Luxury. Who doesn’t like to have some of it in life?
Many say that the greatest luxury is being free. I tend to disagree – I think there’s nothing better than being able to afford a top-quality, luxury timepiece. Then again, I’ve been an avid watch collector for years so my view might be a bit biased!
As far as the world of luxury watches is concerned, there’s no getting away from the fact that this sector of the giant industry is monopolized by a small group of watchmakers. More often than not, these brands have been on the market for well over 100 years. These include Rolex, Omega, or Patek Philippe – just to name a few.
Whereas shopping for the most renowned luxury brands is definitely a safe bet, such an approach might make us overlook some excellent value offered by less-known, a lot younger but equally capable watchmakers.
Sure, trusting the less-known brands that boast about luxury status isn’t a risk-free option. That’s especially true if you don’t consider yourself an expert in the field. The number of watchmakers that claim to offer excellent luxury timepieces but fail to deliver on their promise is much bigger than those that offer outstanding value.
In the last few years, one of the up-and-coming brands that have been on the lips of many luxury watch aficionados is Bell and Ross. Considering the pretty short history of the brand, the French watchmaker has enjoyed relatively big success in a highly competitive environment. In this Bell and Ross watches review, we will have a close look at the quality of these unique-looking timepieces.
But first, let’s learn more about the background of this distinctive watch brand.
Bell and Ross History & Background
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As already mentioned, Bell & Ross is a relatively fresh addition to the world of luxury timekeepers.
Founded in 1992 by two friends with massive horological passion, Bruno Belamich and Carlos Rosillo (hence Bell & Ross), we can say the company is still making its baby steps in the industry. That is especially true when we compare it with some of the oldest hands on the market such as the luxury trio mentioned in the opening paragraphs, or even less elaborate brands like Bulova or Tissot.
Fun fact: the now globally recognized watch brand was started by Belamich and Ross as a university project. With a good eye for detail, the former was responsible for the design of watches whilst the latter was the head of operations. Interestingly enough – despite the rapid growth of B&R’s status, this setup continues to this day.
In the very first few years of the brand’s existence, some timepieces were rebranded to Sinn watches, a popular German watchmaker which, just like Bell & Ross, specializes in aviation timekeepers.
Even though Bell & Ross quickly became solely responsible for the design of their watches, Sinn continued to manufacture the timepieces until 2005. The breakthrough watch model that helped B&R make a statement on its own was the BR-01 Instrument. To this date, the round dial within a square-shaped model is considered the brand’s most iconic release.
From the very beginning, Bell & Ross has been drawing its inspiration from the history of aviation. The vast majority of B&R watches, as you will see in the latter parts of the article, pay homage to the field of aeronautics and military specifications. In fact, the brand’s biggest goal has always been to provide practical timepieces for professional aviators that can stand the most extreme conditions, such as super low or super high temperatures.
Such an approach quickly gained the recognition of watch enthusiasts, particularly those valuing pilot timepieces. Some of the earliest releases, such as Space 1 and Bomb Disposal Type, shook the horological world. Both were extremely innovative models in their own sense. Space 1 was the first automatic chronometer worn in space whilst Bomb Disposal Type was a piece of wrist armor that made the task of defusing explosives considerably easier and safer.
How does the company fare nowadays? Even though the popularity of B&R timepieces continues to rise, the brand doesn’t get the same coverage as the most renowned watchmakers in the luxury sector. That’s down to a myriad of reasons.
Naturally, the first is the relatively short presence on the market. With barely a 30-year history, the company hasn’t reached anywhere near the number of people Rolexes or Omegas habe. That’s also down to the fact that B&R is not known for hiring celebrities to endorse its products. In fact, their marketing approach is some of the lowest-key I’ve seen from any of the luxury watch brands.
Finally, Bell & Ross is just a completely different animal from its luxury competitors in terms of style and build. The brand mostly focuses on the aviation and tool watch sector, ensuring an innovative approach and a breath of fresh air into the dog-eat-dog environment. These watches aren’t for everyone – but if you’re fond of brilliantly crafted aviation and field timekeepers, keep on reading.
During its short but interesting history, Bell & Ross has accumulated a few landmark innovations. Those include:
- 1994 – Bell & Ross Space 1
- 1996 – Bell & Ross Type Demineru (the Bomb Disposal Watch)
- 1997 – setting the world’s water-resistance record with the release of Hydro Challenger. The watch scored 11,000 meters in the Guinness Book of Record, which was nearly 100 meters more than the previous record-holder – Rolex Deep Sea Challenge.
- 1998 – the release of Bell & Ross Space 3 chronograph that prompted Chanel Horlogerie to buy a share in the company
- 2005 – introduction of the BR 01 instrument, considered the most iconic release to this date
Are Bell & Ross Watches Any Good? Quality Review
The horological industry, and especially its luxury sector, regularly comes under scrutiny from watch experts and aficionados. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Usually the higher the price of a watch, the more we are entitled to expect from it. Hence, a brand advertising itself as luxury and exceptional should be just that. Although many Bell & Ross watches won’t break the bank as a typical Rolex or Patek Philippe would, it would be a lie to say these watches aren’t expensive. So, are Bell & Ross watches worth the money?
It’s time to have a closer look at what’s on offer with these splendid-looking timepieces.
Design & Durability
In terms of style, at least at the first glance, Bell & Ross is not what you’d normally expect from a typical luxury watch brand. Just try and compare the design of these watches to the likes of Breitling, Rolex or Longines. The difference in approach is quite stark – but that doesn’t mean it’s any less impressive.
Bell & Ross has always been inspired by the military and aviation. These timepieces can easily be referred to as luxury tool watches that are built to last. However, such an approach doesn’t mean other watch aspects have been neglected. Far from it!
Let’s start with arguably the most damage-prone part of any wristwatch, the dial. Gladly, all Bell & Ross watches use the best protection possible in the form of sapphire crystal.
Currently, it’s the most scratch-resistant material and is the standard pick amongst all brands oscillating in the luxury spectrum. On top of being extremely rugged, the sapphire installed in all B&R models uses an anti-reflective coating. It considerably boosts the readability and at times makes you forget the glass is even there.
Moving on to the types of cases used by Bell & Ross, these are made from two types of material: titanium and stainless steel. Both provide excellent durability. Because of its considerably smaller weight (titanium weights roughly 50% less than stainless steel), and higher magnetic and impact resistance, titanium is usually considered the more premium out of the two. However, if you’re prone to scratching watch bracelets, stainless steel will be a better choice.
Additionally, some models use ceramic cases.
Once you start browsing through Bell & Ross collections, you will notice that the lion’s share of models uses square-shaped cases. Another important thing to note is that all are equipped with screw-down casebacks and crowns. This definitely aids the water-resistance capabilities and boosts the protection against fluid-caused damage.
How about the bracelets? There’s a myriad of options to pick from. Depending on the collection, you will be able to select from materials such as:
- stainless steel
All types are reliable and look the part. However, if I were to pick just one, I’d go with either a stainless steel or titanium model. These, in my opinion, boast the most refined look. The 3-link bracelets are beautifully polished and blend in superbly with cases.
It’s all good to have great looks. However, the quality of the movement is probably the biggest indicator of how luxurious a watch really is. Luckily, the calibers powering Bell & Ross watches are from the very top shelf.
Whether you prefer the unbeatable accuracy of quartz (battery-powered) watches or the complexity of automatic movements, the brand has got you covered.
Definitely what contributes to the excellent quality of all movements, just like other watch parts, is the fact that they’re manufactured and assembled in Switzerland. All come through rigorous accuracy and endurance tests typical for timepieces boasting a Swiss-made label.
Whilst there’s a wide range of models to pick from both in the quartz and mechanical collections, the number of automatic models is considerably bigger. That’s not uncommon for luxury watch brands as people preparing to spend at least four figures on a watch usually look for complex, top-end mechanical movements instead of battery-powered counterparts that don’t require as high a level of craft.
A huge portion of mechanical movements is delivered by Sellita, one of the most respected Swiss manufacturers. A solid representative of Sellita movements in the Bell & Ross timepieces is SW300-1. It’s a highly-rated, 25-jewel caliber vibrating at a frequency of 28,800 BPH. The movement has a 42-hour power reserve and provides an excellent accuracy of +/- 5 seconds/daily.
Not to discriminate against the fans of quartz watches, it’s only fair to also have a brief look at one of the common calibers used in battery-powered timepieces. This time it’s manufactured by another Swiss movement powerhouse, ETA. A solid example of an ETA caliber used by Bell & Ross is E61.511. The 9-jewel movement is an excellent choice if you prioritize unbeatable accuracy as it’s unlikely to lose more than 5 seconds monthly.
All Bell & Ross watches, as long as they’re purchased from an authorized retailer, come with a 2-year International Warranty. The warranty comes into life from the date of the purchase (and the date on the warranty card).
According to B&R’s official website, the guarantee period doesn’t cover the following:
- scratches on the PVD coating
- tarnish of the silver material
- aging from normal use
- damage caused by your own negligence, ie. cracked glass
Furthermore, a third-party attempt at repairing the watch also renders the guarantee period null and void.
In case of any doubts regarding the subject, you can visit the Customer Care page on Bell & Ross’s official website. The same page also includes all the essential information regarding the process of servicing: maintenance, polishing, battery replacements, and the available service centers.
It’s also worth visiting the page for information on how to keep your watch in top shape. Bell & Ross provides its users with a lot of tips regarding use, including exposure to water and extreme temperatures. The section includes specific tips for wearers of both automatic and battery-powered timepieces.
Bell & Ross Watch Collections
At the time of writing, there are 3 main B&R watch collections to pick from – Vintage, Instrument, and Experimental. Although differing in styles, all beam an extremely masculine look and have been designed to tackle everything that comes a man’s way. That includes anything from thousand-meter deep dives to unbearable temperature extremes to bomb disposals.
Since discussing all models would take a day or two, I’ve selected one best-seller from each line that should paint a clear enough picture of what each collection is all about.
Bell & Ross Instrument Collection
We kick off with the most numerous collection – the Instrument. Currently, it offers 88 watch models.
The collection is divided into 5 mini-lines. Four of those are grouped based on the case size (39mm, 40mm, 42mm and 46mm). The fifth line, known as the Diver, takes a brief break from the aviation-inspired designs to focus on the nautical style. These watches are professional diving timepieces with a water-resistance rating of 300m.
In general, the Instrument collection focuses on four main principles: legibility, reliability, functionality and precision. The vast majority of Instrument models boast a similar, square-shaped case design. The collection has something in store for those preferring a minimalistic design approach but there’s also a wide selection of chronograph models. It also features some of the most sought-after limited edition models.
The BR0392-IDC-CE model you see above gives you a great idea of what you should expect from the Instrument collection.
It comes with a 42mm square-shaped ceramic case and a color-matching, highly durable rubber strap. The watch’s dial is protected by an anti-reflective sapphire crystal glass, whilst the 100m water resistance is additionally aided by a screw-down crown and caseback.
Excellent legibility is one of the most aspects of the collection and it’s perfectly visible with this model. Large hands, Arab numerals, and indices – all with a strong glow – provide an easy reading in any light. Additionally, the dial includes minute markers and a date window between 4 and 5 o’clock.
The Instrument model is powered by a highly accurate, Swiss-made automatic movement manufactured by Sellita.
Browse for more Bell & Ross Experimental watches here.
Bell & Ross Experimental Collection
The Experimental collection, as the name suggests, has a more adventurous, some might even say futuristic approach. It’s divided into two lines – BR-X1 (45mm) and BR-X2 (42,5mm). The designs found in both are similar and the difference is again mostly about the size.
Akin to the Instrument collection, the dominating case shape here is square/rectangular. The Experimental collection is dominated by two main watch types – tourbillon and chronograph.
Just like the name implies, the first group of watches is equipped with a tourbillon. In short, it’s an addition to the mechanics of a watch escapement that further increases the accuracy. Watches containing a tourbillon normally boast a beautiful skeletonized design so the watch face can showcase it. All B&R tourbillon models come with see-through faces that let you marvel at the intricate workings of mechanical movement. Some of these models additionally have transparent casebacks (read also: Top Skeleton Watches).
Chronograph models are equipped with additional timers, ie. for 30-60 minutes and 60 seconds. They are a more suitable choice for folks who like a semi-sport-semi-elegant timepiece. Although none of these models include a tourbillon, most showcase a similar see-through face design.
A great testament to the boldness of the Experimental collection is the Tourbillon model above. As far as elaborate watch designs go, you might struggle to find a better one in the entire line.
Due to its oversized rectangular-shaped case measuring 50mm in diameter, the model is probably best suited for folks with larger wrists.
On top of the main dial positioned in the right half of the watch face, the timepiece is equipped with three sub-dials: one measuring small seconds at 7 o’clock, a 60-second timer at 9 o’clock, and a power reserve indicator at 11 o’clock. Additionally, the main dial showcases the beautiful tourbillon mechanism at 6 o’clock. Protecting the face against cracks and scratches is sapphire crystal glass with an anti-reflective coating.
The rectangular-shaped case is made from 18k rose gold. Adding to the complexity of this model is a see-through caseback whilst the elegant feel is boosted by a genuine leather strap.
This particular tourbillon model is manually wound and powered by a top-end Swiss mechanical movement. On the waterproofing front, it can withstand depths of up to 50m.
Check out more Bell & Ross Experimental watches here.
Bell & Ross Vintage Collection
The vintage collection is a kind of departure from the standard style proposed by the vast majority of Bell & Ross watches. Granted, the durability levels are still excellent. However, the line is dominated by timepieces oscillating in the dressy spectrum – an approach that is common amongst most watchmakers classified as luxury.
The collection is divided into three lines (BR V1, BR V2 and BR V3). The watches are grouped according to the case sizes. Folks with smaller wrists are likely to opt for 38,5mm models while the mid-to-large group is best suited to 41mm or 43mm timepieces.
If we were to point to the most elegant line of watches by B&R, it would have to be this one. By some distance, it’s also the collection with the most minimalistic approach. That’s not to say all watches are super simple and don’t offer anything but a standard three-hand configuration. There are several beautiful chronographs to choose from, as well as watches with a GMT function (see also: GMT Watches Under $1,000).
With Bell & Ross Vintage, we return to the classic, oval shape of watch cases. These weigh less, aren’t as attention-grabbing, and can be easily covered by your sleeve. A lion’s share of Vintage models come with beautifully polished stainless steel or titanium bracelets. There’s also a good selection of models with genuine leather bands.
A worthy representative of the Vintage collection is the BRV294-HER-ST model you see above.
The watch belongs to the 41mm line and is one of the best-selling models in the collection. It comes with a stainless steel bezel with an anodized aluminum ring that features a 60-minute scale. The extremely elegant look is complemented by the material-coordinated, beautifully polished 3-link bracelet.
The model is powered by a Swiss automatic movement manufactured by Sellita. It’s a caliber equipped with chronograph timers and a date window positioned between 4 and 5 o’clock. The caseback, main crown, and the two chronograph pushers are screw-down, ensuring solid protection against corrosion.
The pitch-black dial features two luminescent hands (hour & minute), as well as glow-in-the-dark 5-minute markers.
It might not be super visible in the picture above but the sapphire glass is strongly curved. Naturally, it includes an anti-reflective coating that ensures top-notch reading in any light.
This Vintage model comes with a 100m water resistance.
Explore more Bell & Ross Vintage watches here.
Where to Buy Bell & Ross Watches?
The luxury status of the brand means there are plenty of replica models floating around the web. With relatively high price points at which the vast majority of these watches are listed, you definitely don’t want to spend a fortune on a counterfeit timepiece from a shady seller.
Although normally the most convenient and safest place to shop for watches is a brand’s official website, in Bell & Ross’s case I will make an exception and say: look elsewhere.
Even though the website functions as an online store, it doesn’t display any prices. To get the watch you like, you will first have to request the price first and then proceed to checkout if it suits you. People report waiting a number of days before someone from the site gets back to you. If that doesn’t bother you, fair enough.
Additionally, you can use the Store Locator on the brand’s website to find all boutiques and retailers offering Bell & Ross watches in your area.
If you value prompt shipping, hassle-free returns, and a relatively small chance of encountering a fake product, Amazon is your best bet. The popular marketplace is full of legit Bell & Ross watch models, with prices starting from as low as $1,500. At the time of writing, there are over 200 timepieces to pick from.
Another excellent place to do your shopping is Jomashop, one of the most trusted jewelry and watch stores in the United States. Jomashop is an authorized retailer of B&R watches and additionally provides shoppers with their own 2-year warranty period.
Finally, if pre-owned watches are your thing, giving eBay a try is far from the worst idea.
Where Are Bell & Ross Watches Made?
Like the vast majority of watchmakers carrying the luxury status, the manufacturing and assembling of Bell & Ross watches takes place in Switzerland. Not only does that relate to the movements but all the remaining watch parts as well.
The brand’s manufactory is located in La-Chaux-de-Fonds, a beautiful city occupying the Jura mountains. There, a team of the best craftsmen from around the country conceive, assemble and fine-tune each Bell & Ross timepiece. Before going on sale, each wristwatch goes through strict quality controls which results in the highly-prestigious Swiss-made label.
Is Bell & Ross a Luxury Watch Brand?
Absolutely, it is. And a unique one, at that!
Bell & Ross watches are a breath of fresh air in the luxury watch section. Made from the very best materials and powered by top-end movements that guarantee years if not decades of hassle-free use, they are in no way inferior to the more popular luxury watchmakers with a longer presence on the market. They are different, though. And that’s what many appreciate about these the most.
On the outside, Bell & Ross timepieces aren’t what you’d normally expect a luxury watch to look like. Most are far away from the dressy side of the spectrum. Instead, they are first and foremost designed to survive and perform in the most extreme conditions. The term “luxury tool watch” suits B&R perfectly.
Bell & Ross Review: Conclusion
Summing up, I think it’s only fair to say that Bell & Ross watches are a breath of fresh air into the luxury sector of the horological industry. For sure, the brand offers something different. At the same time, it keeps up the excellent standard of craftsmanship offered by many of its better-known competitors.
Inspired by the military and aviation, the vast majority of B&R timepieces present a unique, comment-worthy style. At the same time, these watches are built to last and are assembled from top-end, impact-resistant parts. It’s not without a reason that they are often referred to as “luxury tool watches”. Bell & Ross is by far the most frequent pick amongst professionals in demanding and high-risk professions. These include pilots, astronauts, submariners, or bomb disposal divers.
That’s not to say the brand doesn’t have anything in store for those preferring a more minimalistic, dressy style. A great example of that is the Vintage collection.
Just because the brand is relatively new and isn’t on the lips of everyone, doesn’t mean you should expect to get these watches on the cheap.
Top-end quality in the watchmaking industry usually requires a top dollar. Unfortunately, B&R isn’t an exception to the rule. Although the lower-end models can be snatched even for $1,500, the most elaborate releases (particularly the Limited Edition models) might set you back up to $500,000. An example of a beautiful yet extremely pricey model is BR-MNUTTOURB-CA also known as ‘Minuteur’.
That said, the brand provides excellent value and is a great option to consider for those seeking a departure from the “mainstream” luxury brands. Whether you opt for the unique design and durability standards offered by the Instrument and Experimental collections or a more classic approach with the Vintage line, you’re highly unlikely to be disappointed with your purchase.
I hope that the Bell & Ross review has provided you with enough information to decide whether the brand is the right fit. Also, if you have previous experience with the watchmaker, feel free to share it in the comment section below.
If you’d like to explore more “alternative” luxury watchmakers, feel free to read my review of Bedat watches.