.





The Watch:

The Instrument Series model numbers are BR01-XX with the “XX” designations being for the big date or chronograph etc. These are also 46 mm. Quite big. In fact, just about too big - for me anyway. Happily, Bell & Ross also makes this watch in a more manageable 42 mm size - designated BR03-92 (BR03-93 is the chronograph). Here’s a photo of the 42 mm Bell & Ross next to the 46 mm Steinhart as a size comparison.



The BR03-92 is available with a bead blasted stainless steel case, a carbonized steel case and a limited edition carbonized case with yellow numerals. I opted for the basic stainless case for no other reason than it’s the one I like the best - though it is less expensive. The case is 42 mm from edge to edge (45 mm to the crown) with a height of only 8 mm - really quite slim for a watch with a big presence.



The fit and finish of the case is outstanding - smooth edges, beautifully engraved crown etc. The engraving on the rear is of the no-nonsense style befitting a watch originally meant for flying in fighter planes. The face is protected by a flush-mounted sapphire crystal with an anti-reflective coating applied to the interior. Water resistance is 100 meters.





The BR03-92’s movement is a modified version of the seemingly ubiquitous and reliable ETA 2892. You get hours, minutes, seconds and date (positioned at 4:30 on the watch face). The movement isn’t COSC certified, but in the two weeks I’ve had the watch it has been running at an outstanding +1 second/day. So while it isn’t stamped “superlative chronometer,” it certainly has been running like one. Only time will really tell how it does in the long run, though the ETA 2892 has an excellent reputation in the watch industry.

The watch face? Well, it’s no nonsense - just like a tool watch should be. It’s galvanic black with large photoluminescent hands, numerals and markers. The layout is simple and easy to read - even without your glasses. It screams, “HEY! Here’s what time it is - Now, GET BACK TO WORK!”



What’s the lume like? Oh, so you like lume? OK. How’s this? You can practically use it to lead yourself down a dark hallway. Well, maybe I shouldn’t go that far, but it is very bright and it lasts for hours - not to mention a lovely shade of light blue.



The BR03-92 comes with two straps. These are attached to the case via strap bars with hex-screw fittings. The hex-screw bar ends are counter sunk into the lugs for a flush presentation. Bell & Ross includes two hex-screw tools in the box - one straight and the other at a right angle to facilitate easy strap changes.

The first is a rubber strap with buckle that is well fitting and quite comfortable to wear. The second strap included is a black synthetic canvas tactical strap with a velcro closure. It’s also comfortable but is rather big. I have 7.75” wrists and there is still some play in the strap when I wear it. I believe that it is intended to be worn over flight suits or gloves so people with small wrists will have problems with this one. Bell & Ross also offers several leather straps for the BR03-92 (which I don’t like, but I’ll get to that later).





My Impressions:

The more watches I see, and the more I learn on forums and the like, the more I get to hone my own preferences in regard to watch designs and how they relate to my own aesthetic sensibilities. I like clean, simple, functional styling; but I also like to mix modern design elements with classic characteristics. It’s how I choose furniture and art and clothing and...watches.

In the sports watch world (my personal preference) it almost seems like there’s “Submariners” and “not-Submariners." I’ll admit that my statement may be a bit of an an exaggeration, but to be honest, I prefer the latter: the smaller category of the two it seems. I respect watch makers that come up with original, different and unique designs, that aren’t simply homages and don’t pretend to be something they’re not, even if it's something I don't particularly care to own.

For me, the Bell & Ross BR03-92 certainly fits that bill. The BR03-92 has a distinctive presence on the wrist, but is quite comfortable to wear. I certainly can’t fault the fit and finish, which is excellent; and the accuracy is exceptional. I even like the fact that Bell & Ross didn't give it some pretentious name, but instead simply call it by its model number: a definite nod to their technical watch philosophy and history.

Aesthetically, the BR03-92 pleases me. It has a modern minimalistic design, almost edgy when it has the rubber strap on it, but there’s also an element to it that has a vintage, almost old-timey feel. A “je ne sais quoi” as it were and this is what I like best about it.

That “je ne sais quoi” came into focus when I decided to get a leather strap for it and after seeing the offerings from Bell & Ross, which I mentioned above, decided that I could do better. Their leather straps just seemed of the “dress” variety to me. Not the look I was after.

I chose a custom-made strap by Micah Dirkson. He makes his straps primarily for Panerai watches, but after an email exchange we decided that we could get one on the Bell & Ross. He made me the strap and after some very careful leather thinning of the lug ends of the strap with a “bullet cutting” burr and a Dremel, it fit perfectly. Micah’s strap offered me exactly the vintage feel I was looking for to soften the minimalist edginess of the watch’s overall design.



So overall, I’m very pleased. I know that I’m going to enjoy this watch for years to come. I think you always know when a watch is a keeper, and for me, this one’s a keeper. I know the style isn’t for everyone - but, hey! - it ain’t your watch.

-Ben
 
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