There should be — in the horological dictionary — a word for that feeling of righteous communal anger whenever a brand that isn’t Patek Philippe or Audemars Piguet dares to release a steel, sporty watch with an integrated bracelet. These days that feeling is becoming common enough to warrant its own terminology, far as we can tell. Certainly, it’s a sense that was captured by Bell & Ross, when they dared to divert from their traditional militaristic square and present the BR05. And while righteous anger is all well and good, but honestly, anger based solely off a press image and a mob mentality doesn’t hold much water.
This is precisely why I was more interested than usual to have a hands-on look at the Bell & Ross BR05, but before we get into the nuts and bolts of the watch, how about a little primer. The BR05 is an entirely new collection for the brand—a brand which has, for a long time, built its aviation-inspired empire on the angular promise of its square ‘instrument’ BR01 and BR03 lines. But a brand cannot live on tool watches alone, and so the BR05 was conceived as a middle path — a softer evolution of that classic cockpit inspired design. We’ll dig into the particulars of that evolution shortly, but the significant changes here are the more rounded form and the integrated bracelet. It’s a watch that stretches well out of Bell & Ross’ comfort zone: a commercially smart design that adds something genuinely new to their catalog. It’s a move that’s simultaneously brave and safe (depending on your perspective) and—to my mind at least—wholly necessary.
So what’s the Bell & Ross BR05 like on the wrist? Well, nice. The size is very much right — 40mm across and a comparatively slender profile of 11mm tall make this a versatile choice for a lot of people (something that can’t be said about the brands’ other square options). There’s enough finesse on the edges to make this feel smooth and comfortable on the wrist. The bracelet is supple, pleasingly tapered and has a nice hidden push-button double-fold clasp (no micro-adjustment though). Which means that as a package the BR05 delivers on that ‘integrated-sports-lux’ promise, but in a sub-$5000 form (on steel it retails for $4900 USD, or $4400 USD on a strap), which means that you’re missing out on the refinement in evidence at much higher price points, but really, that’s par for the course and not something to complain about.
The rearview is quite pleasing — the movement is a Sellita SW-300, which you’d expect given the price, but it’s been given quite an attractive treatment, with an open-worked spoke-like rotor that’s a nice touch and makes checking out an otherwise fairly average movement a much more interesting experience.
It’s on the front side though, where things really start getting interesting. Once you get used to the look and feel of the BR05, the Bell & Ross hallmarks become clear. Namely, there’s those prominent bezel screws (neatly aligned here), and those signature Arabic numerals. These features, combined with the sheared off square shape, do represent a clear progression of the brands existing design codes and keep it interesting to wear. The version I had was the blue sunburst dial which I found quite dark most of the time, thanks to the reasonably small amount of dial real estate.
In fact, in real life, I found the dial surprisingly small, verging on the hard-to-read. And after some time I worked out why. Those core Bell & Ross details of the Arabic numerals and bezel screws are crowding the dial. Take the 12,6 and 9 off the dial, and suddenly it opens right up. And by the same token, there’s a lot of metal surrounding those screws that — while offering a defined look and visual anchor — crowds the dial (and the design overall) somewhat more than is necessary. While I’m talking about things I would change — I’d up the size and grippiness of that crown just a fraction.
You know what though, even with those issues, the BR05 was a joy to wear. It is a stylish all-rounder. The bracelet and it’s dressy-but-casual looks, the 100m of water resistance and mix of polish and brushed surfaces made it an easy wear no matter what the occasion. The case and bracelet proportions are just perfect. It’s also the first iteration of a brand new design, and I’m expecting to see some refinement over time. Also, I’m 100 percent down for the inevitable two-tone version of this.
Finally, as to the whole originality of design issue, it doesn’t bother me. Bell & Ross has always been a very design-oriented brand, and they’re certainly not claiming to have found a model in their archives that they’ve resurrected. They’re upfront about offering something new, and really, they need to. The market for large, overtly masculine square watch wearers isn’t growing, and those guys are already B&R fans. We can’t fault a business for wanting to grow and evolve, even if it’s, not something we’d expect or be comfortable with. And really, we need to get over this mentality that an integrated bracelet on a non-round sports watch is a design ‘owned’ by anyone brand. Because it isn’t. And while the BR05 wasn’t the first in the genre (and it certainly won’t be the last), it’s one that holds up.