Only a handful of watch brands can claim to have created a modern day icon, especially one that is relatively affordable. Bell & Ross (B&R) can stake a legitimate claim to that, thanks to its signature circle-within-a-square BR 01 that has become one of the most recognisable 21st century designs.
Inspired by aircraft control panels, the BR 01 was conceived for legibility and functionality, but has since evolved to include the Experimental line of watches, which encompasses sleek, complicated watches and also the bigger, bolder BR-X. The BR-X sticks to the blueprint of the BR 01 case while pushing the boundaries of design and materials, an endeavour that, it has to be said, comes at a price.
Returning to its roots
The BR-X1 Military is in some ways a throwback to the origins of B&R, which got its start supplying Sinn watches to French military and police units. While many watches in B&R’s current line-up are “retro” military, inspired by the 1940s and 1950s, the BR-X1 is unmistakably modern.
Marrying the experimental spirit of the BR-X with the brand’s military inclination, the BR-X1 Military is conceived to look like a high-tech, high-end instrument for modern warfare. Though it’s more likely to wage war across a desk or laptop, the BR-X1 is the sort of go-anywhere-do-anything watch that makes it practical, while allowing the owner to look like a full-fledged badass.
The BR-X1 Military retains the signature square form that has defined B&R – here 45mm by 45mm – but with the bodykit that characterises the BR-X line, with ceramic and rubber inserts around the case that act as bumpers.
The clearest visual indicator its military inspiration is in the subtle grey-olive hue of the case. It’s actually the result of treatment that alters the surface of the titanium alloy, making it harder and more scratch-resistant. Lightweight and resilient, the titanium alloy has been named High Resistant Titanium (HRT).
Naturally the watch has a strong and significant presence on my 6.5 inch wrist, appropriately large for the style without being jarringly oversized thanks to the short lugs. It wears light and snug, especially on the optional fabric strap. Like most of the BR-X collection, the BR-X1 military is fitted to a rubber strap as standard but I find the velcro band takes the military look a little further.
Another signature feature of the X1 chronographs are elaborately skeletonised dials that include an open-worked movement base plate.
The dial, or lack thereof, is complements the military style well, sticking to same smoked olive palette, but with more brighter shades to provide the necessary contrast. Its applied markers are crisp and sharp, finished with a satin brushing that is reassuring for a watch of this price. Similarly, the hands are open-worked, three-dimensional, and finished with alternating textures that make them more interesting but also help legibility.
The date window is at six o’clock is outlined by a green border, while the skeletonised date wheel sits on a white backdrop for maximum legibility.
Circling the dial is a tachymeter scale, which is used to measure speed over a fixed distance and usually associated with auto racing chronographs, an unusual feature for a military watch. Telemetric scales are more typical of military watches, since they allow the measurement of distance to an object, making them useful for artillery and naval gunnery.
Low light and highlights
B&R’s foundations as a military watch brand – which means legibility and functionality are paramount – means a satisfying low-light display, and the BR-X1 Military doesn’t disappoint. Key indicators on the dial have generous coatings of Super-Luminova, putting on quite a show when the lights are out.
The attention to detail in the dial livery is evidenced by the colour matching both of the luminous and non-luminous markings. Even though only the main hands and hour markers are filled with green lume, the non-luminous markings on the dial – the logo, date window frame, sub-dial hands and chapters – are in the same shade of green.
Visible below the transparent sapphire dial is the BR-CAL.313 movement, open-worked to exhibit its mechanics, conveying a sense of depth and complexity. Coated in different shades of charcoal and grey, and decorated with varying surface finishes, the various visible components contrast well against each other.
The movement is decorated to a degree that one would expect from such a watch, with the X-shaped upper bridge receiving the most attention, with brushed top surfaces and prominent machined bevelling.
While the movement is elaborately styled, it is still based on the ETA 2894-2, which is essentially an ETA 2892 with a Dubois-Depraz module on top. Though reliable and robust, the 2892 is a common and inexpensive calibre. The bulk of the cost of the money is undoubtedly in the skeletonised chronograph module on top, which is custom-made for B&R.
The BR-X1 Military could well be my favourite of B&R’s current offerings. I’m a fan of the military watch genre, and the “tactical” livery speaks to me.
The HRT case with its ceramic and rubber bumpers, screw-down crown, and velcro or rubber straps are all reassuringly hardy. At the same time, the skeletonised movement has a lasting appeal and I find myself admiring the movement architecture, often forgetting to notice the time.
However, the watch is one of the more expensive in the B&R line-up, retailing for US$23,000. Even though the fit, finish and mechanics of the B&R are on par with its peers, B&R is a relative outsider in this price bracket. So it runs into stiff competition from the established players in this segment of contemporary sports watches, including Panerai and Hublot.
But the relatively small number made – just 250 pieces – combined with the premium case construction and rugged allure makes the watch an enticing option in a particularly competitive space.
Price and availability
The BR-X1 Military is priced at US$23,000, or S$31,500, and is available at Bell & Ross retailers and boutiques. For more information, visit bellross.com.
Limited Edition of 250 pieces.
Movement: calibre BR-CAL.313. Automatic mechanical. ‘X’-shaped upper bridge. 56 jewels, 28,800 vph. Skeleton chronograph.
Functions: hours, minutes, small seconds at 3 o’clock. Skeletonized date at 6 o’clock. Chronograph: 30-min timer at 9 o’clock, central chronograph seconds.
Case: 45 mm in diameter. HRT (khaki High-Resistance Titanium) and black ceramic with rubber inserts. Rocker push-buttons. Case-back with opening in tinted sapphire crystal, centred on the balance.
Dial: skeletonized. Metal applique Superluminova® C3-filled indices. Metal skeletonized Superluminova® C3-filled hour and minute hands.
Crystal: sapphire with anti-reflective coating.
Water-resistance: 100 metres.
Strap: perforated black rubber.
Buckle: pin, black PVD coated steel.
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