By Jovan Krstevski
If you remember the impressive Bellytanker racer, you will love the new watches presented by Bell & Ross, the BR V1–92 and BR V2–94 Bellytanker. As for the Bellytanker, it was such a streamlined race car using a concept based on a freaking fighter jet fuel tank so yes, it was very aerodynamic and it is very cool to see this feature in a BR watch.
The chronograph gets one additional detail exclusive into the Garde-Côtes, not discovered on another Vintage-series watches: a pulsometer from the aluminum bezel fit for measuring an individual’s heart rate, instead of the more commonly found tachymeter scale. Now, how practical this would be in a crisis scenario is most likely available for debate. Nonetheless, it’s a neat thematic touch, as let’s be honest — we weren’t all cut out to be rescue swimmers (in actuality, the majority of us were not — the program is pleased with its notoriously high attrition rate, which rivals that of the Navy SEALs). The Bell & Ross Garde-Côtes collection costs start at $2,900 for its 3-handed BR V2-92 on the rubber strap, and jumps to $4,300 for the bi-compax chronograph variant.Though probably best known for its more affordable, instrument-inspired pilot and field watches, French watchmaker Bell & Ross continues to claim itself as much more than a one-trick pony, with the most recent addition to its BR-X “Experimental” assortment: the crazy Bell & Ross BR-X1 Skeleton Tourbillon Sapphire.Standouts in this sometimes divisive collection have included the stealthy forged carbon BR-X1 (hands on) and the more exotic Bell & Ross BR X2 Tourbillon Micro-Rotor Automatic watch (hands-on). The newest Bell & Ross BR-X1 Skeleton Tourbillon Sapphire resembles a functional hybrid of the two — but with a twist, as it uses the BR-X1 case assembled from five, very closely carved sapphire blocks.The Bell & Ross BR-X1 Skeleton Tourbillon Sapphire is a whole hell of a long way for a brand whose humble beginnings started with tool watches (recall B&R’s watches used to be manufactured by German instrument watch master Sinn), but a journey that has gotten much more impressive as the Experimental line proceeds to find interesting ways to visually and technologically push the envelope. Sapphire crystal is more or less scratch-proof, but its hardness is now especially difficult to work with in anything aside from very simple contours. Technology and techniques have significantly improved in recent decades, nevertheless, with more completely sapphire-cased watches, as well as prices for them starting to come down like with the Hublot Big Bang UNICO Sapphire (hands-on) – however they tend to stay more rare and costly even than precious metal instance watches.
The newest proudly proclaims that onboard aviation programs are its guiding force, and it has been very successful in incorporating the theme into wristwatches. Today, the square case along with around dials of its BR aviation-inspired watches are instantly recognizable, and it would not be a stretch to say that the look is a contemporary horological and cultural legend. That said, Bell & Ross deny to be restricted by stereotypes, and its hottest watches see it drawing inspiration from the open seas. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you the newest Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine.The Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine watch a part of the organization’s new Marine Instrument collection. And in the words of Bell & Ross themselves, they’re “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 is the easy time-only Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine, the partially skeletonized BR-X1 Instrument De Marine Chronograph, and eventually the ultra-complicated BR-X1 Tourbillon Chronograph Instrument De Marine. All three are exceptional and very distinctive from Bell & Ross’ usual offerings, but the one we are considering now is the time-only Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine.
The automatic BR V1–92 Bellytanker is the simpler watch displaying the hours, minutes and seconds with a subtle date window at 4.30. Where it excels is on its streamlined 38.5 mm case in brushed steel which is perfect for dressy occasions. The metallic copper dial reflects the color of the wheel rims of the race car and boy it is that rustic. The nose of the Bellytanker is also echoed on the minute track with black color. As for the ultra-curved sapphire crystal, well it reflects the windows of the race car as well as the classic fighter plane’s cockpits. The metal indices and numerals are appliques and adding more legibility is the Super-LumiNova used on the skeleton hands. The subtle round date window between 4 and 5 o’clock is also very nice.
Powering the BR V1–92 Bellytanker is the BR-CAL.302 movement encased in a solid caseback sporting an engraved profile of the B&R Bellytanker. It beats at 28,800 vph and cranks out 41 hours of power reserve. Finally, the watch wears on a dark brown leather strap aged to a vintage appearance. The BR V1–92 Bellytanker is limited to 500 pieces and sells for Euro 2,300 each.
The second watch is the BR V2–94 Bellytanker, a chronograph with two counters: a 30-minute counter at 9 o’clock and a 60-second counter at 3 o’clock. The 41 mm case is crafted from satin-finished polished steel offering that sporty yet classic look. What we like about this case is the fixed bezel with a tachymeter scale, it is a solid vintage element used for noting the speed of a race car at any time. Plus the crown and push buttons are screw-down adding more water-resistance capabilities to the watch so you wouldn’t really be afraid to use this piece on a wet racing event.
As for the “Panda” dial of the BR V2–94 Bellytanker, it is called as such because of the contrast between the black counters against the gold dial – elements found on the race car. The date subtly sits between 4 and 5 o’clock just like the first watch.
The next thing that catches all your eye is probably the brilliant white dialup, which is really lacquer – an odd dial material for Bell & Ross watches. What is also unusual is that the use of Roman numerals, railroad-style indexes, and blued pear-shaped hands, which pays homage to marine clocks of yesteryear. These design elements give the dial an old-world charm, but it takes getting used to because the BR 01 situation is ordinarily connected with aviation-inspired layouts, which are inclined to be more modern. Nevertheless, it’s a harmonious appearance, and I particularly enjoy the blued steel hands and the whiteness of this lacquer dial.There’s a subdial for your running seconds at 6 o’clock, also at 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 motion. The choice of a hand-wound movement is apt because marine clocks of the past were also manually wound. It defeats at 3Hz and features a suitably long power reserve of 56 hours.Though Bell & Ross does not say it, the BR-CAL.203 is likely the omnipresent Unitas 6497. A tried-and-tested hand-wound movement that sees action in a number of other watches. It appears really industrial, and if I were to nitpick, I’d have preferred a much more elaborately decorated motion to suit the rest of the watch. Since it is, the dial of the Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine is definitely more intricate than many of Bell & Ross’ other offerings, also I think a more classically decorated movement with chamfered bridges, Côtes de Genève, or perlage are more suitable.The new Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine marks an interesting departure from the new customary aviation-inspired bits, and the end result is certainly intriguing, if not attractive. I really don’t think everyone will be a fan of it, but if you enjoy watches such as the Ulysses Nardin Marine collection, then I think that the Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine will be a fun option, as it blends the timeless appearance of marine-inspired watches with Bell & Ross’ signature BR case. Cost is $8,700.
The BR V2–94 Bellytanker sports a sapphire case-back showcasing its chronograph mechanism’s gear train. The 4 Hz BR-CAL.301 calibre sports about 41 hours of power reserve. The version with a solid case back features an engraved profile of the B&R Bellytanker.
The watch wears on a retro-inspired dark brown leather strap and retails for Euro 3,990 and limited to 500 pieces only. It can also be be mated to a sportier metal bracelet for Euro 4,300. Both watches are rated to 100 meters / 330 feet of water resistance. For more info, please visit bellross.com