Luxury Watch makers Bell & Ross:
Since the true renaissance of the mechanical watch in the 1990s, there have been many rebirths of old, long-forgotten watch brands as well as a myriad of new arrivals to the scene. Of the latter, one of the most impressive brands in terms of design, function and, perhaps most importantly, marketing is the Bell & Ross name.
At a time when the favoured design direction chosen by many of the traditional manufacturers in the Swiss watch industry leaned towards the classic styles, some with elaborate complication movements, the founders of Bell & Ross noticed a potential gap in the market for what would become the ‘instrument’ timepiece.
The Bell & Ross history is more like a ‘story so far’ read. No humble beginnings two centuries ago in candle-lit woodframe workshops nestled away in the remote Swiss valleys and villages.
No. The Bell & Ross company first saw light in 1992 as a result of the commercial union between French designers Bruno Belamich and Carlos Rosillo, when they gambled on the potential demand for their well designed timing utensil which would be constructed to fulfil the demands of professionals who operated in extreme environments. The new ‘Bell & Ross’ watches would combine three simple but essential values: top-class workmanship, faultless precision and uncompromising reliability.
To create such a timepiece, the two men realised without hesitation that they would require the services of a proven and respected watchmaker to compliment their own design concepts and bring them from the drawing board to the marketplace. And so, the first watches to bear the Bell & Ross name had movements supplied by the Sinn manufacture, who had a strong reputation for producing robust military watches.
Among the earliest models unveiled in 1993 were the Hydro and the Space One - a re-issue of the Sinn 142 which itself had achieved greatness by being the first automatic chronometer worn in space back in 1984 by the German astronaut Reinhard Furrer while on the SpaceLab mission.
Now that Bell & Ross had product to showcase and sell, the company then sought their route to market, which for them was the less-obvious and much less glamorous military and extreme professional operative niche.
This astute marketing concept paid dividends when Bell & Ross secured lucrative commissions from several NATO Airforces and ground forces, diving professionals and even bespoke pieces for use in the challenging work of the bomb disposal expert. All trades which required a no-compromise approach to construction, function, legibility and reliability of their instruments.
The quite rapid success enjoyed by the brand, as well as the enormous potential within their niche markets, allowed for the funding of further development and innovation, ultimately grabbing the headlines in 1997 when the Bell & Ross name broke into the Guinness Book of Records when its’ Hydro Challenger watch raised the bar (or plunged the depths – sorry!) for water resistance by remaining reliable under the incredible pressures experienced at 11,000m depth.
By the end of the 1990s, the still young Bell & Ross company had begun to attract a cult following among the growing number of watch collectors around the world, many of whom wanted a piece of this new classic, not least the luxury brand Chanel Horologie who became stakeholders in 1998.
Only ten years after their founding, Bell & Ross were manufacturing and assembling their watches in their own brand new state-of-the-art facility in La Chaux des Fonds. This milestone also brought to an end the Sinn/Bell & Ross collaboration, which had achieved so much and had strengthened both companies during their time together.
The creative juices flowed from within their new surroundings, and innovation continued with new models arriving, including the analog/digital display of the Function, the Heure Sautante – a complication jump-hour with réserve de marche which was a collaboration with the renowned master watchmaker Vincent Calabrese, as well as updates on the record-breaking Hydromax and Space models.
With many of the new models clearly demonstrating a move in a different direction, Bell & Ross were now adding the contemporary watch buyer to their catchment, while still focussing on the professional who had been so good for them.
Which brings us to 2005 when Bell & Ross would take the covers of their new ‘Instrument BR-01’ series. After years of design and development on this watch, the company were about to achieve a new feat.
Only a very few watches are recognisable at a glance, even fewer from a distance, but the unmistakable flat, square case which housed a large cockpit instrument-inspired dial, complete with highly-legible hands and markers, meant that the Instrument BR-01 series was immediately a design classic. Here was a defining watch which effortlessly transcended the professional and cool style genres.
Bell & Ross Instrument BR01
Available in outsized 46mm (or the more modest 42mm) and in a range of materials, although by far the most popular being the black pvd, the Instrument BR-01 successfully combined the staples of the Bell & Ross philosophy: top-class workmanship, faultless precision and uncompromising reliability, with style and desirability. And the results are visible – the watch is everywhere!
Continuous development, small-number limited editions and of course the relentless marketing of the brand means that the Bell & Ross Instrument BR-01 has become one of the modern cult watches, it appears as website timers, screensavers and even now as an ‘app’ on the new Apple iPhone!
So as a rare exception to the unwritten rule that to be recognised as a brand of high repute among those most demanding of excellence – the watch collector – the watchmaker must have a history going back hundreds of years, Bell & Ross have achieved a status belied by their relatively few years.