Bell & Ross has made a name for itself with its aviation-inspired timepieces. The brand proudly proclaims that on-board aviation instruments are its guiding force, and it has been very successful in incorporating the theme into wristwatches. Today, the square case and round dials of its BR aviation-inspired watches are instantly recognizable, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the look is a modern horological and cultural icon. That said, Bell & Ross refuse to be limited by stereotypes, and its latest watches see it drawing inspiration from the open seas. Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce to you the new Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine.
The Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine watch is part of the company’s new Marine Instrument collection. And in the words of Bell & Ross themselves, they are “temporarily leaving runways, radars and fighter planes” and heading for the open water.
The new Marine Instrument collection will be headlined by three very special, limited-edition watches. There’s the simple time-only Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine, the partially skeletonized BR-X1 Instrument De Marine Chronograph, and finally the ultra-complicated BR-X1 Tourbillon Chronograph Instrument De Marine. All three are unique and very different from Bell & Ross’ usual offerings, but the one we are interested in today is the time-only Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine.
The first thing that strikes you about the new Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine is that it features the iconic BR 01 case – the case that we all know and love. But look closer and you’ll realize that not all is what it seems. In fact, the case is constructed using three different unconventional materials.
To begin with, the large 46mm-wide case, bezel, and crown are made using bronze. The choice of bronze is obvious as it is the metal that is most associated with the sea. In case you don’t already know, bronze is widely used in marine applications because it naturally forms a patina which protects the underlying bronze metal from corrosion. Look closer still, and around the periphery of the case is a band made of rosewood. Like bronze, wood is another material closely associated with the sea. And finally, the case back is made of titanium – again, a material ideal for marine applications as it is highly resistant to corrosion. It is also hypoallergenic, which makes it great for contact with skin as bronze has the propensity to stain skin.
The case is well-constructed and expertly finished, and the design is one that we have all come to know and love. It’s a simple design, but it is powerful and very attractive. And while it may be a big square case, it isn’t overly thick, so it wears quite well on the wrist. The wearing comfort was also aided by the comfortable brown alligator strap. The strap comes with a matching bronze buckle, which is a nice touch. That said, I think the large Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine case works best on owners with chunkier wrists. Like other BR 01 watches, the Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine is also water resistant to 100 meters.
The next thing that catches all your eye is probably the brilliant white dial, which is actually lacquer – an unusual dial material for Bell & Ross watches. What’s also unusual is the use of Roman numerals, railroad-style indexes, and blued pear-shaped hands, which pays homage to marine clocks of the past. These design elements give the dial an old-world charm, but it takes getting used to because the BR 01 case is usually associated with aviation-inspired designs, which tend to be more modern. Nevertheless, it’s a harmonious look, and I especially like the blued steel hands and the whiteness of the lacquer dial.
There’s a subdial for the running seconds at 6 o’clock, and in the middle of the subdial it reads CAL. 203. That would be a reference to the calibre BR-CAL.203 that beats within. It’s visible through the sapphire case back, and it’s a hand-wound mechanical movement. The choice of a hand-wound movement is apt because marine clocks of the past were also manually wound. It beats at 3Hz and features a suitably long power reserve of 56 hours.
Though Bell & Ross doesn’t say it, the BR-CAL.203 is likely the ubiquitous Unitas 6497. A tried-and-tested hand-wound movement that sees action in many other watches. In the case of the Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine, it has been simply finished with brushed and darkened bridges and blued screws. It looks very industrial, and if I were to nitpick, I would have preferred a more elaborately decorated movement to suit the rest of the watch. As it is, the dial of the Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine is definitely more intricate than most of Bell & Ross’ other offerings, and I think a more classically decorated movement with chamfered bridges, Côtes de Genève, or perlage would be more suitable.
The new Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine marks an interesting departure from the brand’s usual aviation-inspired pieces, and the end result is certainly intriguing, if not attractive. I don’t think everyone is going to be a fan of it, but if you like watches like the Ulysses Nardin Marine collection, then I think the Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine will be an interesting alternative, as it mixes the classic look of marine-inspired watches with Bell & Ross’ signature BR case. If you like the look of it, you’d best hurry because the Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine is limited to just 500 pieces. Price is $8,700. bellross.com
A really superior sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating can sometimes seem to even “sharpen” the dial components, to my eyes. The Bell & Ross Watch Vintage Br 123 Black Replica BR 03-92 Diver includes a 2.85mm-thick horizontal crystal with great AR coating offering a crystal clear view of the dial that is designed to be legible to start with. The applied hour mark, sloped chapter ring, and date window at 4:30 using a black date wheel to match the dial color all help give a feeling of depth and interest that I constantly appreciate.Clearly, I’m bullish on the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver. It was among the funnest recent watches I’ve had the chance to wear for an extended time period, and I can’t really say I can find any real complaints relating to it. There are a couple of things I can think of, but that Bell & Ross can do to further sweeten the offer. First, ceramic bezel inserts are more scratch-resistant, and are getting to be practically standard nowadays, making aluminum inserts begin to feel less superior. Second, it is likely to possess 300m water immunity on a watch with a screen caseback, which would raise the value, attention, and user experience for the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver. The solid caseback, though, is likely also valuable for protecting the movement from magnetic fields. Last, including something in the motion section, like COSC certification, for instance, would further kick it all up a notch. Every one of these items would probably also be reasons to improve the price, of course.The Swiss automatic movement indoors is the perfectly suitable, reliable, and common Sellita SW300-1 (“BR-CAL.302”). Power reserve of 42 hours, operating at 4Hz… you know the specs. The screw-down crown has been coated with rubberized and easy to grip with a strong and smooth-as-butter twisting feel. I like the rubber onto the crown, but I wonder how rubber elements like this on watches can hold up over time. The strap can be rubber, is comfortable and soft, and includes a suitably giant steel buckle.