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.
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.
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.by