Bell & Ross Heritage BR123 Aeronavale is not the typical fare you expect from the French brand, known for its strong aviation design aesthetic. For one, it is not a square dial and looks nothing like the military watches the brand is synonymous with. Instead, the watch takes its inspiration from the ceremonial uniform of French Naval Aviation officers – cue the blue and gold color scheme. The Aeronavale BR123 and its sibling the BR126 chronograph sit within the brand’s Vintage range, which references designs mainly from the watches used during WW1 and WW2.
Despite the noble inspiration, the BR123 has sports watch proportions at 43mm. And with that distinct blue bezel, the gold accents and brilliant blue color scheme, this watch does feel like something that’s halfway between a dress watch and a sports watch. Is that a good thing? Well, that depends on what you are looking for – if you think a dress watch is a bit dull to wear every day, then this might be the kind of watch that takes you from boardroom to the beach effortlessly. The flip side is that you could argue that this is too big to be a dress watch and too dressy to be a tool watch, it’s in the way you see it.
The polished stainless steel case has lugs that taper down steeply from the case making it easier for the watch to sit on the wrist. The case itself has an unusual construction. When viewed from the side, the bezel almost protrudes upwards from the middle case. You can’t help but think the watch could have done with a smaller dial size, maybe a 40 or 41 mm. What works really well are the gold accents on the sunray-finish blue dial, with gilt hour markers and numerals. The dial also features gilt skeletonized hands that are filled with SuperLuminova. The anodized blue aluminum bezel has a 60-minute gradation scale. It’s a well-proportioned and legible dial, the only eyesore being the date window at 3.30. That date window throws the symmetry off on an otherwise striking dial. A petite seconds sub dial sits at 6 o’ clock. The dial clearly references the historic military watches produced in the Thirties and Forties. The case is topped by a curved sapphire crystal.
This watch is available with two strap options – the one we tried was paired with a supple blue alligator strap that gives the watch a more formal look. There is the option of a more casual blue calf skin leather strap too, but we are more inclined to go with the alligator strap given the whole ceremonial inspiration of the watch.
A sapphire caseback allows us to view the BR-CAL.305, a self-winding mechanical movement based on the ETA 2892-A2. This is a 4 Hz (28,800 vph) movement with a 42-hour power reserve. In this watch, the movement is modestly decorated, it is machine-finished with Perlage on the bridges and Geneva Stripes on the rotor. While the finishing is nowhere near high-end, it is in line with the price point of the watch.
Over the course of the week that I had the watch on my wrist, I found it comfortable to wear. It’s an easy everyday watch and that gorgeous blue dial does get a fair bit of attention. It’s not the typical Bell & Ross watch that we’ve come to know, but that’s also what makes it interesting.