Owner’s Review: The Bell & Ross BR0392-AVIA-CA

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Although Bell & Ross are pretty much synonymous with square cased watches, they didn’t start out that way. In fact, a sizeable proportion of their albeit short history occurred before their first ‘cockpit instrument inspired’ watch came about, starting in 1992 with the Space 1 which was essentially a rebranded Sinn 142. Indeed, many of the early watches were branded “Bell & Ross by Sinn”. Fast forward a few years and Bell & Ross were designing their own watches, though still being produced by Sinn. The Type Demunier was produced for use by the bomb disposal unit of the French Security Services, and bears a passing resemblance in case and bracelet to my own Sinn 809.

It was in 2005 that the huge 46mm BR01 became perhaps the defining look of the brand, with the more reasonably sized BR03 following later (and the 39mm BRS later still). The harsh square form was softened a little for the introduction of the BR05 in 2019, and there are also a whopping 33 different variations of more ‘normal’ round watches currently offered as part of their BR V1, V2 and V3 lines. The BR01 and BR03 remain the classic Bell & Ross look for many – myself included. Having owned my BR0392-AVIA-CA for a few months now I’ve had time to get know it, to live with it and hopefully to summarise the appeal and ownership experience.

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$3500

Owner’s Review: The Bell & Ross BR0392-AVIA-CA

Case
Stainless steel with black PVD coating
Movement
ETA 988.333
Dial
Black
Lume
Super Luminova
Lens
Sapphire
Strap
Black Rubber
Water Resistance
100M
Dimensions
42x51mm
Thickness
12mm
Lug Width
24mm
Crown
Push/Pull (Multifunction)
Warranty
Price
$3500

This particular model deviates from the more recognisable BR03 template in three main ways. Firstly, the movement is a quartz ana-digi instead of an automatic ETA 2892 or Sellita SW300. Secondly,  the large rounded indices at the cardinal points are replaced by more angular indices which are in keeping with the 1980s feel of the digital display windows. Finally, an additional rotating bezel adds even more functionality to the package. The result is a watch that feels quite far removed from a cockpit instrument, but is still very much Bell & Ross.

The quartz module inside the BR0392-AVIA is an ETA 988.333. This is the same as you’ll find in watches from Rado and Victorinox, and one of the most well-recognised ana-digis of all—the Breitling Aerospace—is also based on this caliber. Function is king, with the digital displays being able to cycle through hours/minutes/seconds, seconds with date, day/date (perpetual calendar), timer, second time zone, chronograph (add or split), and alarm. All of those functions are controlled through the crown via a quick twist. Additional actions such as starting and stopping the chronograph or setting the timer/alarm are performed by either pressing or turning the crown normally. As much as l love the BR03 for its clean and sharp looks, the knowledge that all of this additional functionality is a twist away is a great bonus.

Just in case that’s not function enough, the countdown bezel offers additional timing capability. I have to say that I haven’t yet found myself in a situation where I’m using both the chronograph and timer functions simultaneously, and still be in need of a third way of timing something. In reality, if I need a timer during kitchen duty then I’ll naturally grab and twist any kind of bezel sooner than find and initiate any of the other functions. For that reason, the bezel is a useful alternative rather than a supplementary function.

The entirety of the case and bezel, aside from the white bezel markings, are black PVD coated with the monochromatic theme continuing through the dial. Only the digital windows display a hint of color. Rather than stick with the more traditional thick sword hands, this model uses skeletonised versions of the same shape. Practically speaking this ensures that the hands don’t obscure the digital display windows, but aesthetically they provide a great match for the indices too.

Bell & Ross offered the same watch without the PVD coating on the stainless steel, but I tend to think these square watches from Bell & Ross look their best coated in black. As an older piece, first purchased on 2015 and with at least two owners before me, the PVD coating is beginning to wear slightly on the bezel and around some of the chamfered corners. This is often a calculated risk with PVD coated watches and regularly cited as a reason many enthusiast avoid watches afflicted with such coatings, but it’s something I’m embracing. Newer BR03 and BR01 models with black cases are made from ceramic which means that as well as being much less weighty, the color of the watch case is in the material and not just the coating. However, my preference is for a big watch to feel like a big watch, and for a black watch to tarnish gracefully. It has been suggested to me that Karl Lagerfeld’s faded custom black AP Royal Oak has influenced my predilection here, but I honestly don’t know if that’s deliberate or subconscious.

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At 42mm, the BR03 may be smaller than it’s older brother, but it’s still a large watch. My high school education tells me that a 42mm square is going to be about 27% larger than a circle with the same diameter but that doesn’t really tell the whole story of how the watch wears. It does look like a big watch based on what the eye can see, whether coated in black or an expanse of stainless steel, but short and stubby downturned lugs give a more comfortable wearing experience than you might expect. I still can’t pretend it’s a small watch though, and I only just feel capable of pulling it off with my 7 inch wrists. Choosing the right strap also helps a lot.

With 24mm lugs, the BR03 doesn’t share straps with any other watch in my collection. It’s a strap beast, but it plays by its own rules. The black stock rubber strap is always a great option with bold ‘BR’ branding visible and the strap widening to match the distance between the outside of the lugs, and Bell & Ross make this strap in a wide variety of different colors. However, the synthetic fabric strap, seen here in Khaki, is perhaps the most comfortable strap I’ve worn in a long time. The strap acts as a soft cuff right around the wrist with no taper and offers unlimited flexibility of fit through the velcro fastening. A quick look on eBay, Etsy or forum sales areas show there’s also no shortage of third parties producing a huge range of aftermarket straps, ranging from the classic to the extraordinary. The only slight downside is needing to use the dedicated tools to unscrew the screw bars, rather than quickly releasing a spring bar. The thick screw bars do give a little extra confidence, but strap changing is slowed down somewhat on a watch that works well with so many different looks.

The Bell & Ross BR0392-AVIA-CA isn’t a shy watch, but that’s what I like about it. It does pretty much everything I could ask for function-wise. It gives the option of keeping it fresh by taking a number of strap options extremely well, be they subtle or wild. And perhaps most importantly it makes a considerable impact on me personally whenever I strap it on yet fades away after only a few minutes.

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Brad stumbled into the watch world in 2011 and has been falling down the rabbit hole ever since. Based in London, Brad's interests lie in anything that ticks, sweeps or hums and is slightly off the beaten track.
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