Swiss luxury-watch brand Bell & Ross launches a new collection made with the military personnel in mind. One of the founders, creative director Bruno Belamich, talks about the new line and the success of their collections.
It is not very often that a friendship that started as children progressing into adulthood last. Even rarer is a bond that becomes a business partnership. Carlos-Antonio Rosillo and Bruno Belamich is one such partnership. They formed Bell & Ross in 1994 — a combination of the first syllable of their last names Bel (Belamich) and Ross (Rosillo) — which specialises in timepieces that are classic and unique.
Their aim was to create watch- es for professionals who work under extreme conditions — especially for divers, pilots and astronauts. To meet the demands of these jobs, Bell & Ross developed a series of watches that embody four distinct values: Legibility (the design’s priority is the clarity of the dial so that reading time is made easier); functionality (each timepiece is made with specific and practical functions); precision (traditional Swiss technology guarantees accurate time); and reliability (built according to military specifications, each watch is able to withstand extreme conditions on land, air or sea).
Despite originating from France, Bell & Ross mainly manufactures and develops its watches in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. The brand’s design and material choices have always focused on the aviation industry — it uses materials such as titanium and carbon fibre to craft timepieces suitable for pilots and their extreme flying conditions.
This year, Bell & Ross releases the Skull watches that pay tribute to these experienced and outstandingly courageous military personnel. Belamich, the analytical and creative half of Bell & Ross, fills Options in on their plans.
What were some of the significant changes you have seen in the evolution of Bell & Ross over the years?
Bell & Ross has embarked on a watchmaking adventure that places a focus on creativity, superior performance and therefore, the art of seduction. One of our proudest achievement and best example remains the creation of our iconic timepiece, the Instrument BR 01, in 2005. It comes from the simple idea to turn a cockpit instrument panel clock into a wristwatch, ‘From the Cockpit to the Wrist’. With its minimalist and singular style, it is the perfect expression of our DNA — its square shape, its round dial with perfect legibility, its broad dimensions, and the efficiency of its functional design. This piece continuously evolved without losing its original identity. And for the past two years, a new milestone was marked for the brand with the launch of a new icon, the BR 05.
Aimed specifically for collectors and lovers of Haute-Horlogerie, we have also developed and created very exclusive timepieces in recent years. The X1 Sapphire Tourbillon models take the challenge of transparency to the extreme, offering the unique experience of wearing a watch movement on one’s wrist — their cases being cut from a single block of sapphire crystal. Last December, we released an exciting high-end piece, the BR 01 Cyber Skull. Sculpted like a stealth plane, designed like a work of art, created like a designer object, and dreamt like a futuristic architecture. We are constantly growing and evolving, we are bound to re-new ourselves each year and this is a very inspiring exercise for us.
Coming into the watch industry at a later stage, you have had remarkable success. Why do you think that is?
The adventure was born out of the same passion for my associate and I: That of watches with a military vocation and functionalist design. Our challenge is to be part of the great Swiss watchmaking tradition to create watches for professional use.
What is really important is that we have stayed true to ourselves from day one to today. We have a consistent and coherent message. We are clear about the direction, the design and who we are making these watches for. Bell & Ross has a real story and a product on its own, and this is evident in our im- ages which come pretty easy.
Bell & Ross timepieces have attained cult status, can you explain what attributes have made it so?
Bell & Ross prides ourselves for making its customers dream through our design, our creativity, and our singularity. Today, the main challenge is to design something new every year yet remain faithful to the Brand and its vision. When picking a Bell & Ross timepiece, you look for something different, using aeronautical codes and feel like belonging to an exclusive and unique club.
What are some of the highlights of your collection, in particular the latest Cyber Skull collection?
We launched many strong and specific products in 2020 but the BR 05 Chrono and Cyber Skull were our two momentums. BR 05 Chrono is an extension of the successful BR 05 launch with an added chrono function that comes in a larger case size of 42mm. It is a time instrument for the urban explorer, a modern watch made for the city. Cyber Skull is a watch with several facades. It is where watchmaking, design, symbolism and bold creativity meet.
You have described this as a ‘confluence of haute horlogerie, art, and design’. What is the inspiration behind this?
This new timepiece boldly challenges traditional watchmaking codes and re-visits the art of the skull watch. Its design is far from the vintage style usually associated with the Skull, to establish itself in contemporary modernity. It pro- jects this art born in the 20th century into the future. Each element of the watch — the middle part, bezel, crown, skull and bones — is thus structured in the form of countless facets that sculpt the sur- faces, create volumes and draw a 3D picture. A feeling enhanced by the total transparency of the dial, but it is by turning the watch over that we discover the movement, the key to the mystery, through a sapphire crystal case back.
Is this collection mainly for men? Is there going to be a women’s version?
It is true that the line between ladies’ and men’s watches is thinning, with women moving more and more towards bigger products. This collection is not defined and limited by gender. It appeals to art lovers, aesthetes, watch collectors... the possibilities are endless.
SEE: From the skies to the city
What were some of the challenges when transitioning the BR05 to chrono?
There are two things: The work on volumes and thicknesses. First, to find the good distribution of thicknesses between the case-band (bande de carrure) and its pushers; the bezel and the case-back. Then, to find the right balance of the design of the dial with the counters which should not be too large or too small.
How do you change the designs to adapt to meet the market’s taste for timepieces?
There is no miraculous recipe. Our first criteria is pleasure, the desire to do things. Whether it is a new material or a new function. Then it is the return and feedback of the market that gives us the answer.
You started Bell & Ross in 1994 and it began with two friends who shared the same vision. How has the journey been?
Since its origins, Bell & Ross has pursued its growth thanks to the establishment of subsidiaries in the five continents and the opening of new stores or points of sales. The objective is to increase and strengthen brand awareness. However, Bell & Ross remains a House on a human scale, bringing together enthusiasts and men with complementary know-how around a single objective: To create a utility watch!
Has the pandemic affected the luxury watch industry? How has Bell & Ross adapted and changed to meet these challenges?
It has been a truly unprecedented period for everyone. The pandemic has affected the luxury watch industry in many ways. Production facilities and stores have to close doors in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus. Brands are forced to reinvent their business models with the cancellation of watch fairs within a short time span. However, this unpredictability brings endless possibilities, allowing us to re-new ourselves as a brand. We are always looking to push the boundaries of design and function, there are many new and exciting designs in the works. We also see this as an opportunity to adapt to greater challenges.
Moving forward, what is Bell & Ross doing to meet the future of luxury?
Back to essential, which is the very principle of our own design. We leave no room for the superfluous. In this uncertain period, the question of the meaning of our lives, of our professions, of what we buy, and therefore in our case, watches, aris- es more than ever today. We must hold on to the beautiful object that lasts. The Bell & Ross watch is a utilitarian object, with a timeless design.
The BR 01 Skull made its debut in 2009 and it shook up the world of traditional watchmaking codes. Why the skull? Historically, the most formidable
fighters displayed their bravery by wearing skulls, both to upset their opponents and to ward off bad luck. The series of Skull watches by Bell & Ross pays tribute to these experienced and outstandingly courageous military personnel.
This year Bell & Ross introduces the BR 01 Cyber Skull. This timepiece revisits the art of the skull watch. Its design is far from the vintage style usually associated with the Skull, to establish itself in contemporary modernity. It projects this art born in the 20th century into the future. A watch with several faces, it is where watchmaking, design, symbolism and bold creativity meet.
At first look, you can see that the case is modelled after the fuselage found on a F117 fighter plane. All their surfaces were faceted, making them almost undetectable to radars. The timepiece is made of black matte ceramic, an anti-reflective shade that is used on military vehicles.
Each element of the watch — the case middle, bezel, crown, skull and crossbones — is structured within the many faces that sculpt the surfaces, creating volumes and a 3D image. To escape the radar but attract attention, in other words
Calibre BR-CAL.206. Hand-wound mechanical
Hours and minutes. Moving skull when wound by hand
Length 45 mm, width 46.5 mm. Matt black ceramic
Skeletonised. Black ceramic skull. Metal skeleton Super- LumiNova®-filled