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Review: A Tale of Two Bell & Ross Watches: BR03-94 RS18 and BR-X1 RS18

Better, strong, and faster?
by Robin Lim on September 21, 2018

Motorsports and timepieces are synonymous with each other. Both are very technical, but more importantly, they are hobbies that many gentlemen enjoy. 

Over the years, we have seen numerous collaborations between automakers/motorsports teams collaborating with watch manufacturers. In fact, in one of the recent Throwback Sunday article, we have highlighted some of the partnerships between these two parties. In addition, many watch designs are also often inspired by motoring cues. This certainly adds a nice touch to the watches – especially among collectors who enjoys both hobbies.

 

Bell & Ross x Renault Sports Formula One Team

 

The caseback of the BR03-94.

 

The collaboration between Bell & Ross and Renault Sports Formula One Team began in 2016. The first year saw the launch of two watches: both focusing on the colours of the Renault team.

 

The Bell & Ross BR03-94 RS17. A rather handsome and sporty timepiece.

 

In the following year, Bell & Ross shifted a gear up and produced three additional new models. These models were inspired by the steering wheels of the F1 car. This gave the watches a rather sporty and technical feel to it, and making it seem as though some elements of the steering wheel was actually transplanted into the watch. Of course, one needs to be an F1 fan to get the references. However, for those who do not follow the competition, the watch is still a lovely piece that is bold and handsome.

 

The RS18 Collection

 

The RS18 collection. Picture courtesy of Bell & Ross.

 

This year, Bell & Ross launched a few models for the updated RS18 collection. The main highlights are the three pieces: BR03-94 RS18, BR-X1 RS18, as well as the BR-X1 Tourbillion RS18.

This is the third year in which the two entities have collaborated with each other. The idea behind this year’s collection, interestingly, is the chassis of the Renault Sports 2018 F1 car. The chassis is one of the most important components in a racing car, as it is the main structure in which the other elements were supported. The chassis must incorporate two characteristics: it must be light, and strong as well. This is the main inspiration behind the latest RS18 watches, in which the manufacturer aims to bring in these properties to create a timepiece that is both light and sturdy.

For today’s article, we will be focusing on the two chronographs. We have spent time with the two watches for quite a bit of time, and for today, not only will we review the two watches, but we will also do a comparison between these two pieces to see why the BR-X1 commands a higher premium over the other.

 

The Case, Hands, and Dial

 

The BR03-94 RS18.

 

The two watches follows the lineage with the use of the signature square case, with a round watch face. It has the typical Bell & Ross DNA, although the watches does not have much characteristics that point towards aviation this time round.

The two watches are fitted with perforated micro-blasted titanium. The use of titanium certainly adds a nice touch to the timepiece, in which it gives the watch a rather sporty and modern look. The perforated case further reduces the weight of the titanium case, although we feel that the difference is probably negligible. However, it certainly lends an avant-garde touch to the watch. This, together with the exposed screws, certainly lends the watch sportier credentials.

 

The BR-X1 RS18. It is 3mm larger than the BR03-94.

 

The two watches are sized slightly differently. The BR03-94 is sized at 42mm, while the larger BR-X1 is sized at 45mm. When placed alongside each other, the difference in size is rather minute. It is also similar when the two watches were worn on the wrist. Both watches feels large, but they were rather comfortable. This is probably due to the design of the lugs, in which it is short. Hence, it allows the strap to wrap around the circumference of the wrist nicely without any overhanging.

In addition, there are some subtle other differences with the two cases. The main distinction perhaps lies at the sides of the watch cases. The BR03-94. on one hand, is fitted with a bright red anodised aluminium pushers that reminds us of the paddle shifters. On the other hand, the BR-X1 is fitted with rocket pushers with yellow rubber inserts. The left side of the case features an indentation, in which it is also fitted with a yellow rubber insert as well. It serves as an aesthetic function, but more importantly, the indentation and rubber insert also allows the user to have a better grip during the activation of the chronograph.

 

The BR03-94 is fitted with a carbon fibre dial, which pays tribute to one of the most important materials in the F1 world.

 

The main aesthetic difference between the two watches is in their dials. The BR03-94 is fitted with a carbon fibre dial, which adds a nice touch and pays tribute to one of the most important materials that is being used in the F1 world. Some other interesting design elements include the two openwork sub-dials, as well as the tachymeter scale which reminds us of the old-school speedometer (which is replaced by the digital counters in the new F1 cars). The black and yellow colour scheme – which is used extensively on the watch – also pays tribute to the Renault Sport F1 team.

 

The BR-X1 RS18 is slightly more interesting with the skeleton dial.

 

The BR-X1 is a tad more interesting. Unlike the BR03-94, the BR-X1 is fitted with a skeleton dial. This allows the us to appreciate the customised skeleton chronograph module, the exposed date wheel, as well as the main plate that forms the “X” shape. The date window of this particular piece is also shifted to the 6 o’clock position, which provides a nice symmetry to the looks of the watch. On top of that, the “Bell & Ross” logo is imprinted on the sapphire crystal.

Between the two pieces, the BR-X1 stood out with the way it looks. The skeleton dial brings the watch up a few notches, and it certainly makes it look much more technical and mechanical over the BR03-94. In addition, the yellow rubber inserts – although seemingly insignificant – definitely adds a nice touch to the watch.

 

The Movements: BR-CAL301 and BR-CAL313

 

The caseback of the BR-X1 RS18.

 

The two watches are fitted with two different movements.

Powering the BR03-94 is the Calibre BR-CAL301, which is based on the ETA 2894-2. It has a 30 minute chronograph function, and an additional date indicator at the 4:30 position. The 37 jewel self-winding movement also has a power reserve of approximately 38 hours, which is more than sufficient.

As for the BR-X1, the watch is powered by the automatic Calibre BR-CAL313. The main feature is its skeletonised movement, which gives the watch some character. The movement is also fitted with a Dubois-Depraz chronograph module. This watch also has the same functions as the BR-CAL301, although its power reserve is slightly better at approximately 42 hours.

Due to the close caseback, we are unable to determine the level of finishing on the movements for the two watches. However, for the BR-X1, we got a glimpse of it through the skeleton dial. The skeleton bridge has a nice brushed finish, and the additional jewels gives a nice contrast to the black skeleton bridges. It is a slight shame that there is only a small opening on the caseback of the BR-X1; we would have love an exhibition caseback especially if there were some level of finishing done on the movement itself.

 

The Competitive Landscape

 

The BR-X1 RS18 is slightly pricey, but is it worth the premium?

 

The BR03-94 is priced at S$9,500, while the BR-X1 RS18 retails at S$31,900. The former is limited to 999 pieces, while the latter is more exclusive with a production run of 250 pieces.

 

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The Hublot Big Bang Ferrari Grey Ceramic. It is also available in Black Ceramic, with a striking red strap featuring the NART livery.

 

The Hublot Big Bang Ferrari Grey Ceramic is probably one of the closest alternative to the BR-X1. Launched in Baselworld 2015, this particular piece comes in either Black or Grey ceramic case, with a red or grey strap respectively. The watches were fitted with an in-house UNICO movement, and it features a quasi-skeleton dial that showcases the movement. Both pieces are limited to 250 pieces, and they are priced at US$29,800 (approximately S$40,660).

 

The TAG Heuer Monaco, now with the iconic Gulf livery.

 

For someone who is looking for a square watch with some racing pedigree, the TAG Heuer Monaco Gulf Special Edition offers an interesting alternative. While this watch is not associated with any current F1 team, but the iconic Gulf livery makes it rather special indeed. This is for the old-school racing car fans, who will certainly remember the orange and blue colours that adorned cars such as the Ford GT40. TAG Heuer also produced the Carrera Calibre Heuer 01, with a special edition commemorating its partnership with Red Bull Racing. The Monaco is priced at US$5,900 (approximately S$8,050), while the Heuer 01 is priced at £4,600 (approximately S$8,328).

 

The Chopard Mille Miglia 2018 Race Edition.

 

The Chopard Mille Miglia 2018 Race Edition is a nice alternative for someone who wants a watch with racing pedigree, but not something that is as bold as the Bell & Ross or the above-mentioned pieces. The watch is priced at CHF 5,450 (approximately S$7,711), and it is limited to a production of 1,000 pieces.

 

The predecessor: BR03-94 RS17.

 

Finally, we round it up with the predecessor: the Bell & Ross BR03-94 RS17. The watch was launched last year, and the inspiration behind the piece was the steering wheel of the Renault F1 car.

The RS18 definitely beats the RS17 hands down. The design is much more vibrant, and the use of sandblasted perforated case makes it look much more modern and technical. The RS17 is a nice piece, but it seems to be a little dated vis-à-vis the RS18. To top it off, the new rubber strap on the RS18 also makes it a much more comfortable watch, as compared to the preceding model. The watch was priced at S$9,000, and we reckon the RS18 is worth the premium of S$500.

 

Final Thoughts

 

An obligatory wrist shot. The BR-X1 is surely a looker!

 

Both the BR03-94 and BR-X1 are good-looking watches, no doubts about that. These watches are bold and massive, and they are appropriately in place with casual wear. In addition, due to its lug design and the newly-developed rubber strap, the watches feel very comfortable on the wrist.

 

Another wrist shot, this time for the BR03-94.

 

Between the two watches, the BR-X1 edges out against the BR03-94. It is not exactly a fair comparison, considering their different price point and target market base. However, because of the similarities in its appearance, it will be inevitable for people to compare between these two watches.

The BR03-94 is probably target towards collectors who wants something interesting, but are unwilling to fork out a five figure sum for a conversational timepiece. It will be an interesting option for younger collectors, especially those who are new to Bell & Ross watches and wishes to try out their pieces.

On the other hand, the BR-X1 leans towards the “hardcore” Bell & Ross collectors. It might be slightly tougher to convince collectors who are not familiar with the brand to fork out S$30,000 for the watch. Having said that, the design is certainly appealing, and we do see that there is a market for such watches. Bell & Ross, after all, is not a common brand, and it certainly offers an interesting alternative to the likes of Hublot and Audemars Piguet.

All in all, we feel that the RS18 is an exciting collection. Bell & Ross had outdone itself again, as compared to its previous iterations of the timepiece. The RS18 watches are definitely nice, but that means that the RS19 have big shoes to fill. We are certainly keeping our eyes peeled next year to see how Bell & Ross can further improve on the collection!

 

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2 Comments
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  • loujo
    September 22, 2018 at 7:59 am

    Nice review. Question, how is that the slots of the screw heads on BR-X1 not properly aligned? Is that a pre-production watch? For that much money I would expect these finer details not being missed.

    • September 23, 2018 at 8:06 pm

      John, this is common. There is no way for the manufacturer to pre-determine what orientation the screw will end up. The only watch which have pre-determined and thus alighed screws is the Royal Oak. But Audemars Piguet does not use screws. They are actually bolts which are fastened on the under side of the bezel. The screw heads are not used too drive the bolt in.

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