Bell & Ross BR 05 Chrono: A Timely Arrival To The Steel Sports Watch Party
Some might argue that you never want to be the first one to arrive at a party, that it’s better to be fashionably late so you can make an entrance. This has the added benefit of allowing you to avoid awkward small talk with people you don’t really know or getting roped into helping finish set up. It also lets you slip in unnoticed to check the vibe and see whether it’s worth staying.
A party’s dynamic shifts over the life of the event, the flow changing the atmosphere at different times, with only the most long-lasting partygoers staying until the very end. Still, some guests enjoy getting there early so they can enjoy conversation and drinks before it gets loud and crazy, ducking out once it gets too wild.
But what if you aren’t among the first to arrive, and you don’t even arrive fashionably late, instead showing up just as the party hits its crescendo and you are thrown into the mix with everyone and everything at its loudest, all vying for attention?
For some this is a nightmare. Yet others see this as the perfect opportunity to grab the best of the party instantly without the build up, just jumping right in having a blast and sampling the hits.
This is what it’s like to enter the steel sports watch arena in 2020: you are way past fashionably late, and the party is at its apex with people jumping in the pool with clothes on and dancing on tables. All you can do is look around and see who is having a blast and who is tossing their cookies behind the shrubbery out back.
But you are fresh and ready to go. You have missed the boring bits, can pick out the best of what’s going on, and have fun with much less effort.
In a similar vein, Bell & Ross has arrived the steel sports watch party at just the right time: the brand immediately took a shot (the BR 05), high fived a few friends, and took another shot (the BR 05 Chrono).
Bell & Ross went straight to the fun highlights, joining the entertaining conversations, dropping in on the playful games, and snacking on the best food.
This is the best analogy I could think of for Bell & Ross releasing the BR 05 collection in 2019 then following it up with the chronograph model in late 2020.
We are long past the time when brands are following on the heels of the first to enter and right at the height of everyone getting in on the fun. And as if it were a party, Bell & Ross was able to pop its head in, take a look around, and know immediately what to do to have a great watch on its hands without needing to be the life of the party while avoiding the pitfalls of being the bad party guest (i.e., the brand with the unsuccessful steel sports watch – no names here).
The BR 05 Chrono with black or blue dial on rubber strap or integrated steel bracelet are perfect amalgamations of the most successful details given the Bell & Ross treatment for a great watch that knows how to arrive at the height of the party and have the most fun right away.
Bell & Ross BR 05 Chrono
The Bell & Ross BR 05 Chrono is the follow-up to the previous BR 05 time-only models, which were immediately recognized as some of the best-designed steel sports watches in the market.
We can’t ignore that the BR 05 took clear inspirations from a century of watches; it didn’t try to reinvent the wheel and was thus attractive at first glance. The typical Bell & Ross square case shape is there, rounded on the corners with aligned bezel nuts (they aren’t screws, I’ll cover that later) and round dial.
The chronograph features a 30-minute counter at 9 o’clock, balanced at 3 o’clock by the small seconds dial. A small porthole date window at 4:30 is set between applied lozenge-shaped hour markers, while applied numerals stick out at 12 and 6 o’clock. A chamfered ring around the flange features printed minute numerals, all of which combines to make a very legible chronograph.
But this description might make it seem like Bell & Ross has just made an adequate chronograph because it misses all the nuance of what has gone into the BR 05 Chrono to make it an extremely solid choice for a steel sports watch.
To understand that we need to look at the inspirations, how design languages work together, and how you can successfully create something distinct while pulling from a “parts bin” of aesthetic choices others have already made.
I may not be the first to point out some similarities, but I hope to show why Bell & Ross’ choices make so much sense and why showing up to the party when it’s at the crescendo paid off big time for the BR 05 Chrono.
The Bell & Ross aesthetic isn’t cribbed from other watch brands but is derived very faithfully from analogue flight gauges found on historic aircraft. The BR 01, BR 03, S, X1, and X2 models all feature designs looking like they were ripped straight out of a cockpit.
The square case shape that doubles as a bezel is nearly identical to the layout aesthetic of these gauges thanks to the round dial and square panel bolted in with four corner screws. At its core, the BR 05 Chrono is a slightly softened and modernized take on this.
When you compare the BR 05 Chrono to the ruggedly square models it becomes obvious that the biggest separator between the two is that the BR 05 Chrono has a distinct case middle instead of the square bezel pulling double duty as the entirety of the case profile.
This aesthetic shift, while perfectly in line with the Bell & Ross design language, evokes other watches such as the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Patek Philippe Nautilus, or Cartier Santos, even though Bell & Ross technically just took its normal aesthetic and brought it in line with a more traditional watch shape and construction.
Because of that, the BR 05 Chrono both benefits from, and is hurt by, perception due to familiarity with other watches. But in all fairness, this aesthetic has been the bread and butter of Bell & Ross for years.
When the brand launched the square aesthetic, the style was extremely uncommon if not unique. The new BR 05 design language turns that square shape into a rounded square bezel with chamfered and polished edges that actually are atypical for the square aesthetic from the brand.
Thus, comparisons with other watches were born. And I would argue for the better since the design is widely accepted as a beautiful detail on some incredible timepieces. But closer inspection will always remind you that this style is explicitly Bell & Ross.
Like with the four bezel nuts, which are reminiscent of Cartier, Hublot, and Audemars Piguet, among others. The nuts have been part of design language since the first analogue gauges were made – and since Bell & Ross introduced the design language in watches decades ago.
Those bezel nuts, which simply resemble screw heads, are in fact the receiving part for the case back screws that pass all the way through the case (just like with Audemars Piguet and Hublot) and allow for the perfectly timed appearance.
The middle case details borrow heavily from successful designs like the Royal Oak, Big Bang, and TAG Heuer Monaco for good reason: it looks sturdy and beautiful. The inspiration of the sharply angled lugs with straight brushing aren’t hard to pinpoint, same for the crown guard, though one might not notice the connection the chronograph pushers have to the Monaco (blocky and angled off axis from the crown).
The TAG Heuer Monaco shares this aesthetic and given the shape relation (square cousins) the angled and rectangular chronograph pushers make perfect sense in the context of Bell & Ross (previous square models have rectangular pushers parallel to the square edge).
The difference here is that these pushers follow the middle case shape, adding a secondary angle between each square edge, another detail recalling other popular steel sports watches. In a vacuum it would be clear that these details are to soften the hard, square profile of the typical Bell & Ross model. But nothing is made in a vacuum, and designs are all related to each other either as a reaction against, or acceptance of, good design ideas.
Moving to the dial, we find both a close adherence to and diversion from the typical aircraft gauge aesthetic. The rounded numerals and lozenge-shaped markers have been with Bell & Ross for a while, but the hands were always baton or sword style to replicate aircraft gauges. Here the hands follow the rounded lozenge shape of the markers (making them aesthetically consistent) but also invoking comparisons to the very popular Nautilus.
Other watches feature this style of hand, and it makes perfect sense given the style of the dial markers, however it is hard to avoid comparing the design to other popular watches.
Still, I would argue that there aren’t any hand styles that make more sense here given the aesthetic of the hour markers, and any similarities are secondary to rational and legitimate design decisions.
The same can be said for the subdials, which are rounded squares unlike every other chronograph previously released by Bell & Ross, which featured standard round subdials. The subdials are a continuation of the square bezel and overarching style, but comparisons are immediately obvious with the previously mentioned TAG Heuer Monaco, possibly the most famous square chronograph of the twentieth century.
Once again, the actual details matter more as the radius corners perfectly mirror the bezel, and even the subdial hands have squared-off bases unlike the hands on the Monaco, which have circular bases. The Bell & Ross square theme continues right into the smallest and possibly least meaningful detail, yet it subtly adds another layer of flavor to the design.
Just makes sense
The date window is an exception as it stays the same as on many other Bell & Ross models for the simple reason that most consider it one of the better examples of a date window on any watch.
The porthole window is small and round with only a chamfered edge to keep the impact of the window low. The date disk is also color matched to the dial (a perennial favorite detail among collectors), keeping the date minimal and unobtrusive.
The date on the Chrono evolved from the time-only BR 05, which sees a rounded square window trimmed in polished steel, something I know from years of experience many people dislike, even though aesthetically it is consistent with the choices made within the overall design. That evolution, which allows the dial to stay very legible, maintains a consistent design language throughout the brand’s collection.
Moving on to possibly the most controversial component – the integrated bracelet – I think its implementation is perfect for this style of watch. Integrated bracelets are a tricky thing because there have been so many already, and unless you go for something radically different (which will be extremely polarizing) you are bound to resemble something that has come before.
In this case the bracelet plays with the H style we might feel is familiar because it is common to the Patek Philippe Nautilus bracelet and resembles the finishing of an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak bracelet.
The H style from the Nautilus is a bit different as it uses domed link sections that, when combined with the satin-finished and polished links, create an almost jewelry-like look. That is fine for a brand that makes most of its watches with precious metals and gemstones, but for a brand like Bell & Ross with a heritage of rugged tool watches, it just doesn’t fit. So flat brushed and polished links were the way to go, more like that of a Royal Oak bracelet, while avoiding the link style that also makes that one feel a bit more jewelry like.
The result is a bracelet that evolved with the development of the BR 05 collection and feels cohesive with the case design and consistent with the brand’s aesthetic. It feels and looks luxurious but doesn’t lose much of its ruggedness even with brushed and polished surfaces. Plus, like a good tool watch, all of the hour markers, numerals, and hands are filled with Super-LumiNova for good legibility at night, something rarely seen on the most popular steel sports watches.
Why the BR 05 Chrono is so great (if that wasn’t already obvious)
The end result is a very attractive timepiece that hits a lot of key points and should make most collectors happy.
Might some scoff at the similarities to other pieces? Sure. Does it matter? Not even a little bit.
Let’s return to the party analogy. The luxury steel sports watch market “party” has been going on for decades, and the last couple years have arguably reached the crescendo: everyone is here, having fun, and adding their voices to the party.
So when Bell & Ross showed up and the party was raging, the early arrivals (Rolex, Omega, TAG Heuer) and the fashionably late (Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin) had already been regaling the market with stories and styles for years.
The late arrivals (Bell & Ross, A. Lange & Söhne, Czapek) are unlikely to be setting any dramatic or iconic trends, and the ones that try have varying success as collectors and critics inevitably weigh them directly against established styles we have known for half a century.
The comparison is valid but ultimately useless as the goal of making a great steel sports watch, especially a chronograph, is to give fans and customers a versatile timepiece they can be proud to wear and that will fit in a variety of settings.
So the bezel looks a bit like that other watch’s bezel; who cares? Should brands avoid making anything? Or put all their effort into being so drastically different that comparison is impossible, and sales efforts will undoubtedly struggle to shift popular opinions? No.
There is a reason luxury cars and supercars have a lot of similarities: some of the best design decisions have rational basis for the object’s function and/or relation to the human user. The same can be said in watches: unless you are going the way of Urwerk, MB&F, or Hautlence, there will always be similarities between more mainstream watches because they are designed to appeal broadly.
I love the Bell & Ross BR 05 Chrono and the new direction the brand is going with this type of watch.
The features and details are some of my favorite bits I’ve seen over the years, and combined they make for a fantastic watch.
Bell & Ross knew what it was doing when it designed this watch, spent a fortune on development and production, and debuted it to the market. It is one of the most mass appeal pieces the brand has created and it is supremely usable as a watch.
Oh, and did I mention it is relatively affordable compared to the artificially limited and very expensive watches that it is compared to? As someone who appreciates value but loves quality design, this is a win-win.
Now I just need to start saving up some dabloons to possibly add it to my collection one day.
Until that day comes let’s break this down like a fraction!
- Wowza Factor * 8.4 Like I should have made clear, when you combine good design and great prices, that will get a wow from me!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 84.1» 824.739m/s2 Most watches are so far out of my price range that the lust is theoretical at the end of the day, but this one is visceral because it’s possible!
- M.G.R. * 50 A bicompax chronograph module added on top of the BR-CAL.301 developed from an ETA 2894 base caliber is a very sound movement that is hard to argue with!
- Added-Functionitis * Moderate A date and chronograph is a sweet combination that doesn’t overpower a watch but makes it extremely useful so I would recommend regular strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream for a nice case of horological swelling!
- Ouch Outline * 9.4 Bruised shoulders from carrying heavy objects! When you move as much as I do you begin to consolidate things into as small a space as possible. This also means I have some very full and very heavy boxes that, when hoisted on my shoulder, result in sore muscles everywhere and painful bruising from the 130lb load. Still, I’d gladly do it all week if it meant getting this on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * Decades in the making! We love it because we love other watches it reminds us of, and then we love it for what it is on its own! The perfect blend of love at first sight, and that long-term affection that comes with quality time spent together (I would really love some quality time spent with the BR 05 Chrono).
- Awesome Total * 752.5 First take the model number (05) and multiply by the caliber number (301), then divide by the choice of dial colors (2) and we land on a fittingly awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.bellross.com/mods/BR-05-CHRONO.
Quick Facts Bell & Ross BR 05 Chrono
Case: 42 x 12.4 mm, stainless steel with black or blue sunray dial, integrated steel bracelet or rubber strap
Movement: automatic Caliber BR-CAL.301, based on the ETA 2894-2 with chronograph module, 42 hours power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, chronograph with minute counter
Price: $5,900 (rubber strap); $6,400 (integrated steel bracelet)