Founded in 1992 – a baby by horological standards – Bell & Ross was launched by designer Bruno Melamich and businessman Carlos A. Rosillo: a partnership that melded commercial acumen with a fine eye for detail. What the label lacked in maturity however, it made up for in flawlessly designed pieces that were deemed rather unusual by the traditional industry. This turned out to be the label’s greatest strength. 1994 saw Bell & Ross re-issue the famous Space 1: the first automatic chronometer to be worn in orbit. From there, the French Security Services commissioned the Bomb Disposal Type – a military grade watch with an anti-magnetic case and expert accuracy. Which, all things considered, is a pretty important part of bomb disposal.
The accolades didn’t end there, though. In 1997, Bell & Ross released the Hydro Challenger, a watch that scored a spot in the Guinness Book Of Records as the first of its kind to function at 11,000 metres below sea level.
All of which may sound somewhat detached from aviation. But Bell & Ross’ largest brushstroke of genius were not of a technical nature – though that was astounding in itself – but of a visual one. The French label’s mainline collection takes the square shape of a French jet fighter’s cockpit, and places it directly onto the dial: four-sided equilateral tickers fastened with the same number of screws to house a feat of mechanical wonder inside. And it’s that deft touch that’s become Bell & Ross’s signature.
These days, you’ll find Bell & Ross independently producing such pieces in La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland: a rarity these days. While manufactures habitually license and borrow the best parts of other competitors, Bell & Ross keeps the operation largely in-house. So that means the majority of the Bell & Ross gear on your wrist is actually Bell & Ross. The only exception to this rule is the strap. That job goes to some of the finest tanneries in Italy, who produce and provide most of the natural-fabric straps.
The tickers that began it all. Bell & Ross’s aviation line cements the brand as one that conquers the skies, with both the BR01 and BR03 references perfect illustrations of the label’s signature. Each watch is united by the iconic square dial, with four screws pinned to each corner.
For a brand only born in 1992, Bell & Ross does vintage incredibly well. Harking back to the aviation watches of old, the collection includes both Chronograph GMT watches alongside the BRV 123 references – a popular choice for those looking to infuse the wrist with a watch of yesteryear.
Because there’s no other watch like a Bell & Ross. Sure, that’s something almost every watch brand on the planet says, but there’s some truth in it from this particularly label. First, the shape. In the nineties when watches went big, small but always round, Bell & Ross deviated from the norm to make the square-shaped case their signature. And, by proxy, yours.
The same statement shape lends itself well to your personal style, too. While watches are often bought as heirlooms to transcend fleeting trends, Bell & Ross may well be your ultimate stylistic punctuation mark. Take, for example, a classic moonphase from a brand-that-shall-not-be-named. Sure, it’ll look at home with anything in your wardrobe, but is it the type of watch to lift your bog standard nine-to-five suit to boardroom level? Hardly. Instead, Bell & Ross is capable of adding impact – and indeed, memorability – to the wrist that trumps any traditional ticker.
Plus, there’s the price tag. While you’ll always drop a considerable sum on a Swiss piece – or, at least, you should if you want quality – Bell & Ross sits in a comfortable mid-bracket. Not quite TAG Heuer, but by no means Piaget. That means you can clinch a piece that doesn’t warrant a serious (and we mean serious) thought as would be the case with other showboat timepieces.
The BR02, one of Bell & Ross’s mainline pieces, can withstand depths of over 1,000 metres of pressure making it one of the most robust dive watches on the market. It looks pretty good on dry land, too.
Bell & Ross’s headquarters is located at number 8, rue Copernic in Paris. Unlike most of the Swiss old guard, Bell & Ross has long prided itself on the Parisian lineage and despite production in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the label has maintained all other company operations in its hometown.
Bell & Ross’s landmark BR01 Skull Bronze was limited to just 500 pieces worldwide. Faithful to the icon of the 1944 parachutist regiment and its skull and crossbones emblem, the piece kickstarted the industry’s reignited love affair with bronze and was a firm pivot away from usual horological expectations.
Bell & Ross’s most popular watch – the iconic BR01 first launched in 2005 – boasts a sizeable 46mm diameters. While this may seem at odds on the more slenders of wrists, such an impact illustrates Bell & Ross’s refusal to tow the line. These watches aren’t for wallflowers.
In 2002, Bell & Ross released the Vintage 123 Heure Sautante. This limited edition piece was the first partnership between the brand and master watchmaker Vincent Calabrese, and was also deemed the first jumping hour hand watch with reserve indicator. Though as one door opens, another closes: the marriage between Bell & Ross and Calabrese also signalled an end to the joint production efforts with Sinn at the Chaux-des-Fonds manufacture.
1992:Bell & Ross is formed as a joint venture between two childhood friends – Bruno Belamich and Carlos A. Rosillo. The simple idea was that ‘function shapes form’, and that same idea lent itself to a watch brand that placed efficiency, legibility and reliability back on the dial.
1994: Bell & Ross released the Space 1, the world’s first automatic chronometer to be worn in the final frontier. No, not the Swiss countryside in December, but somewhere even more unforgiving: space.
1996: The Bell & Ross Bomb Disposal Type was first launched at the request of the French Security Services. The piece itself boasts an anti-magnetic case increased legibility and precision – several factors essential to the plight of bomb disposal experts.
1998: The Space 3 chronograph was released following the success of its predecessor. The watch, fully equipped with a screwed down, telescopic retractable winding crown that became known as the ‘T-Crown System’, was another standout piece. During this time also, Chanel Horlogerie took a shareholding in Bell & Ross’s capital.
2000: Chanel Horlogerie take an increased stake within the company, yet Bell & Ross remain the majority shareholder.
2005: The BR01 is launched – another signature line from Bell & Ross.
Unlike other major manufactures, Bell & Ross doesn’t boast a brigade of ambassadors per se. Instead, the label focuses upon individuals of interest.
Carmen Jorda is one such person. In May 2016, the Spanish racecar driver was selected to front Bell & Ross’s first feminine line: the Diamond Eagle. The announcement was made in Monaco’s star-studded F1 Amber Lounge, and the piece itself was a huge departure for Bell & Ross: midnight blue, studded with seven diamonds to reflect the Aquila constellation, and complete with gleaming metal indices. Sure, nothing like a French pilot’s watch, but by no means a lesser statement.
The racecourse affiliation doesn’t end there, either. Kevin Magnussen, Danish Haas team member, was also seen sporting a Bell & Ross at one of the label’s many events to celebrate Jorda’s appointment. With a long-winding career that spans McLaren and Renault, Magnussen is but another ambassador that reflects the manufacture’s adherence to form leading function, and unrivalled craftsmanship.