Hands-On: Bell & Ross BR 01 Laughing Skull White

The skull automaton in bone white.

While skull watches are very much today’s fad, Bell & Ross’ use of the Jolly Roger started a decade ago with the BR 01 Skull, with its square watch case being a perfect frame for a bony visage.

The brand’s skull watches have proliferated since then, but the evolution had been purely cosmetic, until last year when the brand unveiled a watch as elaborate mechanically as it is aesthetically – the BR 01 Laughing Skull, powered by a proprietary movement with a simple automaton of a skull that opens and closes it jaw.

And this year, B&R has introduced the BR 01 Laughing Skull White, with the skull finished in a bone-like lacquer.

Distinctive face

Like all BR-01 watches, the case is 46mm wide, but it is a tad thicker than the static skull watches at 13.5mm high, but that’s a functional requirement, a result of the automaton on the movement. In short, it is a large watch, but that’s exactly the point.

The case is sandblasted steel and is decorated with stamped hobnails on the top surface and case back, giving it a pronounced, distinctive character.

And it is worth noting the unusual finish of the skull would work quite well with a case in bronze, a material that B&R has used liberally in the past and will probably continue to.

The dial features a photo-realistic appliqué skull that’s been stamped out of brass, and then painted matte off-white with shading to create shadow and depth. The result is striking – at a distance, the skull is seemingly projecting out of the case.

While the finish of the skull is new, the layout is identical to the first Laughing Skull, with a circular opening in the forehead that reveals the balance wheel. And in keeping with the Jolly Roger theme of B&R’s skull watches, the hands are shaped like cutlasses and filled with black Super-Luminova that doesn’t glow very much in the dark but it offers a greater contrast in daylight than white “lume”.

The dial is further accentuated by a skull-and-crossbones bezel secured to the case by four screws. The screw slots are all perfectly aligned at a 45-degree angle as they are actually bolts secured by screws visible on the case back.

Proprietary form movement

Inside is the hand-wound BR-CAL.206 that was developed by Concepto, a complications specialist that supplies a broad range of movements to numerous niche and independent brands.

The movement was conceived from the ground up for a skull watch, with the full bridge and base plate shaped like a skull. It’s completed by four arms shaped like a crossbones to secure the movement to the case.

The balance wheel

The movement is laid out vertically: the barrel is located right behind the jaws of the skull while the balance wheel is at 12 o’clock.

As the barrel ratchet wheel is at six o’clock, with the crown wheel just above, it conveniently facilitates a simple mechanism that drives the movement of the jaw via the ratchet wheel.

When the movement is wound, the jaws of the skull open and shut, with the speed of its motion proportional to the speed at which the crown is being turned. So the jaws move relatively slowly at the ordinary rate of winding, though the visual effect when sped up is quite amusing.

The barrel ratchet, right under the B&R logo, and winding click with an elongated spring

Skull automaton aside, the movement is unusual because it has twin going trains. Visible through the sapphire case back, the going train runs along the edge of the skull, linking the barrel to the balance wheel.

To facilitate this design, a separate gear train is required to drive the hands at the center of the dial. This secondary train is hidden under the full bridge, and connects the hands to the visible gear train on the back.

This dual train construction, along with the automaton mechanism linked to the barrel, results in the added height of the movement.

The visible, primary wheel train

Concluding thoughts

The Laughing Skull White is the pinnacle of the B&R skull series, because it is more than just a design tweak – it’s a skull watch with a skull movement.

Though pricier than the average B&R watch, it is only 30% more than the standard BR01 skull model powered by a stock Sellita movement. Given it has a new form movement, with an automaton to boot, the price is pretty reasonable.

Also, the watch is delivered on an ivory alligator hide strap that makes a loud statement. A plainer, perhaps black, strap would probably work better in keeping attention on the skull.


Key facts and price 

BR 01 Laughing Skull White
Ref. BR01-SKULL-0-SK-ST

Diameter: 46mm
Height: 13.5mm
Material: Stainless steel
Water resistance: 100m

Movement: BR-CAL.206
Functions: Hours, minutes, and skull automaton
Winding: Hand-wound
Frequency: 28,800bph, or 4Hz
Power reserve: 50 hours

Strap: Ivory alligator leather

Limited edition: 99 pieces
Availability: Already in boutiques and selected retailers
Price: US$9,900, or 14,900 Singapore dollars

For more information, visit Bellross.com.


 

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Hands-On: Vacheron Constantin Overseas Dual-Time Prototype in Titanium

The ultimate Overseas.

In early June 2019, American mountaineer Cory Richards embarked on his third attempt at scaling Mount Everest – after successfully reaching the summit twice before, including once without oxygen – but had to give up halfway due to dangerous weather. In fact, the year’s climbing season was one of the deadliest in recent years, with 11 climbers dead or missing.

Prior to his valiant but unsuccessful attempt at Everest, Mr Richards worked with Vacheron Constantin to develop a watch for the occasion. He wanted something light, robust and able to track two time zones.

Mr Richards at Everest base camp wearing the Overseas Dual Time prototype. Photo – Vacheron Constantin/Keith Ladzinski

The beefed-up Overseas

The result was the one-off Overseas Dual-Time prototype that looks a great deal more aggressive than the average Overseas. In fact, the designers at Vacheron Constantin managed to boost its presence and sportiness without bulking it up too much; the diameter remains the same.

Mr Richards wore the watch up Everest, and now Vacheron Constantin has donated it to charity. Exactly as it was when Mr Richards left Mount Everest, with scratches on the case and fraying on the strap, the prototype will be sold at Phillips’ upcoming New York watch auction, with all proceeds going to the National Geographic Society.

Though identical in size to the standard Overseas Dual Time – the case is 41mm in diameter – this prototype has a bulked-up case, primarily with the addition of guards for both its crowns.

At the same time, the hands and hour markers are wider, and the second time zone hand is in orange, boosting legibility and adding to the no-nonsense style.

Though large, the watch is relatively lightweight as the case is brushed titanium, with the bezel base in tantalum that results in a subtle two-tone appearance. Though tantalum is dense and heavy, its use is minimal, so there is a negligible gain in weight.

Rendered in a bluish-grey that’s similar to the colour of tantalum, the dial has granular finish, while the hour markers are in black-coated 18k gold.

The cal. 5110 DT inside is mechanically identical to the standard movement, but its bridges and base plate have been finished in a dark grey NAC plating.

More unusually, instead of the Vacheron Constantin logo found on the stock Overseas movements, this has a 22k gold rotor bearing a relief of Mount Everest that replicates a photo taken by Mr Richards himself.

Interestingly, photos of Mr Richards on Everest show him wearing the watch on a metal bracelet that’s presumably titanium, but the prototype is being sold only with two straps, one fabric and the other rubber.

Vacheron Constantin has stated that the Overseas Dual-Time prototype will remain just that, a one-off prototype – for now. Given how well received it has been, it’s hard to imagine the design won’t make it into regular production in one way or another.


Key facts and price

Overseas Dual-Time prototype
Ref. 7910V/000T-B603

Diameter: 41mm
Height: 12.8mm
Material: Titanium with tantalum bezel base
Water-resistance: 150m

Movement: Cal. 5110 DT
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date; second time zone, day and night indicator
Winding: Automatic

Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour, or 4Hz
Power reserve: 60 hours

Strap: Dark grey fabric strap with titanium pin buckle; additional strap in grey rubber

Availability: The Overseas prototype is lot 72 in Game Changers, and has an estimate of US$20,000-40,000. It’ll be sold on December 10, 2019 at Phillips in New York, with all proceeds going to the National Geographic Society.

For the full auction catalogue, visit Phillips.com.


 

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H. Moser & Cie. Introduces the Heritage Centre Seconds Funky Blue

The entry-level aviator's watch.

A year ago, H. Moser & Cie. debuted the Heritage Pilot’s Watch, a retro, aviation-inspired watch with grey fumé dial for Swiss retailer Bucherer that was then a one-off unlike anything else in the brand’s line-up. Now the watch has officially joined the collection as the Heritage Centre Seconds Funky Blue, positioned as an entry-level model priced under US$14,000.

The watch has a familiar design, for good reason: it’s modelled on early pilot’s watches from the 1920s that were produced by a host of brands including Longines and Zenith, and also Heinrich Moser, the predecessor of H. Moser & Cie. At the same time, according to Moser chief executive Edouard Meylan, the Heritage watch takes some inspiration from early 20th century wristwatches that were converted pocket watches with wire lugs soldered on for wear on the wrist.

While the Heritage measures 42mm in diameter like a majority of Moser’s watches, it is just 11.1mm high, making it one of the brand’s slimmest models. Its stainless-steel case features an onion-shaped crown and thin lugs to mimic wire lugs. The case is largely polished, punctuated with fine, vertical fluting on its flanks, a detail taken from another watch in the Moser line-up, the Pioneer.

The dial is a dark, metallic blue finished with sunburst brushing and the brand’s signature fumé treatment that gradually darkens towards the edges.

But the most distinctive feature are the large Arabic numerals – modelled on the painted radium numerals on early wristwatches – that substantially sized appliqués moulded from Globolight, a ceramic composite infused with Super-Luminova that can be produced in a variety of colours and glow intensity.

Here the numerals are a bright white in daylight, rather than the pale yellow or green of conventional Super-Luminova, and glow bright green in the dark.

Visible through the sapphire case back is the cal. HMC 200. It is a relatively slim automatic movement with a bi-directional pawl winding system as well as a stop-seconds function.

It has a three-day power reserve and is equipped with a free-sprung balance with four adjustable gold weights as well as a Straumann hairspring made by Moser’s sister company, Precision Engineering.


Key facts and price

Heritage Centre Seconds Funky Blue
Ref. 8200-1201

Diameter: 42mm
Height: 11.1mm
Material: Stainless steel
Water-resistance: 30m

Movement: HMC 200
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds
Winding: Automatic

Frequency: 21,600bph, or 3Hz
Power reserve: 72 hours

Strap: Beige Kudu leather strap

Availability: 
Already at retailers 
Price:
13,900 Swiss francs, or S$21,200

For more information, visit H-moser.com.


Correction December 2, 2019: The water-resistance is 30m, and not 300m as stated in an earlier version of the article.

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Cambodia’s First Watchmaking School Opens in Phnom Penh

The Prince Horology Vocational Training Center.

One of Asia’s quickest growing economies, Cambodia remains a relatively small market for mechanical watches, but now boasts its own watchmaking school – led by a pair of former WOSTEP instructors – which will begin operations in mid 2020.

Supported by a local real estate conglomerate, the Prince Horology Vocational Training Center will offer a full-time, two-year course in watchmaking. Totalling some 3,400 hours of training, the watchmaking course will be comprehensive and modelled on the education offered by Swiss watchmaking schools.

Designed by a team that includes a former director of WOSTEP, Switzerland’s leading watchmaking school, the course includes watchmaking history and culture, toolmaking and maintenance, repair and servicing of both mechanical and quartz watches, as well as some parts production.

Filled with brand new equipment, the school is ready for its first students

Located in the Chrouy Changvar district of central Phnom Penh, the country’s capital, the Prince Horology Vocational Training Center recently opened its premises, which are fully equipped with brand new benches and tools, giving students the opportunity to learn both watch repair as well as movement part production and finishing.

The school’s leadership team includes Jessica Thakur, formerly an instructor at Richemont’s American watchmaking school in Texas and then at WOSTEP, as well as Maarten Pieters, who was the director of WOSTEP from 2002 to 2018. Prior to that, Mr Pieters spent several years at complications specialist THA, and then Omega’s Haute de Gamme department where he helped refine the Omega Central Tourbillon. And a senior adviser to the school is Xu Zhou, a mechanical engineer by training but also a self-taught watchmaker.

A milling machine

A jig borer

Digital vertical micrometer

A staking and jewelling set

Screwdrivers, tweezers and other small tools

Lubricants

Corporate social responsibility

Funded by the Prince Charitable Organization In Cambodia, the school will also offer scholarships to local students and those requiring financial assistance, ranging from a 50% subsidy of the school fees to a fully paid scholarship that includes accommodation.

The Prince Charitable Organization is part of the Prince Real Estate Group, a conglomerate based in Phnom Penh that is involved in property development, construction, agriculture, logistics as well as a local airline.

The first class at the school begins in June 2020, and interested students can apply directly to the school.

For more visit, Princehorology.com.

All images courtesy of Prince Horology Vocational Training Center.


 

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