Review: Bell & Ross BR 05

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When Bell & Ross announced the BR 05, those of us who had been to BaselWorld 2019 were eagerly awaiting the public’s response. I remember mine when I first saw the teaser reel that was played at the meeting, a reel we had to swear a blood oath (not really) we would not discuss afterward. I thought “wow, they really went for it.” “It” being a clear, unapologetic design inspired by Genta and his iconic luxury sports watches. Icons so exalted in status that to approach their forms with your own design is to dance with fate. Icarus comes to mind. So, on the launch, I was curious to see if they would have a success or a disaster on their hands.

On the wrist, the BR 05 really comes together

The reaction was – both. Royal Oak and Nautilus diehards and snobs were opposed, decrying it as a mere homage. Those whose pockets or AD relationships don’t run deep enough to get said watches, however, saw it as an opportunity to enjoy a coveted aesthetic, still from a brand they know, trust and respect. And more still just didn’t really care either way. The end result? Well, nothing really. It blew over, and now Bell & Ross is the proud manufacturer of a line of steel luxury sports watches with integrated bracelets that can be bought at your local big watch shop. A line of watches, that to be frank, seems to fit in very well with their existing lines of watches as well as their position in the market. And in fairness to Bell & Ross, while this model is new, and they weren’t around in the 70’s, they’ve sort of toyed with the format in their “Type Marine” watches from the 90s, though those had a distinctly more tactical, German vibe to them.

So, why am I writing about this on Worn & Wound? Bell & Ross is a brand whose designs, particularly those in round-cases, I find very appealing. Seeing them in person, they are always finished to a remarkable degree that gives them that sort of “X-factor” of luxury. Perhaps my favorite example of this is the BR V1, which I equate to being the Swiss luxury version of a Sinn 556 (and not just because of the relationship between the two brands early on). It’s small, nimble, great on the wrist and finished to the nines, but an understated tool watch as well. Which is also a perfect comparison to illustrate the biggest issue with Bell & Ross. At nearly $1,000 dollars more than the Sinn (and quickly going up from there depending on version), they aren’t a brand that puts value first. In fact, many of their watches simply aren’t a good value, at least priced as new. And value is something we take pretty seriously at Worn & Wound.

While the BR 05 falls into the category of dubious value given its specs at $4,900, it also brings an aesthetic that is exclusive by nature into more obtainable terrain. And while not equatable with value, I do believe that accessibility is, at least, a partner of value, and also very important to us here at Worn & Wound. Plus, and let’s not dance around it, the BR 05 is a pretty sexy watch. It mixes Genta DNA with a vocabulary of forms and typography that are distinct to Bell & Ross as well. And while I’ve never lusted after 15202s or 5711s (more the latter than the former, tbh), or really integrated bracelet watches, I do appreciate good finishing, and if nothing else, this style of watch is a vehicle for a brand to flaunt their abilities.

So, let’s set aside the controversy for now and take this semi-radical departure for Bell & Ross at face – and bracelet – value. I can say from the get-go that price aside, the BR 05 has taken me by surprise, and perhaps converted me into an integrated sports watch kind-of-guy.

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$4900

Review: Bell & Ross BR 05

Case
Stainless Steel
Movement
BR Cal. 321 / Sellita SW300 base
Dial
Silver Sunray
Lume
Yes
Lens
Sapphire
Strap
Steel bracelet
Water Resistance
100m
Dimensions
40mm
Thickness
10.7mm
Lug Width
00mm
Crown
Screw down
Warranty
YES
Price
$4900

Case + Bracelet

Where even to begin? The case of the BR 05 really just is the BR 05. As with all integrated bracelet watches, what starts on top of your wrist then flows all the way around it, creating a clean, singular unit of steel that just so happens to tell the time. You can’t really talk about the case without getting into the bracelet and vice versa. So, let’s start with the general shape.

Integrated bracelet design

Bell & Ross are known for their square instrument watches. While they’ve made many other watches and cases, they’ll never escape the square. So, they embraced it. AP has got the rounded octagon, Patek the porthole-window, B&R has the square. With that in place, they took their platonic geometry, rounded out the corners to a soft, Nauti-cal form, cut a hole through the center and got the basis of the BR 05. This shape acts as a bezel, which sits on top of, and slightly offset from, a 40mm mid-case. Combined with a screw-on display back you have the body of the watch, which measures a svelte 10.7mm thick.

Let’s stop there for a second. Part of what makes the BR 05 appealing is that you are simultaneously presented with some very simple shapes, while others are exceptionally complex, all finished to a high degree. The fact that the simplest of all, the rounded square, sits on top, sets the overall tone of the design. This makes it easy to take in (unlike, for example, a heavily skeletonized dial in a faceted case) and almost understated for what it is, which for me at least, makes it more palatable.

Sheered Lug

Back to the mid-case – rather than simply copying the bezel form, it takes that shape but then veers off into a sharp downslope which seamlessly transitions into the bracelet. This is one of the more RO-esque details. It looks almost as though the mid-case has been sheared off on a grinder, creating a detail that is striking in its form and finish, but functional as well, providing the perfect angle for the bracelet to grow out of. The bracelet then continues this shape, tapering down to 17 millimeters at the clasp, and coming back around the other side.

Connecting each link is a wide rectangular piece with rounded corners, bringing that shape back into play. Between the flat surfaces and larger connection links, the design mixes the RO and Nautilus together, while also speaking to the tool watch H-link bracelets of B&R’s other lines. The clasp is a butterfly type with an appealing B&R ampersand logo over the seam where the clasp closes. More on how it wears later.

On the right side of the mid-case is a petite screw-down crown between two screwed-on crown guards. The design is pretty basic, with grooves for grip and an ampersand on its outer face. Sized to not be thicker than the mid-case at 5mm x 3.5mm, I can’t help but feel it’s a bit too small. Though less of a bombastic display of manliness as many of B&R’s timepieces, the BR 05 is still a masculine watch in many respects, and this crown feels too slight or delicate. It’s also a bit of a pain to grasp when fully screwed down. Perhaps a touch greater diameter or a more assertive grip texture would have done the trick.

Integrated sports watches really live and die by their finishing, and as said in the intro, I’ve always been very impressed by B&R’s on the watches I’ve seen. Case lines are always sharp and pronounced, brushing always has an appealing texture, and their polishing never feels mushy, for lack of a better word. So, I’m happy to say I wasn’t let down by the BR 05. Every surface is considered, and the majority are brushed with a coarse grain.

Starting at the top, the bezel is vertically brushed with a chamfered and polished edge that has that appealing “black-polish” look. At each corner is a polished screw – I’ll get back to those. The mid-case is finished the same, sans screws, providing a cool stepped effect. The case sides are vertically brushed, which I generally find less appealing than horizontal brushing, but given the hard kink before what is effectively the lug, they had no other choice. At least it’s a relatively thin surface that is also broken up on the right side by the crown and crown guards, so I rarely found myself looking at it with dismay.

a little scratch goes a long way, unfortunately

The bracelet then consists of larger h-links with flat, brushed top surfaces and fully brushed sides, including the area between links. This surface is also slightly rounded which allows the links to move better, though it creates a more exaggerated gap between them. The connecting square links are then fully polished and have rounded edges. Though small individually, these links add up creating a lot of outward-facing polished surfaces. In other words, they provide the bling. Enough so that out at dinner with my girlfriend, she complained that the reflecting light kept getting in her eyes. Beyond the potential blinding effects of these links, another drawback is that they are just asking to be scratched, as the well-used sample I was sent had been (which you can clearly see in the photos).

Back to those screws. B&R have had screws in the corner of their instrument series watches since the first BR 01. In the context of those timepieces, they don’t feel derivative of the RO design as they add to the gauge-based format. But by putting the four screws on the case of the BR 05, B&R definitely stepped into dangerously AP territory. It’s a tough call if it’s a step too far in that direction. On one hand, it plays into their history, and without them, there might have been too much empty space in the corners, while on the other it has no bearing on this concept, save said history. It’s also such an obvious, iconic detail of the RO, that it’s hard to ignore (at least they are round). I’m honestly a bit conflicted here as I think the area needed some detailing, but can’t ignore that it feels a touch too unoriginal.

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Dial

Still here? Thanks for soldiering on. Unlike the case and bracelet, the dial is incredibly simple, perhaps too much so. Available in black, blue or silver as seen here (plus a skeleton model that sits slightly apart), the dial takes elements from their iconic scheme and gives them a 70’s sport watch overhaul. As such, you’ll find a sunray surface with applied, lume-filled markers. At twelve, six and nine are numerals with small batons while larger batons mark the other hours, save three which has been replaced by a date window. The batons and numerals are reminiscent of what you’d find on other B&R models but appear a bit fatter, and more rounded off, which plays off of the rounded-square elements of the case. The design successfully stores enough lume for the watch to glow quite well.

One of the details I’ve come to enjoy about B&R’s designs is the off-set date between the four and five markers with corrected date angle. I find this to be one of the better ways to put a date window on a watch, as it doesn’t disrupt any markers or other elements, and still reads in a natural way. While B&R isn’t the only brand to do this (see Sinn’s 556A) they seem to do it with such frequency that I’d dare to call it a signature element, much like those corner screws. This is a roundabout way of saying that I’m pretty disappointed to find it lacking on the BR 05, a watch aching for original touches. Admittedly, the dial is small and a bit cramped, but I’m sure they could have found a way. The lack of a three numeral is unfortunate as well.

Otherwise, all you’ll find is the full Bell & Ross logo printed below twelve and automatic above six. The hands, in a departure, are straight batons with fully rounded tips and lume plots. And, yeah, they are basically exactly what you’d find on a 5711. That’s not to say they don’t work here, they certainly do, corresponding well to the applied batons, but in this context, it’s hard to ignore the Patek-sized elephant in the room.

I’m once again a bit conflicted. Outside of the context of the case, this dial would feel a bit basic and even a bit cheap. It’s not that it’s poorly executed, it’s that it’s not exceptionally executed. Renders of the dial give it a grain that isn’t really present and the layout is too safe to wow. Had they added a more dramatic dial texture, they very well might have crossed the line into RO and Nautilus territory again. So, they were definitely in a tough spot. That said, this isn’t the dial I’d want to find in a $4,900 dollar watch. Looking at the skeleton version, while I’m not a fan of that much openwork, you’ll see that the applied markers cross into the chapter ring in an interesting way. That’s a cool element, that with some additional colors and treatments could have gone somewhere more original. This dial could have also been a great opportunity for a small-seconds complication, movements allowing, which the brand used to use more in their WWI and BR 123 lines.

Movement

Inside of the BR 05 is the BR-CAL.321, which is a rebadged Sellita SW-300 made to B&R’s specs. The SW-300 is then effectively a clone of the ETA 2892-2. So, in terms of specs, you are looking at a 25-jewel automatic with hacking, hand-winding, date, 42 hours of power reserve and a frequency of 28,800 beats per hour. What sets this apart from other SW-300s is the decoration. B&R opted for a fully matte blasted movement, giving it a dark gray tone. This definitely bucks the trend of “better” movements having to have perlage and cote de Genevé. Additionally, the rotor has been radically reconceived to be a full round lattice that covers the whole movement, of which you can’t see the edge as the display window is fairly narrow. The result is what appears to be a very bespoke caliber, even if it ultimately is just an aesthetic overhaul.

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Wearabiltiy

I feel like up to this point I’ve been fairly critical of the BR 05. To be fair, the design looks good in the round, the elements all coming together, but picked apart you find issues with the originality of it and some questionable/tame dial decisions. However, on the wrist, a lot of that goes out of the window because the watch is a joy to wear. If you’ve read my reviews over the years, you’d know I’m not much of a bracelet guy, so you’d think the BR 05, and other integrated bracelet watches, would be a nightmare for me. I half-expected that too. But over a couple of weeks of wearing the watch at home, at work, at restaurants, at bars, at grocery stores and everywhere else my fairly mundane routines take me, I’ve really enjoyed having it on my wrist (please note said testing took place before current events).

The size is perfect for my 7” wrist. The square shape sits very well, always seeming centered on my arm, and is quite comfortable even under layers of winter clothes. Squares also wear very differently, in that they can be smaller in diameter/width as well as length than circular watches, yet feel larger because of the added material corner-to-corner. This phenomenon gives the BR 05 presence without unnecessary size. Unlike most bracelet watches, I rarely felt fatigued from wearing it or a need to take it off. The only time I found it uncomfortable was after a large meal when some salt-based swelling made it a bit tight. This made me wish there was some sort of micro-adjustment or spring-based expansion built-in, but that’s unfortunately very uncommon.

Then, in terms of looks, I’ve learned two things. One, there is room in everyone’s life for a square or at least a non-round watch. It’s refreshing to look down and see some right angles on my wrist. Thanks to the shape and hard facets, the BR 05 has an industrial quality to it that doesn’t come across in photos. This makes it feel a bit tougher than the rounded corner bezel would indicate too. In the monochromatic configuration seen here, the watch seems, at a glance, as though it’s milled from a single block of metal, adding to an appealing masculinity. Plus, it’s completely tonally neutral, so you can wear it with anything.

Second, I might be over everything being as understated as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I still think a general restraint and modesty is best applied when watch shopping, but having something a bit blingy didn’t kill me. In fact, that bit of ostentatious look-at-me-luxury attitude was kind of fun. It wasn’t over the top like some iced-out Rolex or anything solid gold, but it wasn’t without at least a touch of swagger. As a way to dip my toes into that territory, the BR 05 provided a comfortable way to ease in.

Conclusion

Something I haven’t touched on yet is that the BR 05 is under a new and curious classification for Bell & Ross. If you hover over their collections menu dropdown, you’ll find they break their watches up into pilot, diver, racing, and – pause for effect – urban. Not “luxury sport” or “70’s Vintage” or “Yacht-life”, which might seem to suit the design from afar. Defined as “of, relating to, characteristic of, or constituting a city,” urban is not a category of watch one typically finds, especially alongside those others. And yet, I find it oddly suiting. I am a city-born, city-dwelling guy, and my needs for a watch are largely defined by this. I’m not spontaneously airborne nor under the water nor going 160 mph on a track somewhere. I walk on gray pavement and find myself in various establishments all within an urban setting.

While watch classifications are anachronistic and unnecessary in general given how we actually live our lives and that any watch is generally suited for day-to-day activity, “urban” as a sort of blanket term for watches that aren’t activity-specific, doesn’t seem far off. This watch seamlessly meshed with my urban lifestyle and was comfortable and stylish while doing it. Consider me intrigued.

As for the BR 05 itself, well, if there has been a theme to this review, at least for me, it’s internal conflict. Is it well-made? Uh-huh. Did I enjoy wearing it? Absolutely. Is it derivative? Yes. Is it a good value? Well, no. At $4,900 I have a hard time saying at this point that any steel sports watch with a non-chronometer SW-300 is a good value (even with a chronometer SW-300, it would need something else really special). It just isn’t, especially in a day where Tudor has in-house powered chronometers for just over $3,000, and Omega has Co-Axial Master Chronometers for under $5,000. So, in terms of specs, it’s a hard sell, even if a well-finished watch. It also feels a bit too expensive for their own catalog, coming in over a thousand more than other watches with SW-300 based calibers on bracelets.

The way to look at it that makes some sense is in the context of the style of watch and the brand it’s from. APs and Pateks are unobtainable even if you have the funds. Maurice Lacroix Aikon automatics are under $2,000, though I can’t speak to how well they are finished, and frankly, they are less attractive. If you can spend or save a bit more, the Glashütte Original Seventies Panorama Date and even the Girard Perregaux Laureato begin to come into focus, especially second-hand. But, if you are a Bell & Ross guy, are into their instrument watches, have no issues with their pricing, the BR 05 might be this unexpected hybrid of styles you didn’t know you wanted until now. A dressed up, swanky, Genta-seventies-inspired Bell & Ross that retains enough of that square-DNA you know and love to not feel like a huge departure. If that sounds like you, the BR 05 could likely be the integrated, Urban luxury sports watch you’ve been waiting for. Bell & Ross

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Zach is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of Worn & Wound. Before diving headfirst into the world of watches, he spent his days as a product and graphic designer. Zach views watches as the perfect synergy of 2D and 3D design: the place where form, function, fashion and mechanical wonderment come together.
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