Posted on August 11 2021
It's famed for its fashion houses and designers. Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Louis Vuitton. They're all from Paris. As are Christian Dior, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Christian Louboutin.
But French watchmaking?
It does have an interesting history, but things have been quiet in the second half of the 20th century.
France is known more for its design than its manufacturing.
So two university friends who wanted to create a watch brand took the best of both worlds. French design married with German and Swiss watchmaking knowledge.
The results are stunning. Let's cover the short history of Bell and Ross and then take a look at their best watches.
A Brief History of Bell & Ross Watches
Bell & Ross is a young watch brand. Most of the big Swiss names have been around since the 1800s. But Bell & Ross grew out of a university project in the 1990s.
This new company began in 1992 with Paris-designed watches that were made in Germany.
The brand ethos was clear and the concept was straightforward.
The watches designed by Bruno Belamich (Bell) and Carlos A. Rosillo (Ross) would be built for professionals.
As the brand progressed this became more evident. Their watches took inspiration from aviation and military themes.
They created their watch lines around four design principles. Bell & Ross watches would be legible, functional, reliable and precise. They would also be from obvious collections - Vintage, Aviation and Divers.
In 2005, after Chanel bought a stake in the company, Bell & Ross switched production from Germany to Switzerland. Remember, France shares a border with Switzerland. The Swiss are only twenty minutes from the French watchmaking town Besancon.
The BR-01, released the same year, is likely to be the watch that defines the brand. It's a distinctive square watch that takes its design cues from an aircraft cockpit.
Where are Bell & Ross Watches Made?
Bell & Ross watches are made in Switzerland. When the company first started their watches were built by German watchmaker Sinn.
In 2005 Bell & Ross switched production to La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.
All Bell & Ross watches have the words 'Swiss Made' at the foot of the dial.
Are Bell & Ross Watches Good Quality?
Bell & Ross watches are of good quality. The first point to note is that they are Swiss-made.
They also use Swiss movements. These are usually modified versions of ETA and Sellita calibres.
At the heart of the brand is a desire to build watches that are functional tools. To do this Bell & Ross uses high-quality materials.
Probably the best way to judge the quality of their watches is to look at who the brand supplies. They currently build watches for the French Airforce and the French Space Program.
The Six Best Bell & Ross Watches
Most Bell & Ross watches don't fit into the affordable category. But they're not over-priced luxury pieces either.
On the whole, they're within the grasp of most watch fans. And I've built my best of list around the brands most accessible pieces.
Although they're best known for their square aviation models, I've included more from their vintage collection. As a result, there are more black dials than other colours. Most of the watches that I've selected are also available with other colour palettes.
But let's start with what the brand does best. A square watch inspired by an aircraft instrument panel.
Bell & Ross are famed for their distinctive square aviation watches.
But this is an acquired taste. The brand's stand-out model - the BR 01 - is a brute. It's a 46mm wide military-styled pilots watch that looks great but lacks versatility.
The BR 03 is a smaller, softened version.
It takes the same features and repackages them in a more refined watch. The Golden Heritage edition is particularly handsome.
The overall aesthetic is as you'd expect.
It has a 43mm square case, with a round dial. The dial is less militaristic than other models. Rather than a matt finish, it has a sunburst effect and gilt numerals and hands.
The case retains the industrial look, but the use of gilt and a leather strap adds a little sophistication. I like the versatility of this watch - and the comfortable sizing.
In keeping with the rest of the collection, the Golden Heritage has a swiss automatic movement. It also has a sapphire crystal and some token water resistance.
If you're after a Bell & Ross aviation watch - but you also want a versatile model - take a closer look at the BR 03 Golden Heritage.
Bell and Ross BR 03-92 Golden Heritage BR0392-GH-ST/SCA
Large, square watches aren't for everyone. They're the watches that define the brand, but they're not typical aviation watches.
Bell & Ross has a vintage-inspired collection that offers more traditional pilots watches. This is my favourite Bell & Ross collection.
And this may be my favourite Bell & Ross watch.
The first vintage model that I'd like to highlight is a straightforward three-hand watch from the V1 line. It's a simple piece with a black dial and matching black strap.
It does what the best aviation and military models should do - it displays the time clearly.
I'd view the V1 as Bell and Ross's entry-level watch.
It's a spartan piece that prioritises comfort and legibility. So the case is 38.5mm wide and it has a slim bezel and curved lugs. That makes this a very wearable piece - particularly if you contrast it with the square 46mm BR 1.
Once again it has a Swiss automatic movement. In this case, it's a BR calibre built from a Sellita base.
But you're not buying a watch like this for the specs or complications. You'd buy this for the clean design and military aesthetic. The nice touches are a bonus. For example, the counterweight on the second hand is an aircraft. And the crown has a cheeky little ampersand motif.
And of course, the date window.
It's tucked away between 4 and 5 o'clock. It's a neat little circle with a black background. I love that it's there, but also that it's unintrusive and doesn't detract from the design's simplicity.
This would be my first choice for a Bell & Ross watch - unless I chose the next one.
Bell and Ross BR V1 Black Steel BRV192-BL-ST/SCA
This is essentially the same watch as above. It has the same case, movement and hands. Only the dial and strap differ.
I've included this watch because it's difficult for me to choose between this and the last watch. This is a military piece that has less of an aviation influence.
Just that one difference, the dial, gives this watch a different character. It looks more dated, more militaristic and less formal.
I can't decide which of the two I like most.
This model has aged lume. That's a nice touch. As is the domed sapphire crystal. In many ways, this watch is reminiscent of a British military Dirty Dozen watch.
And that's why this is such a successful design. It's been tried and tested decades ago.
Oh, and the 'MT' on the dial stands for Military Type.
Bell and Ross BR V1 Military BRV192-MIL-ST/SCA
The BR V2 is an interesting watch. It doesn't fit neatly into a single camp. Sometimes that can be a plus. A watch that is versatile and suitable to wear every day.
That's the role that I see for this piece.
My first impression was that this was an updated version of the Skin Diver concept. A simple, clean and minimal dive watch. An antidote to the large, chunky professional divers.
And it is that. This model does remind me of the vintage lightweight dive watches of the 1950s. Albeit with a modern, larger 41mm case.
But it's more than that.
It also has the aviation influence that you want from Bell & Ross. The aircraft counterweight on the second hand is there for example. And the hands themselves are pilot-styled.
But it's still more of a diver's watch than a pilot's.
So what are you left with?
I'd suggest that it's a watch that is neither an aviation piece nor diver. The V2 has elements of both and is a great allrounder. It's a sporty piece that doesn't need to be pinned down.
The vintage elements are present and I particularly like the beige, aged-looking lume. But the crown guards give the watch a modern edge.
It's that successful blend of styles and era's that makes this watch a winner. It's ideal if you want a truly versatile watch.
Bell and Ross BR V2-92 Steel Heritage BRV292-HER-ST/SRB
This is Bell & Ross's alternative to Omega's Speedmaster. It's a beautiful watch, but it could be a hard sell.
Why? Because it's not a more affordable alternative. It's very similarly priced. And obviously, it doesn't have the fame of being used by Nasa during the moon landings.
So what do you get from the V3?
You get a watch that is like the Omega, in size, appearance and functionality.
With chronographs in general now being worn more with formal dress, you get a smart looking watch. Although this is a sports watch, it's quite formal.
At 43mm wide, plus pushers, this is a chunky piece. It's not oversized, but it's not as comfortable as the V1 and V2. Of course, that's my personal preference.
Either way, this is a stunning watch. It draws obvious comparisons with the Speedmaster and also hints at the Rolex Daytona. But I don't see this as a replacement for either.
If you want a Swiss-made, smart-looking chronograph, this is one of the best that Bell & Ross offers.
Bell and Ross BR V3-94 Black Steel BRV394-BL-ST/SST
Most watch companies have a dive watch collection. Bell & Ross took their time to produce theirs. It wasn't until 2017 that they introduced a dive watch.
The BR 03-92 is the latest version.
What is immediately obvious is that it has Bell & Ross's house style. Like other watches in the Instrument's collection, it has the signature square case and round dial combination.
It works for aviation watches and I don't see why it can't work for dive watches.
Again, it's an acquired taste. But with this model, it has been a success. This colourful piece benefits from having a slightly smaller 42mm case. It feels more practical for a diver.
This watch looks like to was designed to take knocks. The crown is well protected and the box-like case suggests that it's bombproof.
The rubber strap, seamlessly attached, is very practical for use in the sea.
But it's the colour that I really like. The deep blue feels appropriate for a diver. It's the colour of authority and navies. And the small touches - the white hands with a yellow accent - work well.
It's a contrast to some of the other watches on my list. It's bigger and more rugged than the vintage watches. And it's less versatile than the V3.
This watch has a clarity of purpose. That works for me. A tough, waterproof watch that looks up to the job.
Bell and Ross BR 03-92 Diver Blue BR0392-D-BU-ST/SRB
Bell & Ross is a young brand that combines two great traditions. Parisian design and Swiss watchmaking.
The result is a series of handsome and functional watches. Most take their design cues from aviation. The typical Bell & Ross watch is a large, square model designed to mimic an aircraft cockpit.
It's a bold look that isn't for everyone.
So Bell & Ross introduced their vintage collection. These watches are more classically styled and militaristic.
I've included some of each in this list. Watches that are most obviously Bell & Ross and others that show another aspect of the brand.
I'm confident that you'll find something that you like. Trust me, this is a brand that has made a big impact in its short lifespan.
So follow some of the links. Look at some of the alternatives - despite the impression I've given, they do more than just black dials.
And after that? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.