Most luxury watch companies are proud of their long histories. But Bell & Ross is quite the opposite—just 24 years old, it’s done a great deal in surprisingly little time.
In 1992, designer Bruno Belamich and entrepreneur Carlos Rosillo (Bell and Ross, respectively) set out to create their own line of watches that bridged the gap between a traditional tool watch and a rugged military device.
Their first creation, the “Bell & Ross by Sinn,” was produced by Sinn watches. In fact, many of Bell & Ross’s early watches were existing Sinn watches–the 103 and Space 1 in particular–rebranded with the Bell & Ross logo.
As the company’s presence grew, Bell & Ross branched out with its own line of functional tool watches. The brand’s first major success was the Bell & Ross Bomb Disposal Type—a watch designed for use by bomb squad members of France’s elite GIGN special operations division.
Later in the 1990s, Bell & Ross expanded its range of impressive tool watches with the Hydro Challenger: a quartz dive watch capable of descending to more than 11,100 meters beneath the surface of the ocean. The Hydro Challenger set the world record for the deepest rating ever available on a dive watch—a record that stood until James Cameron travelled into the Mariana Trench carrying a Rolex Deepsea Challenge on the outside of his submarine.
In 2002, Bell & Ross was acquired by Chanel. Far from becoming a pure fashion brand, Bell & Ross has stuck to its roots since its acquisition, releasing eye-catching tool watches such as the Aviation BR-01 that have attracted huge amounts of attention in the watchmaking world.
Today, the company follows four design principles: Bell & Ross watches feature highly accurate mechanical movements, maximum water resistance, clear and legible visual indicators, and specific design purposes.
Notable Bell & Ross Watches
Bell & Ross’s most recognizable watch–the Aviation BR-01–was released in 2005. Inspired by the simple, highly legible design of aircraft navigational instruments, the BR-01 is a large watch designed to be clear in low light and other low-visibility environments.
Like other Bell & Ross models, the Aviation BR-01 blends a tool watch’s design with a choice of material and finish options. Its case is available in stainless steel, black coated steel, and a large variety of other materials. Unique casino, airborne, and gold ingot special editions are available.
As one of Bell & Ross’s most notable models, the Aviation BR-01 was a trendsetter. Since it was first released in 2005, other tool watches have grown larger, perhaps to match the BR-01’s large 42-46mm case size.
Marine Automatic BR-02
Bell & Ross made a name for itself in the late 1990s with its innovative quartz dive watches. The Hydromax was one of the brand’s most popular dive watches—a quartz watch that contained oil to prevent it from failing at extreme depths.
The Marine Automatic BR-02 is Bell & Ross’s modern dive watch. It’s an upsized, automatic watch that mixes the function of its early quartz dive watches with the size and automatic movement of the iconic Aviation BR-01.
In many ways, the Marine Automatic BR-02 is equal parts a dive and aviation watch. Its 1,000m water resistance makes it usable for even the most extreme dives, while the four large screws in its case and its large, ultra-legible numerals echo the style of the Aviation BR-01.
Add in its unidirectional internal bezel, and the BR-02 is an impressive watch that combines rugged style with all of the functions of a deep dive tool watch. At 44mm in diameter, the BR-02 has an incredible degree of presence on the wrist, comparable to the more common BR-01.
Although Bell & Ross is best known for its large, modern aviation and dive watches, it also offers a range of vintage-inspired watches. The Vintage BR is Bell & Ross’s 1940s-inspired wristwatch—an homage to the avant-garde aviator watches worn by WWII pilots.
Launched at Baselworld 2010, the Vintage collection has smaller dimensions than Bell & Ross’s famously large dive and aviation watches (41mm, as opposed to 44-46mm). The brand’s rugged style is toned down in favor of a look that’s more mainstream, yet still distinctly Bell & Ross.
The Vintage BR collection is made of up two models: the Vintage BR Automatic and Vintage BR Chronograph. Both are available in a variety of styles and finishes; the chronograph boasts 60-second and 30-minute accumulators.
To some, Bell & Ross’s short lifespan might make it a lesser brand compared to the many watch companies that boast centuries of history. To others, its focus on innovative watchmaking and its distinct design philosophy make it a brand that anyone can enjoy. John Mayer called the BR126 Chronograph a “subdued, classic and cool” watch that “broke the good design barrier” when it was showcased at the 2013 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.
Famous Bell & Ross fans include Joel McHale of Community, who has been spotted wearing a BR 02-94 Chronograph, and Zach Braff, who wears a BR-01.
Even Arnold Schwarzenegger has been spotted in a Bell & Ross BR-01, which he wore in The Expendables 2.
While Bell & Ross may not have the extensive history of other Swiss watch brands, its intriguing designs and focus on function make it one of today’s hottest watch companies. If you’re a fan of military-inspired styling, Bell & Ross’s distinctive, iconic watches could be for you.