Bell & Ross BR 01 Cyber Skull: The Skull Makes A Comeback (Or It Never Left)
Fads and trends tend to come and go, coming back around over and over again. Whether it’s floral-pattern shirts, glass-topped furniture, or the malaise of the waning weeks of winter, some things will always find a new audience and experience a resurgence in popularity.
This is likely due to the generational divide allowing new groups of people to rediscover something that was once extremely popular only to fade from the public consciousness for a while. Once-popular colors come back in vogue, movie genres see waves of new content, older music styles continue to ensnare the youth; everything that was old will become new again when people find it hidden in our collective pasts.
Some might say that this simply demonstrates that we will never come up with anything new and that we just recycle the same ideas over and over again, But I would argue that certain ideas, looks, or feelings transcend time.
One thing that transcends time for most of us sooner or later is a general curiosity and fascination with death and all things related to death. This results in depictions of skulls and/or skeletons being extremely popular across cultures over the centuries. The skull is one of the most universally understood images that humankind has either created or learned how to mimic.
The skull seems to have the power to invigorate people repeatedly no matter how often it has been used or how watered down the imagery has become. This is why – especially in the luxury industry with wristwatches, art, or fashion – the skull is perpetually refreshed and used in different styles (and at varying price points) by diverse communities.
One might assert that the skull is simply trendy and it won’t last, but I’ve seen it come and go repeatedly, clearly showing that there will always be a niche in the market for skull-adorned watches.
So it makes perfect sense that Bell & Ross decided to venture back into skull-adorned watches (or perhaps it just never left). Taking the aesthetic in a decidedly new direction, the BR 01 Cyber Skull is one of the coolest skull-themed watches I’ve seen in years.
Bell & Ross BR 01 Cyber Skull
The BR 01 Cyber Skull is the sixth iteration of Bell & Ross’ Skull timepieces, which kicked off with the “OG” BR 01 Skull Airborne in 2009, followed by the BR 01 Tourbillon Skull Airborne in 2011, 2015’s BR 01 Skull Bronze, the Burning Skull in 2016, and the Laughing Skull in 2018.
The previous models shared a very clear through-line as the cases, dials, and artistic depictions of the skull were all closely related. That’s no longer so with the new Cyber Skull, which only has its theme and base movement in common with its predecessors. The rest is a whole different animal (skeleton).
The Cyber Skull displays hours and minutes with its balance visibly beating away on the forehead. The skull’s jawbone is connected to a power reserve mechanism displaying a very loosely averaged power reserve.
When fully wound, the jaw and mouth are wide agape, only when it runs low does the jaw finally shut. While it’s open you have a small view into the mainspring, but you don’t buy this watch to ogle the mechanics (or at least solely to do that).
The aesthetics of the Cyber Skull are the primary draw – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. There are lots of niche, quirky, strongly designed (almost) time-only watches out there, so for something to grab my attention it has to have something extra, something that I can’t easily find somewhere else.
And in this case it is a faceted, digitally inspired skull that is the complete opposite of what a skull usually is.
The movement is skeletonized (seriously, no pun intended) and from the rear takes on the outline of a skull and crossbones, the thematic foundation for all the BR 01 Skull watches. The case follows suit, continuing the aesthetic of the Cyber Skull dial and is extremely faceted, its looks mimicking something like a gemstone made from matte black ceramic.
But instead of following the explicitly square case shape from the previous versions, the Cyber Skull takes a page out of the BR 05’s playbook and breaks the corners.
A matte black gemstone or a watch?
While the BR 05 breaks the corners with a nice radius reminiscent of Dieter Rams, the Cyber Skull chamfers the corners and then chamfers those chamfers.
Or should I say it puts a facet on a facet. That is what the entire aesthetic of the Cyber Skull is about: playing with faceted surfaces.
Considering that the human skull is a naturally growing bone that is rounded with soft curves, the Cyber Skull basically makes an about face by making the shapes the least biological and organic as possible (at least where humans are concerned).
In the skull-shaped dial, the cross-bone movement support, and the entire case and sapphire crystal the designers looked for every possibility to add another facet wherever possible. Even the open dial showcasing the balance wheel at 12 o’clock in no way dominates the aesthetic as it would on most other watches.
That goes to show that the Cyber Skull’s looks are literally radiating with design purpose.
To maintain the visual, the hour markers are applied to the underside of the front sapphire crystal so that time is not only ephemeral but also not rooted in the body. This is a subtle concept, and may not even be intentional, but given all the other aesthetic choices it makes thematic sense for the Cyber Skull as a whole.
Aesthetics as design purification
One seemingly minor change that is more important than one may realize is the decision to lose the lugs and integrate the strap attachment into the case shape. This helps with the aesthetic direction (since the F117 Nighthawk Stealth Bomber was a design guide for the case) as it makes the case feel more uniform and considered.
The decision also showcases how much Bell & Ross is willing to venture outside of its typical safe zone, a concept more than a few other brands could really take to heart.
And while the case really demonstrates a certain sense that the brand tries not to be too locked into one style, the faceted skull is for me a perfect embodiment of some of my favorite design elements and principles in practice. I love when typically natural and clearly artificial things get forced to interact and coexist, especially if they play with contrasting shapes and textures.
An artist going by the name Harow is renowned for making skull chairs, but not just any skull. They are basically the three-dimensional version of the Cyber Skull, fully faceted with the forehead (and most of the upper half of the skull) replaced by the seat.
I’ve always drooled over the chairs, and the Cyber Skull is basically like a wrist-wearable analogue that also can tell the time and doesn’t cost more than a house.
The BR 01 Cyber Skull tickles my aesthetic sweet spot for extremely unique textures and visuals.
Also, the fact that it’s coming on the heels of the BR 05 releases of the last couple years demonstrates that Bell & Ross is getting a lot right these days. I’ve always had a soft spot for Bell & Ross but if things keep going at this pace it might just become a sleeper favorite for an entire generation of watch lovers!
While I try to figure out a way to buy a bunch of watches to hoard until the collector market takes off, let’s try to break this ceramic skull down!
- Wowza Factor * 9.97 Faceted skulls are going to be hard not to say wow to no matter who you are!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 99.7» 977.723m/s2 Nearly a full thousand Gs’ worth of force keeping you up dreaming about this watch!
- M.G.R. * 62.1 With an aesthetic design like the Cyber Skull having mechanical features tied to it with the jaw double dipping as a power reserve I have to give some serious respect for the simplicity and clarity of the movement design!
- Added-Functionitis * Mild Technically the jaw is a power reserve, but it also has no way to give you any accurate information other than “it appears I have power” so I’ll recommend some children’s strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream for the technically true swelling!
- Ouch Outline * 10 Missing the sheet of paper with your knife and getting your finger instead! When you pick up a new pocketknife, just remember, it really is sharper than whatever it replaces. Still, I’ll take that little “whoopsie, oh dear, that was deeper than I thought” if it means getting the Cyber Skull on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * Gasp! It’s like that chair! Sometimes the quickest way to fall in love is to meet someone that reminds you of someone else you already loved. And sometimes that someone is a watch and that other someone is a half million dollar chair!
- Awesome Total * 758 Start with the number in the limited edition (500) and add the caliber number (206), then add the water resistance in meters (365) and the result will have a faceted awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.bellross.com/our-collections/Instruments/br-01-46-mm/br-01-concept-skull/BR-01-CYBER-SKULL.
Quick Facts Bell & Ross BR 01 Cyber Skull
Case: 45 x 46.5 mm, matte black ceramic
Movement: manually wound Caliber BR-CAL.208, 48 hours power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes; power reserve automaton
Limitation: 500 pieces