October 27, 2021
Understanding The Bell & Ross Design Philosophy
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Bell & Ross was founded in 1992 by a team of watch designers and specialists in aeronautical control panels for a relatively simple purpose: to create timepieces that would be appropriate for professional use. That is to say, by the people who get paid to read those aeronautical control panels everyday, or to dispose of bombs, rush into burning buildings, or perform complex tasks deep underwater that would have most people struggling on dry land. Professional tool watches had, of course, existed before 1992, but Bell & Ross would take a different approach, letting the design be informed by the function of the watch at every step of the way. Most importantly, that process would be guided by the men and women who would actually use these watches in the field. 

The result was nothing short of a sensation in the watch community. Bell & Ross, in creating highly specific watches meant for a niche segment of the marketplace, had actually come up with a wholly original design language that could not only be worn and used in the harshest environments, but struck a chord with the watch buying public for their brazen originality. At the time, the unusual square shaped watches modeled after gauges and panels found in planes were like nothing else on the market, and they remain original to this day.

Most importantly, that process would be guided by the men and women who would actually use these watches in the field.

Over nearly three decades, Bell & Ross has continued to produce unique watches for professionals that simultaneously capture the imagination of everyone who comes across them. And they’ve become known for much more than the square watches found in their iconic Instrument and Experimental Collections. The Vintage Collection has emerged as a fan favorite as well, and is the home to classically styled aviation inspired watches. Regardless of the collection, though, the design principles that have guided Bell & Ross from the beginning remain as a common thread that ties all of the brand’s watches together. Legibility, functionality, reliability, and precision are considered in every watch the brand produces, and an adherence to these principles has allowed the brand to flourish for almost thirty years.


Watches are worn for a lot of reasons, but none so elemental as the most obvious: to tell the time. In situations where every minute and every second matter, being able to get an accurate reading of the time in the blink of an eye is essential. Bell & Ross watches have a reputation for being immediately legible for good reason: they’re designed with the same function-first philosophy as the gauges on the instrument panel of an aircraft.

The BR 03-92 Black Steel is a master class in intuitive watch design. Large white numerals at 3, 6, 9, and 12 and matching, lume filled hands pop from the dial’s black surface, instantly orienting the wearer to the correct orientation. Once these cardinal positions and the hour hand’s relation to them are identified, observing the correct time down to the minute becomes a matter of pure instinct. Elongated hour markers between the four numerals further train the eye to the correct hour, and the long and thin minute hand reaches out to meet the minute marker at the dial’s perimeter, overlapping with it to reduce the need to approximate or guess at the time, because guesses and approximations are the enemy of precision.

On the Black Steel, the key to legibility lies in contrast, every time telling element is a crisp and clear white, and everything that’s not a time telling element is black. There are no decorative accents or colorful flourishes to make these watches more palatable to the social media obsessed. Time is literally black and white.

Of course, not every Bell & Ross is so stark. Indeed, there are other examples of the BR 03-92 that add pops of color, but they do it in ways that serve the main time telling function of the watch. The BR 03-92 Divers, for example, feature a range of solid colored dials that maintain contrast both topside and under water. Rotating bezels are added to these watches for additional functionality for diving, and the main dial display has been rearranged to include large circular lume plots at the hours, which serves to emphasize elapsed time read via the bezel. Again, this is Bell & Ross putting function before everything else. 

Again, this is Bell & Ross putting function before everything else.

The BR 03-92 watches are a reminder that watches are instruments first and foremost. The point is driven home by the design of the square cases, a Bell & Ross hallmark that dates to the founding of the brand, and ties these watches to a history of aviation, always underscoring the importance of chronometry as a technical discipline, akin to any other measurement taken in flight.


The Bell & Ross V2 collection consists of round cased watches with vintage inspiration that feel very different from the square cases found in the BR 03-92 range. Still, there are common threads that bind these watches together, namely a commitment to precision, and a longstanding dedication to aviation. If Bell & Ross’s square watches look like what you might find on an instrument panel of an airplane, the V2 watches remind us of what the pilot might actually be wearing. Not only because of the traditional, sometimes conservative appearance, but because of the range of useful information these watches communicate. 

The V2 collection is, among other things, a showcase for Bell & Ross’s ability to seamlessly integrate mechanical complications into their watch designs. Take, for example, the BR V2-94 Black Steel Chronograph. This is a traditional pilot’s chronograph that has been brought into the modern era, not resting on design tropes of any particular vintage watch, but representing the best of historic pilot’s watches without sacrificing Bell & Ross’s contemporary identity. At 41mm in diameter, the watch has modern proportions that work on any wrist and offer real presence as well as a high degree of legibility, not just of the time, but of elapsed time via the two register chronograph design. Fine details abound for those willing to look, including radial snailing in the sub registers, a seamlessly integrated date window at 4:30, and an ultra-curved sapphire crystal, which has been designed to evoke the acrylic crystals of a previous generation, but will keep free of scratches thanks to the use of modern materials.

representing the best of historic pilot’s watches without sacrificing Bell & Ross’s contemporary identity

GMT equipped watches also factor heavily into the V2 collection, providing wearers with a practical and easy to use complication that is right in line with B&R’s aviation heritage. The V2-93 GMT range consists of watches with blue or black dials paired with a 24 hour hand in high intensity orange for easy contrast in any conceivable situation. This makes it incredibly easy to reference a home time zone and, with the rotating 24 hour bezel, calculate GMT offset to track as many as three time zones simultaneously. Whether you’re piloting a transcontinental flight or working with colleagues in far flung corners of the globe, the GMT complication as executed in the V2 collection is invaluable.


If you can’t count on a watch, it’s practically useless. Bell & Ross goes to extreme measures to ensure that their watches meet the highest standards of reliability. The watches they produce are designed with professionals in mind: astronauts, pilots, divers, and even bomb disposal experts. Bell & Ross takes a scientific and practical approach to making the most robust watch possible, by analyzing the conditions under which these individuals work, and designing watches to withstand the extremes. Bell & Ross watches must withstand extreme pressures and temperatures, as well as impact, shock, and sudden acceleration. It’s difficult enough to make a watch that can withstand any one of these challenges, but to build watches that handle all of them is particularly difficult. 

Bell & Ross solicits guidance from experts in fields like engineering and design, as well as the people who work the demanding jobs that these watches are made to do, in an effort to create tools that can be relied upon even in the face of extreme conditions. Everyone involved is expected to hold true to the brand’s credo: the essential is never compromised by the superfluous. This results in watches that are uniquely utilitarian and purpose built, and not weighed down (literally or figuratively) by extraneous bells and whistles. Every detail has a purpose, and functionality is considered in every millimeter.

The constant testing and commitment to reliability leads Bell & Ross to unexpected places in their watch design, which is frequently represented in the experimental X1 collection. Comprising avant-garde open worked dials in exotic materials, these watches represent the top of the Bell & Ross range, and the halo under which their line of professional watches sit. The X1 watches are examples of where Bell & Ross’s research driven approach naturally takes them, and provides a potential roadmap for future innovations and breakthroughs in watchmaking and design.

Every detail has a purpose, and functionality is considered in every millimeter.


You’ll hear watchmakers talk about precision frequently, but it’s a somewhat nebulous term. Yes, it refers to the accuracy of a mechanical movement, and it’s self evident why a watch that keeps time is superior to a watch that doesn’t. But that’s just the end result. A watch made with precision is a watch made with care. It’s also a watch where every millimeter of design real estate has been painstakingly thought through, so that chronograph pushers are exactly where they need to be, a crown unscrews with the correct amount of resistance, and lume glows with the proper intensity. All of these elements, including the proper adjustment of the watch’s mechanical movement, have to be in sync to satisfy the strict professional requirements that Bell & Ross live up to in every watch they make. 

The mechanical calibers that power Bell & Ross watches are produced at a facility in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, not too far removed from the way watches have been made in the region for hundreds of years. Watch movements are precision instruments, but it would be a mistake to assume that every watch movement made by every manufacturer is built to the highest standards. At Bell & Ross, the art and craftsmanship of watchmaking is taken seriously, and every caliber is put through the tightest of quality controls to ensure consistency, quality, and, ultimately, accuracy in timekeeping.

There’s no greater testament to Bell & Ross’s pursuit of precision than in the fact that so many professionals who require total precision in their everyday work rely on Bell & Ross timepieces. Most of us take it for granted in our daily lives, but there are individuals among us for whom accurate timekeeping isn’t a luxury. For astronauts, fighter pilots, armed police and special law enforcement, their lives and the lives of others might depend on precision timekeeping for any number of unpredictable reasons. Precision is a responsibility that Bell & Ross takes seriously.

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October 27, 2021