New and Reviewed: Bell & Ross BR 05

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New collection from Bell & Ross, joining the bandwagon of luxury sports watch. The new BR 05 collection is based on the iconic BR 05 square case, and continues to bear the brand’s watchwords of legibility, functionality, reliability and precision. We had a sneak look of the new collection during Baselworld, but as it was under embargo (until minutes ago!), we had to keep mum. We also had a few days with the pre-release models for photography and here is our hands-on review. With photographs of the actual watch.

Bell & Ross BR 05

A total of 4 models are released with stainless steel cases – a navy blue dial, a deep black dial, a silver grey dial and a skeleton dial. Plus a gold model.

The case, dial and bracelet

The BR 05 is created to feature an integrated case: the bracelet fuses with the case to create a unified piece. In the words of Bruno Belamich, Bell & Ross’ co-founder and creative director: «This integration of case and bracelet is not only in line with the brand’s visual identity, it also brings another dimension to the watch: the first link forms part of the case. This type of design harks back to the Seventies, and when transposed to Bell & Ross, it creates a result with a graphic style which is both striking and modern.”

Design cues – case and bracelet

While the base case structure is based on their iconic square instrument style BR-03 case, the new case also draws from the other iconic pieces in the market. Comparison is perhaps drawn to the industry giants of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and the Patek Philippe Nautilus. And perhaps to a lesser extent to the various Panerai Luminor, Vacheron Constantin Overseas and the Girard Perregaux Laureato. But also indeed with the grand daddy of them all – the Cartier Santos, designed in 1904 by Louis Cartier made a special watch for his friend Alberto Santos-Dumont.

But the BR 05 updates all those designs. The BR 05 case is delivered in a modern dimension of a 40 mm square. Which is rather angular in design, with the rounded edges of the square literally taking the edginess out of the design, making it look very sleek. The satin-finished surfaces are perfectly flat. The polished bevels emphasize and enhance the volumes they contain. The crown guard are two pieces of sculptured steel, screwed on the case sides, perhaps taking the cue from the Cartier Santos.

The curves have a nice feel as one runs one’s fingers over it. The sensations of the textured satin finish juxtaposes nicely with the polished, and the straight lines contrast nicely with the curves.

The bracelet itself is a work of art, with alternating satin finished and polished surfaces. The final bracelet feels remarkably flexible and comfortable on the wrist, and a testament to the craftsmanship needed. We were reliably told by the BR team that this is perhaps the most complicated part of the watch. Particular attention has been paid to the arc of the curve, allowing all the components to be perfectly aligned and ensuring the bracelet can adapt seamlessly to any wrist.

In addition to the bracelet, a rubber strap is also offered as an option.

The case is also rated to a depth rating of 100m for water resistance.

Dial and hands

The dial is classic Bell & Ross style, with emphasis on good clarity and legibility. The numerals in Arabic are at 6, 9, and 12, while huge bar indices infilled with luminous material mark the other hours. No minute track is provides and this reduces obfuscation. The hour and minute hands are huge batons infilled with generous luminous material.

As a result the design goal of good legibility is met with ease, even on the tone-on-tone model which features the silver grey dial.

As expected, readability and legibility is outstanding on the black dial version as well as the version with the navy blue dial.

The movement – BR-CAL.321

The BR 05 range is equipped with a BR-CAL.321 mechanism, wound by a 360° oscillating weight, openworked to allow the movement to be admired in full.

The movement is the new BR-CAL.321 which is a basic automatic movement based on the Selitta SW300 with special finishes. The balance wheel and hair spring is “chronometer type”, according to the specifications sheet. The rotor is also reworked into a circular oscillating weight, and completely covers the movement but at the same time allows peeks to view it through the skeletonized design.

As is expected from BR and in this price category, the movement finishing is adequate and judged at a level demanded by competent engineering. We expect the movement be robust to be able to withstand the rigors of being a daily beater and will run for many years without intervention, bar for regular maintenance service and for it to keep good time.

Competitive Landscape

As mentioned, the landscape is a heavily populated one. And one where many of the watchmaking industry icons live. We have already mentioned that it bears more than a passing resemblance to the AP Royal Oak, especially the bracelet. But also to the PP Nautilus and perhaps even the Aquanaut, the VC Overseas, the GP Laureato, and perhaps even the numerous Hublots like the Big Bang Sang Bleu.

However, these watches feather a higher level of haute horlogerie finishing and are targeted at a rather higher end of the market, with commensurate pricing. So, we think perhaps, not direct competitors.

The list continues, and perhaps it is with the IWC Ingenieur, the numerous Panerai Luminor base models, the various Rolex and Tudor sports models that the competition is more directly confrontational, but to these, the BR05 bears little physical resemblance.

There remains perhaps one more direct competitor, from an established haute horlogerie brand which will launch on October 1, which we have been privy to and have had our week of hands on and for photography, but we are not able to disclose yet. That new line is remarkably similar, though the visual cues are totally different. We think that might perhaps be the most direct competition to the BR-05.

Concluding thoughts

The Bell & Ross BR 05 is an intelligently designed sports watch which is targeted at the demands of the urban explorer. The watch is built to withstand the rigors of daily life in the city, and boasts a resolutely urban
look and feel. The lines of its case are nice and clean, a combination of round and square, the basic geometric shapes that form part of Bell & Ross’ identity. While the DNA of the brand is apparent and very strong, the signals from other marques in the same crowded space is also almost equally strong. As mentioned, hints of the AP RO, the PP Nautilus floats in, though the BR 05 does not sport an octagonal bezel like the Genta designs, yet, the identity is still rather plausible, however oblique.

Our pick from the bunch is the Navy Blue dialed version. Of course in the bracelet.

But take it for what it is. A reasonably priced, sporty watch which meets the demands of a busy urban lifestyle, while looking sleek and handsome, the BR 05 certainly presents well. It wears well, is very comfortable on the wrist. It is quite stylish. And is robust enough to easily deal with the urban lifestyle.

In gold, the BR 05 is a bit more flashy, but retains its classiness and aesthetics.

For details on the specifications, head over to the Bell & Ross site.