I’m genuinely curious what people think of the Bell & Ross wordmark at 12:00. Personally, I like the typeface and think it “works” in the context of a modern reinterpretation of a pilot’s watch. It’s clean and distinctive, and to me is completely inoffensive. I approach it in this way because I often hear watch enthusiasts gripe about logos and branding on dials, but I can’t recall hearing complaints specifically about Bell & Ross. Every Christopher Ward watch that is released invariably gets a ton of “Yeah, but the logo…” comments on social media, and to my eye there isn’t an immense difference between how the two brand names are signed on their dials. That said, I do wonder how this watch would present had Bell & Ross decided to go with a sterile dial, or even in the other direction, with a more prominent ampersand.
The Black Steel is powered by the BR-CAL.301, an automatic caliber with 42 hours of power reserve. This is a rebadged ETA 2894-2, which is used frequently throughout the Bell & Ross product line, and is also featured in watches from Tissot, Rado, Chopard, and others. It’s a workhorse movement that gets around, and it certainly didn’t give me any problems in my relatively brief time with it. The caseback is open, so if you choose to, you can take in the movement’s mostly industrial decoration of machine applied striping to the custom rotor and perlage throughout the plates.
Bracelet and Overall Wearability
My review sample showed up on a bracelet that I found surprisingly comfortable. This is a watch that retails for nearly $5,000, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been that surprised, but bracelets are tough to get right, and the massive slab of metal that is the Black Steel’s case is surely a challenge to balance properly. This bracelet uses H-links that are quite narrow and drape rather well, and I found it to be comfortable and more than capable of supporting the watch head.
Let’s talk about wearability, and what that even means in the context of the Black Steel. My wrist is 7.5 inches and this watch felt comfortable on my wrist, thanks largely to the case being thin. So, it’s definitely wearable, and I’ve even worn watches that are smaller in diameter that are less comfortable than the Black Steel. Such are the vagaries of watch sizing when you get anywhere over 40mm – there are just so many variables that contribute to the feeling on the wrist, dimensions alone are somewhat useless. Still, since most people do not have a 7.5 inch wrist, for them I’m betting this watch won’t pass the most basic fit test, and it’ll feel heavy and out of proportion.
This is where a reviewer would normally say something like, “If you have the wrist to pull it off, the Black Steel is worth considering.” But I don’t think it’s all about wrist size – I think that some watches, this one included, just don’t look great because of their size, regardless of how big your wrist is.
On my wrist, the Black Steel’s lug to lug span takes the entire length of the top of my wrist. So, it “fits” according to the type of rudimentary guide someone new to watches might read on StyleForum ahead of their first visit to Tourneau. But when I’m wearing it, and I check the time, the overwhelming feeling in my head is that this thing simply doesn’t need to be this large. Who decided that a watch can and should take up so much wrist real estate, anyway? Was it someone from Panerai? I’d like to submit that not only does a watch not need to take up so much space, but a watch that doesn’t looks objectively better and more balanced. Small watches are coming back, and this is the reason.
Now, of course, some people might prefer the large watch look. That’s fine – I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade. I also regularly wear watches that measure only a millimeter smaller than this one (but wear very differently). All that matters is that the watch looks right to you when you check the time. And it’s certainly worth mentioning that pilot’s watches in particular are historically oversized. But you’re probably not strapping this to the outside of a bomber jacket.