At the best of times, the product teams of watch companies tend to stick to formulaic creations. Look around you at the number of “vintage revival” editions or “green-dials-on-bronze cases” released in the last few years. All it takes is for one brand to get it right and you know that in a couple of months’ time a bunch of also-rans will emerge. Speaking of also-rans, it would have been amusing to find out what the late Gerald Genta thought of all the models that hope to fill in for the consumer demand that the waiting lists for two of his most famous designs – Patek Philippe Nautilus and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak – have created.
Sensing that there are many who might turn to alternatives because these two mega steel sports watches are so hard to come by, brands — from Chopard to Czapek, Bell & Ross to A. Lange & Söhne, H. Moser & Cie. to Vacheron Constantin — have taken a page out of the Genta playbook and introduced steel sports watches with integrated bracelets. Some like the GPHG-winning Moser Streamliner Flyback, Lange’s Odysseus, and Czapek’s Antarctique ‘Terre Adélie’ have been runaway successes. However, most of these brands compete in the $20,000+ category. Where does the Bell & Ross BR-05 Chrono fit in here?
This range is inspired by the success of luxury steel sports watches but in terms of design, sticks to Bell & Ross’ characteristic round dial in a square case shape. The BR 05 collection grew this year with the introduction of a chronograph, the BR 05 Chrono is available in two models, Black Steel and Blue Steel. We got our hands on the BR 05 Blue Steel paired with a matching blue rubber strap last month.
While it is unfair to compare the BR 05 with the more illustrious Nautilus and Royal Oak given the price range and the difference in quality and finish, parallels will be drawn unfortunately because of the BR 05’s derivative design. I got the feeling that one might appreciate the watch a lot more if it was not dragged into comparisons with the other two.
So what about the BR 05 Chrono then? As far as first impressions go, this is a handsome watch. At 42 mm wide, the case is bigger than the time-only 40 mm models from last year. At 13.5 mm thickness, it’s not going to slip under your shirt cuff easily either but then this isn’t pretending to be a dressy chronograph. The imposing case has a slightly industrial feel with the four screws on a brushed steel bezel. The polished bevels seem to follow the same angle from the horizontal planes of the bezel and middle case. The crown-guard and pushers appear as one unit and the screw-down crown carries the brand’s ampersand logo in relief. Like all other watches in the BR 05 line, this has a sapphire crystal caseback and is depth-rated to 100 meters.
The blue sunburst dial has two square snailed sub dials with rounded-off edges and raised luminous indices with numerals at 12 and 6. A date aperture at the 4.30 position breaks the symmetry of the dial. Legibility is excellent, with a running seconds hand placed at the 3 o’ clock sub dial and a 30-minute counter at 9. Time is indicated by slender luminous hands and the central chronograph seconds needle sweeps the dial when the pusher at 2 o’ clock is activated.
Caliber BR-CAL.301, a self-winding mechanical movement based on the popular ETA 2894-2 and widely used in Bell & Ross chronograph watches, is the beating heart of this watch. This is not a column wheel activated chronograph, but a cam-driven one. It is not the most satisfying click when you activate the chronograph – you have to apply a little bit of pressure to get the chronograph seconds needle off the blocks. The pusher at 4 o’ clock is used to stop and reset the chronograph to the zero position. It is a 4 Hz movement with a power reserve of 72 hours amassed by an open-worked rotor.
As mentioned earlier, our test watch came with a supple rubber strap that has a striped texture and a folding clasp. An integrated design means the lines of the case flow seamlessly into the steel bracelet, the rubber strap promises a more comfortable fit. A major sticky point when it comes to any discussion around this watch is its price – AED23,500 is steep for a chronograph powered by an off-the-self movement, even if it’s got a customized rotor that looks like the alloy wheels of a sports car. It is a handsome number that ticks the boxes when it comes to build quality and design; if you can rationalize the price tag in your head, this is worth a look if you are in the market for a luxury sports watch.
(This article was first published - without the video review - on December 23, 2020)