The collaboration between Bell & Ross and Alpine F1 Team, who were formerly known as the Renault F1 Team, dates back to 2016. It is a match made in heaven, especially with the watch manufacturer’s sporty credentials and the entities’ association with France.
While the Renault F1 Team rebranded itself for the 2021 season, its partnership with Bell & Ross remains – and we dare say, stronger than ever. This year, the brand launched 3 different limited edition timepieces that span across different collections within the brand’s repertoire.
This year’s watch, notably, features some differences as compared to its prior generations. The most conspicuous ones are its association with the new A521 single-seaters car, which follows an all-new livery and colour scheme. There are also some design tweaks, with sportier aesthetics that aligns it with its theme.
Bell & Ross BR03-94 A521 Alpine F1 Edition
For today, we will be specifically looking at the BR03-94 model. This sits in between the circular V3-94, as well as the more experimental BR-X1. How does the middle child fare in this review? Let us find out!
The Case, Dial, and Hands
The 42mm BR03-94 A521 is part of the iconic BR03-94 collection, and the series itself should not be unfamiliar for many. This signature square-cased timepiece, with a rounded dial, is after all one of the most recognisable designs from the brand.
As we mentioned, the A521 is slightly different from its predecessors with some special treatments. One of them is the bezel, in which Bell & Ross had fitted a bi-directional rotating bezel. This was not present in the previous iteration (i.e. BR03-94 R.S. 20), and we feel that it provides an interesting touch to the watch.
Next, we have some racing elements that were included with this timepiece. The main one is perhaps the black chronograph actuators at the side of the watch, which reminds us of the paddle-shifters on the steering wheel of Alpine’s F1 car. Other touches include a silver tachymeter scale to record speed, the Alpine logo at the end of the central chronograph hand, the cut-outs on the sub-dials (which resembles the spokes on the rims), as well as the italicised Arabic numerals (which are also filled with luminescence material) which lends some sporty credentials to the watch itself.
Of course, we then have to talk about the colours. Unlike the usual yellow that we have seen in previous iterations, the A521 features the brand’s signature “Alpine Blue”. The blue has been used in several aspects of the watch, such as the chapter ring and the chronograph hands. As compared to the previous models, the A521 is certainly more subdued – which is much appreciated by collectors who prefer something that is less striking. It is also interesting to note that Bell & Ross had included the French flag at the 6 o’clock position on the dial, a nice nod to the heritage of both brands.
All in all, the BR03-94 A521 retains its sporty image, with interesting touches that aim to differentiate itself with the previous iterations. It is a handsome piece for sure, and we do like the overall looks of this watch.
The Movement: BR-CAL.301
Powering the BR03-94 is the BR-CAL.301, a movement that has been used extensively by Bell & Ross for its chronograph watches. The movement is based on the robust ETA 2894-2, with an additional chronograph module that features a column wheel mechanism.
The self-winding watch beats at 28,800 bph, with a power reserve of around 42 hours. Aside from the chronograph function, the watch also features a date display at the 6 o’clock position of the timepiece.
As for the finishing, we are unable to ascertain the level or quality as the watch is fitted with a solid caseback. However, we can take cues from the BR 05 Chronograph which uses the same movement. As it is a modestly priced piece, the BR-CAL.301 employs industrial-grade finishing. This is acceptable for a timepiece at this level.
The BR03-94 A521 Alpine F1 Edition is limited to a production of 500 pieces, and it is priced at S$8,800.
In terms of competition, there are certainly a few other contenders within the same realm. Here are some of the pieces that are in consideration.
If one is looking for a sports chronograph, without any specific association with motorsports, then the Bell & Ross BR05 Chronograph is worth a consideration. It is a well-made sports watch, with a slightly unique case design. The watch is priced at S$8,700 for the rubber strap variant, or S$9,500 for the one with the integrated steel bracelet.
Next up, we have the TAG Heuer Monaco Gulf Special Edition 50th Anniversary. The watch derived its inspiration from the famous Gulf livery in the motorsports scene – and its history with motorsports is well documented, especially in the 1970s. This striking piece is certainly a strong contender, if one is looking for a bold watch with an iconic status to boot. This Monaco retails at US$5,900 (approximately S$8,005).
Lastly, we have the Chopard Mille Miglia GTS Azzurro Power Control. While this is not a chronograph, this watch is still a contender considering its roots in the world of motorsports – albeit in the world of classic and vintage cars of the yesteryear. Amongst the few watches, the Chopard is also the most well-refined one – with a stunning in-house 01.08-C mechanical self-winding movement. The 43mm two-tone watch is priced at US$9,690 (approximately S$13,145).
The BR03-94 A521 Alpine F1 Edition is a great watch. Having spent some time with it, we like its handsome looks and cool design cues. Despite its relatively large size, we have to say that the watch is pretty comfortable on the wrist as well – partially due to its short lugs and perforated rubber strap.
There is not much to complain about the watch either. It is as good as it can get, especially with a limited edition chronograph at this price point.
Frankly, the only question we have going forward will be the future iterations of these special edition watches with Alpine F1. After all, Bell & Ross have partnered with the team for the last 5 years (inclusive of the time when the team was known as Renault F1), and there are only so many elements that Bell & Ross can tweak. Maybe the brand can surprise us once again, when we have the 2022 edition next year.
Overall, the BR03-94 A521 Alpine F1 Edition is a must-have for any Alpine F1 fans. It ticks all the right boxes for us, and it is quite a good looking piece as well. A great casual piece for the weekend, for sure.