Watches: Bell & Ross BR-X1 Skeleton Chronograph

By Thierry Ané on December 4, 2014

Almost ten years ago, Bell & Ross presented their unique vision of watchmaking with the now famous BR-01 timepiece. Inspired by on-board flight instruments, this square-shaped model with a round dial set the ground rules around which the brand’s collections would be built: no-nonsense models with broad dimensions, perfect legibility and functional design.

Over the years, all the “Aviation” and even “Marine” models unveiled by Bell & Ross have remained faithful to this watchmaking philosophy and many watch enthusiasts turn to this now not-so-small brand for rugged masculine models with clockwork reliability, well-crafted watches with a sporty distinctive design refined enough to suit all occasions.

When you follow such restrictive goals, it is always extremely difficult to come up with new design ideas able to keep the watch community interested. Creativity does not seem to be a problem at Bell & Ross, though, as the brand has managed to release astonishing models over the years meeting all the above requirements while providing a new perspective.

To name but a few, I would like to remind the readers of the ingenious BR 01-92 Radar and BR 01-92 Compass introduced in 2010 and, of course, the amazing series of “Flight Instruments” including the BR 01 Horizon, BR 01 Turn Coordinator, and BR 01 Altimeter revealed in 2012 and last year’s trio: the BR 01-97 Climb, the BR 01 Airspeed, and the BR 01 Heading Indicator.

All these models are perfectly in line with the aeronautic DNA of the brand but each is original enough to renew the theme and makes you want to own it. Although I bow to the incredible creativity of the design team, I can't help but feel that the niche has been fully tapped now and that a new direction had to be found.

Somehow, I think we saw the first signs of the new face of Bell & Ross with the great-looking but radically different BR 01 B-Rocket and BR 03 B-Rocket presented at Baselworld 2014 (you can read my presentation hereWatches: Bell & Ross BR 01 and BR 03 B-Rocket (+live pics) with our live pictures). While maintaining the iconic square shape, the watches were more technical than usual with slightly openwork dials and more sophisticated cases and straps.

After this trial run, Bell & Ross was ready to push the concept one step further and introduce a brand new collection cleverly named “High-Tech” to point out the new sophisticated and innovative side. Inspired by the 21st century fighter planes and their resolutely futuristic cockpits, the first model of the line, the BR-X1 Skeleton Chronograph, uses a complex structure and top-of-the-range materials to express the guarantee of ultimate performance.

The 45 mm case retains the circle-in-a-square configuration that has made the brand famous but the complexity of its structure places it miles away from the original BR-01 model. Crafted in grade 5 titanium, it is covered with a high-tech band made from ceramic and rubber acting as a defensive shield against shocks and scratches. The innovative push-buttons that activate the chronograph also rely on this ceramic-rubber combo to offer excellent ergonomics and sharp aesthetics.

The exploded view of the case above gives you an idea of its complexity but also shows that such a combination of pieces and materials offers infinite design possibilities for future creations, including easy customisation for limited series. It is also more in keeping with what is done by successful competing brands at the moment and should thus bring the attention of a certain category of watch lovers.

The face of the watch is also quite revolutionary for the brand as the chronograph is fully skeletonised. The visible upper bridge of the movement is treated with a black DLC coating and presents a technical “X” shape, referring to the code name used by NASA for experimental projects. The date disc has also been completely hollowed out, just like the sub-dial of the chronograph located at 9 o’clock. Made from grey-tinted mineral glass and featuring appliqué metal indices with photo-luminescent inserts, the dial forms a clear window through which the movement can be admired but still allows for perfect legibility.

The titanium case back presents a porthole with sapphire crystal revealing the beating heart of the balance wheel. It is engraved with the number of this watch issued in a limited series of just 250 pieces. Even the strap of this new model has received lavish attention: made from black rubber, it is decorated with a braid echoing the woven canvas straps used by astronauts. It is secured by a robust pin buckle made of stainless steel with a moulded black rubber insert.

Sportier, more sophisticated, more contemporary, more technical, more upscale… the new BR-X1 Skeleton Chronograph is all these and more! I really like where Bell & Ross is going and can’t wait to discover the “High-Tech” creations the brand will undoubtedly officially unveil during Baselworld 2015.

For more information please visit the Bell & Ross web site.

For a technical description of the timepiece and additional pictures: