Bell & Ross BR 05 For A Week On The Wrist: How It Measures Up
It’s about time a watch “spoke” to me. This one sure did: the brand-new Bell & Ross BR 05.
Rather than a large aviator’s cockpit-style timepiece the brand has made its reputation producing, the BR 05 is “just” 40 mm in diameter and presented in satin-polished stainless steel or pink gold. It’s meant to be worn 24/7 in most situations any urban gentleman finds himself. Here’s what captured my interest.
I volunteered to review this piece if Bell & Ross would send me the watch – with a gray dial in steel on the integrated bracelet, please. I had it on my wrist three days later. If anything, Bell & Ross is a very easy company to work with.
Bell & Ross BR 05: design elements
To me, this watch is similar to at least three others that I covet: the Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711/1A, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak (pick a model), and the Glashütte Original Seventies Chronometer Panorama Date. Take a look and see the similarities for yourself:
The BR 05’s integrated bracelet with its satin-finished links surrounding the polished center immediately jumped out at me. The squared bezel with sensuously rounded corners took me straight to the Patek Philippe Nautilus.
The four screws holding the bezel in place speak of the AP Royal Oak. These are all pricey and rare timepieces. The stainless steel Nautilus is said to currently have a waiting list up to 20 years for a new piece priced at around $30,000 and an aftermarket price of $50,000-$80,000. For all information on the markets for this watch, see Tim Mosso’s thoughtful piece Stainless Steel Patek Philippe Nautilus Market Madness: Thoughts On The Current Market Situation.
Yet, here is Bell & Ross offering its watch right now – as in immediately – for $4,900. That is a third of the price of the Glashütte Original Seventies, and one-fifth the price of the AP Royal Oak.
Bell & Ross to the competition: “We’re not here to dance.”
For many watch fans, it’s not always about the money; we want instant gratification. Waiting until your infant daughter is ready to enter junior high school is simply not in the cards.
I carefully examined the BR 05 Bell & Ross was so kind to provide for my review. Honestly, I was looking for the flaws I was sure must be there. Such a beautiful piece employing traces of the design language found in some of the world’s most coveted timepieces at a fraction of their prices and available immediately. What am I missing here?
The more I examined the watch, the less it looked like any of the others: Bell & Ross’ “DNA” thoroughly emerged. I began asking questions of the Bell & Ross people. They were quite transparent. Bruno Belamich, creative director and co-founder, provided me the answers I sought.
Was the watch I’m holding plucked from production or is it a prototype?
It turns out this particular piece was indeed a prototype. Yet it looked identical to the pictures the company has released of their watches available this month. Now prototypes often have some corners cut. After all, they’re samples of what might be and not really for sale.
Except this one. The case finish was smooth as silk. There will be no frayed cuffs repeatedly sliding over this watch. There were no errant tool marks anywhere. Winding the crown was smooth and authoritative. Almost like I could feel the gears perfectly meshing inside. It reminded me of something my mom used to say: “The way you do one thing is the way you do everything.” So it seems in prototype watches as well.
Who made the case and who made the integrated bracelet?
Manufacturers more often than not outsource production of certain parts, bracelets and clasps among them. I asked because I noted sharp edges on the outside of the bracelet links that are not present anywhere on the case. Nor do the same sharp edges exist on the inside of the bracelet.
Where the bracelet meets bare wrist the links are, again, smooth as silk. “Both case and bracelet are made in our factory at La Chaux-de- Fonds,” Belamich answered.
But what about those sharp edges?
I didn’t mention that my Rolex Air King bracelet has no such sharp edges. Belamich was patient and as nice as he could be. “We had to make a choice between either the visible perfection of the finishes and sharpened aspect to the touch or a softer finish and feel. The second formula wasn’t suitable as it was spoiling the aesthetics of this watch. However, we have worked on the back of the watch, which is non-aggressive.” Yes. The back of the watch bracelet has no sharp edges – non-aggressive, as he called it.
Was the BR 05 designed to mimic the Patek Philippe Nautilus, the AP Royal Oak, or the Glashütte Original Seventies?
“The BR 05 enrolls our iconic design,” Belamich explained. “The round within the square. It is our new category of integrated watches. This collection was designed to move from the professional world of the extreme to the urban landscape; a transition from the off-road to the in-road. In the BR 05 ‘DNA,’ there is a hint of [aircraft] dashboard. The lines of its case combine round and square, the basic geometric shapes that form part of Bell & Ross’ identity.”
After thinking about that, wearing the BR 05 for a week, and comparing it with the others some say have a similar design, I get it. The BR 05 evolved from the company’s history of designing aviation tool watches. Here’s the image that brought this evolution together for me:
Where is Bell & Ross’ design language?
The answer is everywhere on the BR 05. Some might say that this new offering borrows too much of its design from other famous watches with integrated bracelets. Only a cursory look suggests that. The four major elements of which I’ve heard such comparisons made are:
The integrated bracelet: Like several other notable watches, the BR 05 extends the case to flow into the first center link of the bracelet. This one has brushed links alternating with polished center links. This same design is found on the BR 03-92 diver’s watch.
The buckle on both the steel bracelet and the rubber strap are folding satin-polished steel. I found no issue whatsoever with the buckle, which secured with a satisfying snap, telling me the watch was safe and secure until I released it using the two side buttons.
Crown guards: Lots of watches have crown guards, which look like little bumps in the case. For tool watches this is so common that I wouldn’t necessarily even call it a design element. The BR 05 employs crown guards. Still, some will cite the Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, and the Glashütte Original as examples of Bell & Ross design overreach by adding these.
In my opinion the crown guards are overkill. This piece is intended for urban wear. It’s not a dive watch, a pilot’s watch, or intended for mountaineering. To me they are superfluous. I’d be interested in seeing how the BR 05 looks without them.
The bezel screws: Gérald Genta designed some of the most sought-after watches on the market today. The Patek Philippe Nautilus and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak are two. The Royal Oak famously includes eight functional bezel screws.
Bell & Ross incorporated four bezel screws into its cockpit-watch designs years ago. Again, I’d say the use of bezel screws is so prevalent that it is now a design component of the watch industry’s vocabulary rather than proprietary to any single manufacturer.
I asked how they got the bezel screws to so precisely point in exactly the direction they wanted. Were they merely decorative and (gasp) glued in place?
The answer is that the watch case is made of three parts: bezel, middle piece (otherwise known as the case band), and back. All three are assembled with four sets of screws and bolts.
The top of the bolt is on the bezel side and ends in a decorative slot. The bolt fits into a square-shaped holder beneath the bezel so the slots always line up.
The bottom screw (on the case back) is fastened into the top bolt on the bezel side. There you have it: perfect slot alignment every time.
Dial font: When I first saw the BR 05, the three numerals on the dial at the quarter hours looked familiar. That was borrowed from Panerai, I thought.
But no. Belamich told me, “We use the Engravers Gothic BT font for the numerals, which is the font used by engineers in the aeronautical industry. Indeed, this font is the one you find in aircraft panel instrumentation and provides optimal readability.” So, again, even the dial font is part of Bell & Ross’ design “DNA.”
One thing I require in any watch is legibility – in daylight and in the dark. My workday begins at 4:00 am and takes me to meetings in offices, to the gym, and often down into the engine room of the USS IOWA. Sometimes, my doesn’t end until the night.
The BR 05 was always visible both in the dark and other low-light conditions.
However, in bright interior light or sunlight, the shiny gray sunburst dial and the flat bezel become reflectors that make it difficult to read the time. Just turn the dial until the reflection disappears; problem solved.
I considered this a minor inconvenience. If it really bothered me, I’d probably opt for the blue or black dial. I wouldn’t think they reflect as much light.
Was this design co-opted from others?
No. There is so much of the company’s history in this new piece. Still, some may disagree. Let them. For Bell & Ross to undertake this line that departs so abruptly from its aviation heritage – and yet use what makes their watches so loved – is nothing short of gutsy.
Bell & Ross BR 05: who will buy it?
In my opinion it’s a hybrid. With its 100-meter water resistance and all-metal construction, I have no problem taking it anywhere. And I did. I swam with it in the pool and took it out for an afternoon surfing session and to the gym in addition to my regular office hours as a working writer.
I think this piece looks as good and functions as well in a business suit as it does in a wetsuit.
“We consider this timepiece a more urban watch for the everyday man about town. Its versatility and design allow it to be worn for dressing up or in the most casual of circumstances,” Belamich added.
I agree. No need to change watches when transitioning from sporting activities to social engagements. I can’t say that about my Apple Watch.
Some manufacturers (IWC, for one) have quick-change features on their straps and bracelets. I can see how that would be a nice feature on the BR 05. The bracelet truly turns this watch into a dress piece, while the rubber strap is certainly meant for play.
Alas, Belamich said “Tools will be required” when we talked about changing from strap to bracelet and back again. I’m thinking I can just have my jeweler teach me to make the change and buy the tool. How hard could it be?
Bell & Ross BR 05: accuracy
If you’re going to pay $5,000 for a watch, it had better be accurate. The BR 05 is as accurate as I need it to be.
For the week I had it, the watch began with a four-second deviation to the upside the first day. The incremental deviation fell to three seconds the next day. Day three saw just a two-second incremental deviation. Perhaps we were getting used to one another.
By week’s end the BR 05 was a total of just ten seconds ahead of the exact time set on day one.
I set the minute hand one minute ahead of UTC and pushed the crown back in. Then I waited until the second hand approached the 12 o’clock marker. I pulled out the crown (the BR 05 has hacking seconds), then just waited until UTC (from NIST’s F2 Cesium fountain atomic clock in Ft. Collins, Colorado – see Timekeeping In A 5G World) caught up with me. Press in the crown and the time is set to the exact second.
I found the screw-down crown on the BR 05 a bit small. Belamich said it was deliberately sized in order to fit the aesthetic of the watch. Couple that with the crown guards it is positioned between and it is a bit difficult to work with.
Watch setting isn’t so much of a problem since the crown is pulled out beyond the guards, making it easier to turn. However, winding the watch using the crown could be a bit easier. Fortunately, owing to the BR 05’s accuracy, winding and setting the watch does not have to be a daily occurrence.
Bell & Ross BR 05: availability
This point piqued my interest in the BR 05. I will not wait 12 years for a watch as Patek Philippe (audaciously) requires of its customers. However, I anticipate there to be high demand for the BR 05. I asked about production runs for the BR 05 that could be limited in order to spike demand and maintain price.
Belamich was – as usual – totally transparent on this issue. “As part of the promotion of this new collection, we have produced several thousand timepieces that were delivered to our network the first week.”
Asked and answered. That pretty much sets to rest the question of managing supply to increase demand. They’re not going to do it – though in my opinion they probably could. I expect this piece to be very popular.
BR 05: final thoughts
I showed the watch to anyone who was interested. I had pictures of the Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, and Glashütte Original on my phone to add to the conversation.
There was a slight design preference for the BR 05 over the Patek Philippe 5711 and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore. The Glashütte Original with its re-interpreted 1970s design didn’t seem to garner much interest.
However, when we discussed price and availability, the BR 05 became the clear favorite.
In my opinion, Bell & Ross knocked this one out of the park. The design works, the pricing works, and so does the availability. For those who covet Patek Philippe’s Nautilus 5711 but won’t wait over a decade for it, here’s your watch. Right now. And it costs 80 percent less.
My personal favorite is the stainless steel version with blue dial on the bracelet with the blue ribbed rubber strap included in the package. I’ll just have to learn how to change the strap and the bracelet. And get the tool necessary for the job. How hard could it be, right?
For more information please visit www.bellross.com/mods/BR-05.
Quick Facts Bell & Ross BR 05
Case: 40 mm, stainless steel, water resistant to 100 m
Dial: brass with applied numerals and hands coated in Super-LumiNova; comes in black (with minute indications), gray, blue, and skeletonized
Movement: automatic Caliber BR-CAL.321 (base Sellita SW300-1), 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency. 42-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Price: $4,900 on steel bracelet; $4,500 on a rubber strap