Up Close: Bell & Ross BR 05 Chrono

Large, thin, and sharply finished.

Bell & Ross’ integrated-bracelet sports watch gets an upgrade this year, with the bigger, and arguably better, BR 05 Chrono.

The new chronograph retains the design of the basic BR 05, but incorporates 1970s racing-chronograph style with its twin square registers. At the same time, the case design and finish work better on the larger format, but the case of the chronograph is surprisingly thin, resulting in an unusually slim profile on the wrist for what it is.

Initial thoughts

In the heavily-populated category of integrated-bracelet sports watches, the best value is typically found at the less obvious brands. In its class, the Chopard Alpine Eagle XL Chrono is just excellent, and so is the H. Moser & Cie. Streamliner, albeit in a higher price class.

In the affordable category, the BR 05 does well. The three-hands-and-date BR 05 is solidly executed and well priced, but looks and feels a little small, despite being 40 mm (and the skeleton version of the same is cooler but pricey). The best feature of the BR 05 is the case, which is neatly finished and nicely detailed, particularly in its price segment.

The new BR 05 Chrono fixes the size issue. It retains the same case and finishing, but grows it to 42 mm. The larger size is just right – the proportions that suit the look of the watch.

And design-wise the chronograph also works better – and looks more distinct than its time-only counterpart. The chronograph has a 1970s-racing-watch vibe, rather than the fashionable and more common integrated-bracelet, luxury-sports watch look. The secret to that are the square chronograph registers, a detail that instantly evokes the 1970s and brings to mind watches like the Heuer Monaco.

For that reason, the version on a strap is arguably more appealing, because it has a more distinct character, while the model with a bracelet does bring to mind popular integrated-bracelet watches.

Starting at a bit under US$6,000 for the version on a strap, the BR 05 Chrono is also competitively priced.

The square case, evolved

Bell & Ross was founded in 1992, but unveiled its defining watch in 2005, the BR 01. Modelled on an aircraft cockpit clock, the BR 01  was one of the “it” watches of the mid 2000s, and has since evolved into the smaller and more manageable BR 03. The BR 05 is essentially a twist on the BR 03, admittedly with a little inspiration from the better-established designs in the luxury-sports watches category.

The size and thickness of the chronograph gives the case more impact. Now the stepped construction from case middle to bezel has more depth, which shows off the contrasting surface finishes better.

Notably, the BR 05 Chrono is actually unexpectedly thin for what it is. The case stands 12.4 mm high, which is only slightly more than a Rolex Daytona.

The case finishing is well done, particularly on the bezel and case middle. The bezel is wide and fairly high, which helps hide some of the height of the watch, with a brushed top and mirror-polished bevel all around.

Most illustrative of the finishing quality are the edges between the planes and surfaces – everything is sharp, clean, and well defined. The only aspect of the case that is not as well done are the pushers and crown guard. These are separate parts installed into the case middle, and they have softer lines and edges. This is not obvious on the wrist, and is forgivable given the price.

The buckle is also similarly well finished, although it is of the single-fold type, which can make a perfect fit tricky without a strap of exactly the right length. But with the correctly-sized strap, it wears well.

1970s style

Even though the chronograph relies on the same design elements as the base-model BR 05, it has a distinct look because of the twin chronograph registers. They are square with rounded corners (a shape known as a squircle or superellipse), evoking auto-racing watches of the 1970s.

The 1970s feel is gentle and not overt as on say a Heuer Monaco. It could have been made more obvious with chunkier hands and block-shaped hour markers, but that would end the unified look of the BR 05 line up.

I would have preferred hands and markers with a bit more character; they are a bit plain on the base model, but on the chronograph the overall look is a good one.

The dial is fairly simple in style but everything is well done. A detail that stands out for its thoughtfulness is the square axis for the hands on the sub-dial that echoes the shape of the register.

Both registers are actually separate discs attached to the main dial and as a result sit in a pronounced recess. The sub-dials are in a lighter colour than the main dial, something that’s more apparent on the blue dial, and finished with stamped, concentric guilloche, or azurage, as is the norm for chronograph sub-dials.

The rest of the dial is simple but similarly proficient. The hour markers are applied, and the date disc matches the colour of the dial.

As an aside, I would have preferred a more pronounced texture on the flange with a five-minute scale, which has a modest graining.

Between the two dials on offer – only black or blue is available for now – the blue is more attractive. Blue dials tend to be a bit too formulaic now – seemingly every watchmaker has a blue-dial sports watch – but it does look better here. The finish of the dial is more apparent in blue, especially for the patterned surface of the sub-dials.

Movement

Inside is the BR-CAL.301, which is actually an ETA 2894-2 dressed up with an open-worked rotor. The large rotor camouflages the movement, although the wide central axis of the rotor gives its identity away.

The rotor dominates the view on the back, and it is elaborately done for a straightforward movement in an accessibly priced watch. It’s a full oscillating weight that covers the entire movement, which Bell & Ross labels a “360 degree” rotor, with one half of its rim being thicker and heavier.

Made of tungsten, it is entirely open worked and has the brand logo cast in relief. The top is brushed while all of the edges of the open working are bevelled. The finishing is no doubt done by machine, but it is neatly done and visually appealing. The same holds for the movement itself, which is an upper-grade ETA movement with perlage and blued screws.

A weakness of the ETA 2894 is its modular nature, which means none of the chronograph mechanism is visible on the back, making it less interesting visually. But the choice of the movement is understandable given its slimness.

The ETA 2894 has the advantage of being relatively thin at 6.1 mm high, as compared to the 7.9 mm of the Valjoux 7750. A thicker movement would have resulted in a thicker case, which would probably be overly chunky.

Concluding thoughts

With a 1970s style that looks good, the BR 05 Chrono is fairly priced and well executed, with the case being particularly worthy of praise – it is well finished and unusually slim. The movement isn’t the most interesting, but it is reliable and contributes to the thinness of the watch.

The BR 05 Chrono is only available in two guises for now, which is limiting. It seems ripe for variations, particularly with lighter case materials – titanium for instance is lightweight but able to be finished similarly – which would be interesting, if combined with a pronounced, 1970s retro dial.


Key Facts and Price

Bell & Ross BR 05 Chrono
Ref. BR05C-BL-ST (black)
Ref. BR05C-BU-ST (blue)

Diameter: 42 mm
Height: 12.4 mm
Material: Steel
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 100 m

Movement: BR-CAL.301 (ETA 2894-2)
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, and chronograph
Winding: Automatic
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 42 hours

Strap: Steel bracelet or rubber strap

Availability: Available now 
Price
:
Bracelet – US$6,400; or 9,500 Singapore dollars
Strap – US$5,900; or 8,700 Singapore dollars

For more, visit Bellross.com.


 

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Fugue Introduces the Fiction One

Intriguing and affordable.

Founded just three years ago, Fugue got its start with a watch featuring a modular case with interchangeable lugs. The brand’s second model is altogether more interesting, the Fiction One.

Powered by an automatic Sellita movement, the Fiction One has an intriguing mystery dial – the hands appear to be floating over its surface with no connection to the central axis. Available for pre-order on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter until end October, the Fiction One is available in two dial variations, white and smoked grey. And it is affordable, with a price of €350, or about US$420.

[Update December 10, 2020: The original Kickstarter campaign for the watch did not meet its target, but Fugue is doing it a second time, offering the watch at a slightly lower price, as well as a smaller minimum quantity. The new campaign closes January 8, 2021.]

Initial thoughts

“Microbrands” tend to capitalise on designs that are the flavour of the day, reusing classic sports-watch designs for affordable watches. So amidst its crowdfunded peers, the Fiction One is refreshing.

That said, the mystery time display is an old invention, dating to early 19th century when it was invented by French magician Jean-Eugène Robert Houdin.And in the mid 20th century, the Galaxy watch with mystery hands was produced by several brands, most notably LeCoultre, Vacheron Constantin, and Longines.

Fugue takes inspiration from those wristwatches, successfully reinterpreting the idea to create something modern and affordable. The Fiction One has a clean and simple dial, maximising the floating effect, and the case is classically sized at 38 mm, giving it versatile, timeless proportions.

But more importantly, the Fiction One is priced very accessibly at €350. The initial pre-order price of €295 was even better but is unfortunately sold out. It’s an attractive, entry-level option for a mystery dial, especially compared to the admittedly far more sophisticated mystery complications from Cartier and Konstantin Chaykin.

Defying physics

While the dial suggests a violation of the law of physics, it is a charming and effective construction that evokes the mysterious display in a simple manner.

Unlike the high-end mystery watches from the likes of Cartier and Konstantin Chaykin that have movements built from the ground up as mystery displays – floating hands with with a totally see-through dial – the Fiction One relies on one half of the trick: painting the hands on transparent discs that are driven by the movement.

The mysterious effect is achieved with twin discs. At the bottom is an opaque disk the same colour as the dial, which carries the hour hand. Above it is a transparent disk, and then yet another transparent disk with the minute hand.

Having an additional clear layer between the two hands enhance the visual effect: not only are the hour and minute hand are detached from the central axis, they also appear to be on separate planes vertically.

As with mystery clocks of old, the trick lies in the teeth on the rotating discs. In the Fugue One the teeth are on the inner axis of the discs, and mesh with the canon pinion of the movement, allowing the movement to drive the discs.

The movement is a Sellita SW200, a clone of the ETA 2824. It’s robust, reliable and easy to fix. The movement is made in Switzerland, along with some other components, but the watch is assembled in Fugue’s home country of France.

And up to 4% of the revenue generated by the Fugue One will be donated to Bibliothèques Sans Frontières (Libraries Without Borders), a charity that brings books and educational resources to people in poor countries.


Key Facts and Price

Fugue Fiction One

Diameter: 38 mm
Height: 12.6 mm
Material: Stainless steel
Water resistance: 50 m

Movement: Sellita SW200
Functions: Hours and minutes
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 38 hours

Strap: Leather with pin buckle

Limited edition: 610 pieces initially
Availability: Pre-order on Kickstarter until January 8, 2021
Price: €350 for either model; €650 for both

For more, visit fuguewatches.com


Update December 10, 2020: Article amended to reflect Fugue’s second Kickstarter campaign.

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Zenith Introduces the Chronomaster Revival Liberty

Exclusive to North America.

Just days after unveiling the Lupin the Third edition inspired by a Japanese anime series, Zenith has rolled out a limited edition for countries on the other side of the world. The Chronomaster Revival Liberty is similarly based on the El Primero A384, but dressed in red, white, and blue.

Initial thoughts

Zenith has released several limited edition A384s this year, which can feel a bit too frequent. But to the brand’s credit the editions have all been appealing, and the El Primero in general remains a well-priced chronograph.

The Chronomaster Revival Liberty is a good looking watch that retains the 1970s spirit of the A384 while giving it a totally new colour. The tricolour combination brings to mind the American flag, but it is an attractive combination that’s helped by details like the whimsical candy-cane central seconds hand.

Gradient blue

The key element that sets this A384 edition apart from the others is the dial, which is finished in a matte, graduated blue that darkens towards the edges. The smoked or fumé finish is popular today, but not especially common at Zenith.

It’s matched with the red and white striped seconds hand, as well as a red-on-white date disc.

The rest of the watch is stock A384, which means it remains true to the 1969 original in size and finish. It’s 37 mm in diameter and finished with radial brushing on its top face, just like the original. And inside is the El Primero 400 movement.


Key facts and price

Zenith Chronomaster Revival Liberty
Ref. 03.US384.400/57.C823

Diameter: 37 mm
Height: 12.6 mm
Material: Stainless steel
Water resistance: 50 m

Movement: El Primero 400
Functions: Time, date, and chronograph
Frequency: 36,000 beats per hour (5 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 50 hours

Strap: Textile strap with rubber lining on pin buckle

Limited edition: 150 pieces
Availability: Only at Zenith boutiques and retailers in the United States and Canada, as well as the US e-boutique
Price: US$8,700

For more, visit Zenith-watches.com.


 

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