Climbing on Board

Bell & Ross surprises everyone with a convincing timepiece that melds vintage marine aesthetics with a modern skeletonized movement.

Over the past few years, Bell & Ross has evolved its lineup in an unexpected direction. The youthful brand’s combination of exploring history it had no direct involvement in while playing with modern materials and ideas such as skeletonized movements, has helped it stand out from the pack. With the unveiling of the Instrument de Marine collection in September, these two motifs merge in a single collection.


Playing around with vintage designs is a bit of a touchy subject among collectors and enthusiasts for a number of reasons. As well-executed as the design may be, there’s a certain lack of authenticity that immediately sticks out to those in the know. Brands such as Tudor, TAG Heuer, and Girard-Perregaux can get away with vintage reissues any day of the week, as they have a deep archive from which to draw. But when you have a relatively young brand (Bell & Ross celebrated its 24th anniversary this year) that pulls design cues from parts of horological history that it wasn’t a part of, the resulting product often feels impersonal. Many people love feeling the history of the brand in our timepieces—whether a personal one or taken from the brand’s “good ‘ol days”—and that connection doesn’t exist when the brand lacks an authentic history. This all made me wonder how I would feel about the BR-X1 Instrument de Marine.

A Clever Game of Materials

On first glance, seeing rosewood gracing the case and bezel of the BR-X1 Instrument de Marine is startling. Past B&R models have used titanium, gold, ceramic, and even forged carbon—but wood? Bell & Ross wanted to tap into the classic design of ships’ instruments and interiors, and pairing the rich, tight-grained hardwood with bronze makes for a great aesthetic combination. A faint patina had already begun to develop, which helps coordinate with the matte look of the rosewood. I’ve long had a soft spot for bronze and brass cases for their personality and patina, and after seeing how green and funky some of the Bell & Ross BR01 Skull Bronze pieces have become at the hands of their current owners, I’m itching to see what sort of sunken treasure aesthetic will develop over time.


Modern Movement with a Vintage Twist

Staring at the dial of the Instrument de Marine chronograph, an interesting juxtaposition of design mantras looks back. Beneath a smoked sapphire crystal dial, the Cal. 313 automatic chronograph movement’s skeletonized details reflect faintly in the light. When this movement was fitted into the BR-X1 Carbone Forgé in 2015, the titanium Hyperstellar from BaselWorld, or more recently the Renault Sports-inspired RS16 model launched with the announcement of the sponsorship of the Renault Sport F1 Team, its design was echoed by the modernist aesthetic found in the watch’s balance. Here we have just the opposite. On the crystal’s surface, details like its white rehaut and minute tracks as well as its two-register date configuration nod to both marine instrumentation as well as vintage watchmaking. In order to even out the equation, Bell & Ross included details on its subdials that are much more contemporary, with the use of minimal cross-hair style indices for its running seconds subdial, as well as its highly legible X-shaped wheel indication, for the 30-minute chronograph.


Daily Wear

After 11 years in the field—and having tried on a number of BR-01 and-03 models over the years—the BR-X1 Instrument de Marine has a familiar feel on the wrist. Though the use of bronze adds a touch of heft to the piece over its steel siblings, the lightness of the Indian rosewood balances the scales close enough that you’re unlikely to notice a significant difference without trying the pieces on back-to-back. Having relatively slim wrists, I found the square 45 mm case wears quite large, though compared to a conventional case design with longer lugs, I still found it to be quite comfortable. No matter how big your wrists, this thing has no chance of tucking under a shirt cuff, nor would we suggest bringing it anywhere near a sport coat unless you’re going with a casual v-neck underneath and equally bold footwear. That said, if the goal is to make a statement, it’ll work just fine. Over my weeks of wear, the B&R got more attention than most of the watches that have come in for testing in the last year.


Final Thoughts

In tallying the pros and cons of what is a unique and visually appealing timepiece, I’ll admit I was surprised at how much I bonded with it. Just because Bell & Ross wasn’t involved in building ship’s instruments 50 years ago, it shouldn’t be a strike against this watch—at least not in my book. As cool as that would have been, it also would have laid out a set of ground rules that Bell & Ross would have had to derive its designs from, rather than being able to create a watch from the ground up. – Justin Mastine-Frost



The Bell & Ross Skeleton Chronograph Instrument de Marine is limited to 99 pieces with a price of $25,800.