Lessons in Wristory: The Bell & Ross Story

Bell & Ross Type Deminuer

In today’s day and age, it’s hard to discuss the rapidly growing tool watch market, without bringing up the now household name, Bell & Ross. Between their renowned aviation, diving, and most recently, motorsport influenced watches, this ampersand-logoed French brand has certainly made a name for themselves. In the past nine years, B&R’s signature squared cased piece, the BR-01, has become somewhat of a modern icon, but what collectors often look past is the brand’s earlier and often more intriguing pieces. While Bell & Ross’ little known history may be short, its certainly one filled with fascinatingly unique tool watches that ought to be given greater recognition.

Bell & Ross was founded in 1993, as a university project by lifelong friends Bruno Belamich (Bell) and Carlos A. Rosillo (Ross). With the shared vision of producing highly functional and tough watches designed for professionals, the two Frenchmen got their feet into the door of the watch industry by teaming up with Helmut Sinn of Sinn watches. This “Bell & Ross by Sinn” collaboration is one that receives mixed opinions from collectors worldwide. Although the models released under this name were for the most part, rebranded Sinn models such as the 103 and Space 1 that bore the Bell & Ross logo, there were true B&R creations that emerged during this 9-year partnership.

Bell & Ross 103

Bell & Ross 103

1996 proved to be a pivotal year in the history of the brand, as it was this year that the Bell & Ross Bomb Disposal Type was released, and if a watch designed for diffusing bombs isn’t a tool watch, then I don’t know what is! This ultra-legible, anti-magnetic watch was designed to be worn by bomb squad members of the French Security Services with the intention of giving bomb squad members one less thing to worry about. Then in 1997, the brand would go on to release a truly impressive dive watch, the Hydro Challenger. To the untrained eye it might seem like your basic three-hand quartz watch, however, it’s one of the most capable dive watches ever made, with a world record setting 11,100 meter rating — helped by its mineral oil filled case.

Bell & Ross Space 3

Bell & Ross Space 3

After 5 years of designing and producing watches, the brand would develop the Space 3, a timepiece so technically advanced it would’ve made quite the thesis had the French duo still been back in university. Sinn’s influence can surely be seen through this creation, as it was the third generation of their Space series, which just happened to be the first official automatic watch worn in outer space. Equipped with their game-changing “T-Crown System”, a telescopic crown that rests flush with the case when fully screwed down, and recessed chronograph pushers, the Space 3 proved to be extremely sturdy and resistant to accidental adjustments — two heavily valued features for a watch designed to be worn by astronauts.

2002 would usher in the end of the partnership with Sinn, as Bell & Ross was then purchased by fashion-giant, Chanel. Some collectors feared the brand would become entirely aesthetically driven as a result of the purchase, but luckily the brand maintained its principal values. It’s astonishing what they’ve accomplished in their just over 20 year history, and with pieces like the Bomb Disposal Type, Hydro Challenger, and Space 3 under their belt, we’re looking forward to what Bell & Ross has in store next.

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While Isaac could very well be the youngest watch journalist on the web, what he lacks in grey hairs, he makes up with passion and enthusiasm. After being introduced to mechanical watches at the young age of 5, his interest was sparked and he’s been obsessed with timepieces ever since. To keep up with Isaac elsewhere, you can follow him on Instagram (@isaacwin). If you'd like to get in touch with Isaac, you can email him at isaac@woundforlife.com.

5 Comments

  • Reply May 19, 2014

    Matt

    This brand just does so little for me. If you want a good value tool watch look at Damasko and Sinn both of which use more innovative technology (in fact I fail to see any innovation from B&R) and are a great deal cheaper.

    If you do want to spend more on a tool watch, Bremont and Rolex need to be top of the list, both innovative with strong brands. In my opinion this leaves B&R with no USP whatsoever. Overpriced, ugly, generic movement…

  • Reply May 19, 2014

    Chaz

    “Some collectors feared the brand would become entirely aesthetically driven as a result of the purchase…”
    And they were right.

  • Reply May 19, 2014

    Isaac Wingold

    While it is true that the brand has been releasing several “aesthetically driven” models within mainly the BR01 collection, you can’t ignore models such as the BR126 Blackbird, WW1 Monopoussoir. Between flyback and monopusher chronographs, the brand is certainly no mechanical slouch.

    • Reply May 19, 2014

      Shane Griffin

      While I’m not B&R’s biggest fan, especially the instrument series, I tend to agree with him on the examples he gave. B&R also has excellent case finishing, and there is a noticeable difference in that department when comparing it to ETA-powered watches considered as “good values”.

  • Reply May 22, 2014

    Zach Weiss

    Great write up, Isaac. I’m not a B&R guy either, though they have a few models that I tend to like more in person than I might expect. The Blackbird in particular was a cool piece, though the real work their goes to Dubois Depraz and their central-minute flyback chrono module. That said, what you showed here, especially with the Space 3, suggests they’ve really derailed from their original goals. The Space 3 is a hell of a cool design, though it’s extremely similar to the Tutima NATO chronograph produced from the mid 80’s until a few years ago, (now replaced by the similarly sexy M2) which is known for its flush chrono-pushers.

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