The Aeronavale is the aviation branch of the French Navy. Breguet famously equipped the Aeronavale with the battle-ready Type-20 pilot chronographs, which have been, and still are, ceaselessly coveted, collected, and copied. However, with the new Aeronavale 41-millimeter, Bell & Ross has created a watch suited not to battle garb but to the French Navy’s beautiful gold and blue full dress uniforms.
The Aeronavale is not a “real” military watch. In fact, the French Navy had nothing to do with it. Rather, Bell & Ross simply dreamed it up. Bell & Ross can get pretty conceptual this way, with recent examples including their copper-dialed Bellytanker (designed for an imaginary vintage land-speed-record scenario) and their sporty Racing Bird (meant to accompany a computer-generated high-speed plane).On the surface Bell & Ross’ concepts can seem lofty, but I’ve found that the concepts help bring these watches down-to-earth by eliminating the pretense that a mechanical watch is, today, a real tool. When you consider that a life-long American civilian like me regularly wears a watch that Bell & Ross dreamed up to complement the French Navy Air Division’s full dress uniform, the whole enterprise takes on an air of delightfully absurd costuming. But, somehow, overtly acknowledging that we’re all playing dress-up seems to temper the absurdity.
But why would I—or anyone for that matter—fall for a watch like the Aeronavale? Typically there’s some personal connection that sets the heart aflame, and I’m sure others who enjoy the Aeronavale will have their own story. For me, it goes back to childhood.