Bruno Belamich shares with us on the Bell & Ross BR 05 and more.
To understand Bell & Ross is to understand the mind of its co-founder and creative director Bruno Belamich. In spite of the clear-cut design of the Bell & Ross watches, conceived with the fundamental principles of eligibility, functionality, precision and reliability in mind, with flight instruments being the most pronounced inspiration, we have come to learn from the man himself that there is much more philosophy and personal background to his creations and the brand than meets the eye.
As a teenager in the 1980s, Bruno grew up in the midst of the technological revolution, a period rich in innovation. He began to take an interest in innovation and performance, at a time when much of it was championed by Japan, leading to his early fascination with the country that presented an insight into the world of the future.
At the age of 20, Bruno recognised design as an indicator of things to come with the belief, “Every opportunity should be taken to transform a moment into design.” Naturally, in the 1990s, he enrolled at ENSCI (École Natio-nale Supérieure de Création Industrielle) and designed his first pieces.
His studies would take him to Hong Kong, the watchmaking mecca of Asia, where he undertook a brief internship in a design agency and was plunged into the country’s watchmaking culture. There, he gained a very clear vision of his future career. Upon his return to Europe to finish his studies, Bruno also worked for the company the German watchmaking brand, Sinn.
The company’s focus on navigation watches and on-board instrumentation offered him his first real immersion in a world that fascinated him: aeronautics. With his new-found passion for aviation and design talent, Bruno made a strong impression on the company’s founder, Helmut Sinn, himself a flight instructor and pilot, who would go on to be the manufacturing partner of the first pieces of Bell & Ross watches.
Bruno’s practical experience plus extensive research, concept and vision for his own watch brand culminated in his end-of-course dissertation — entitled “The launch of a watchmaking brand specialising in the production of functional watches for professional use” — a career concept where the first seeds of the Bell & Ross brand were sown.
The passion for watchmaking led Bruno to team up with his childhood friend Carlos Rosillo, a finance major, and, together, they founded Bell & Ross with the ambition of creating functional watches for professional use, inspired by aeronautical instruments. The foundation of the brand was encapsulated in the logo, shaped like a watch laid out flat, featuring a contraction of their last names (Bel-amich and Ros-illo) and the ampersand icon inside a circle to symbolise the watch dial and the unity of different skills and backgrounds, designed in a simple, legible typeface to reflect the utilitarian and timeless nature of the brand and their watches. The brand’s signature design (from the cockpit to the wrist) was established in 2005 with the world premiere of the iconic BR 01 timepiece. The rest, as they say, is history.
According to Bruno, his creations are developed based on one key principle: “Every detail has its own meaning and function,” focusing above all on the needs and requirements of professional users, with functionality and minimalism being key. This is coupled with a firm finger on the pulse of technical innovation and the spirit of the times.
With that, the creative director presented his latest and most cosmopolitan collection, the Bell & Ross BR 05, in recent years – an integrated design of case and bracelet in sleek and sharp style, to highlight the fast pace of urban life and the rise of the modern gentleman, whose increasingly global mindset and enterprising, innovative spirit, we find, very much resonate with Bruno’s personal background and character.
In the following interview, we speak exclusively to Bruno Belamich on the conception of Bell & Ross and the inspiration behind the Bell & Ross BR 05.
Please elaborate on your end-of-course dissertation and how it turned from concept to reality?
As a product design student, I was very worried about the future because I didn’t know if I was able to work in product design. So I wanted to first understand the market and the world of business and with this study, I managed to do both as well as understand the role of a designer in a company and the economic world. Working on this project also allowed me to better understand what I would like to do.
I think during those five years, I became more mature, I knew myself better, I understood better what I could do with my diploma, I knew I always wanted to do things on my own. I discovered my passion in design. It even took me to an internship in Hong Kong for three months. There, I discovered one of the biggest watch markets in the world. It was during this time that I also discovered Sinn in one of the watch magazines there.
When I came back to finish up my studies, I decided to contact this company for an internship opportunity. Then I met Helmut Sinn and started working as a designer. It all happened very fast and it was evident to me that I wanted to launch my own brand, first with Carlos as a small watch distribution company, and then I started to design my own watches with Sinn. So all that started to come together in 1992 while I was still a student.
In the end, I decided to present the concept of Bell & Ross for my final project. I took a business approach to design and, in doing so, accomplished two things at once: my diploma and planting the seeds of a future business.
What inspired the creation of the BR 05 and how does it compare to previous collections?
We have recognised since the beginning that the BR 01 and BR 03 are designed for niche purposes and specific markets – the BR 01 was created to be an iconic watch of the brand inspired by cockpit instruments; the BR 03 for the professionals. When we decided to design the BR 05, we took into consideration the need for an iconic watch that is more connected to the real world, so we kept our signature design – round dial in a square case with four screws – and gave it a more urban, contemporary and ornamental finishing touch.
It is a watch for urban explorers, for everyday use. This differs from off-road models (BR 01 or 03), which can be considered as tool watches, though the public can buy it for its design aspect. BR 05 borrows the square from the iconic BR design but takes it to the urban territory.
You’re known for your carefully thought-out approach and high attention to even the finest detail. Please elaborate on your design process and highlight to us some of the intricate details we should look out for in the BR 05.
You start by choosing the movement and then you work on the pattern and design the watch around the movement. For the Bell & Ross BR 05, we decided that it would be an integrated design of movement, case and bracelet, all in one piece, in a very graphic style.
One of the most valuable models of this collection is the BR 05 Skeleton. It immediately highlights two key points: our watchmaking know-how and the integrated design. We designed the bridge and movement together with the case, in a very technical and graphic style, and made it as clear-cut as possible to showcase the components and sophistication of the mechanical movement. The oscillating weight was designed to evoke the rim of a sports car and give the watch a technical, sophisticated finish. In addition, we wanted a 360-degree oscillating weight as opposed to a semi-circular mass because it is richer and fuller, and yet fulfills the same function.
In celebration of the release of the BR 05 Chronograph last year, you presented a very stylish, cinematic video. Tell us more about the concept and inspiration, your role in the creation of this movie and the motivation for this cinematic approach?
When we decided to do this movie, we first asked ourselves who this Bell & Ross man is and what role does the BR 05 play in his life. I envisioned him to be a typical 30-something Parisian man who goes to work on his bicycle. And when we asked what job he would be doing, we thought of a photographer of architecture and cities, because we wanted a man with a keen eye for design and detail, along with hands-on knowledge of technical equipment such as his camera, and a high level of precision. So all this perfectly brings to life the inspiration for the BR 05.
The model in the film represents a city dweller who values luxury for the quality and function of the objects he must use. He has a sharp eye, and does not choose his watch at random. He chooses his watch as he chooses his camera. A timeless design object with proven functionality. So he picks the BR 05. A tool and a jewel. He uses the helicopter – not as a comfort of life – but as a tool at the service of his mission, his profession, to photograph the city from above. Rising to the sky and taking a step back to capture the city is a metaphor, an allegory, for looking at life from a higher perspective.
For this film, I played the role of the producer, but I went through a director whom I know well for his taste and artistic sense of narrative. I was interested in all the aesthetic aspects of the film: the venue, the bike, the helicopter. Nothing was left to chance. Everything had been chosen precisely. From the physical appearance of the model to the styling – more sporty than chic and more casual than dressy – because we are not ostentatious; we are about the essential.
The rapid advancement of digital/information technology and social media is increasingly expanding the scope of how a brand/product can be best communicated. As creative director, how has this influenced you; and what is your strategy for this Transformative Age?
My role as creative director is of course to strengthen the brand identity and ensure a consistent and coherent brand identity through all visual communications: catalogue, presentation, advertising, packaging, boutique, etc. My role is to be interested and give an opinion on all these aspects. But as a leader, I must surround myself with the best experts in their fields who can help put a strategy into practice. A strength of our brand is to be relevant and creative. It is a necessity to survive in a hyper competitive market. Attract and create desirability through a creative universe.
Some of your most notable and anticipated designs have been your motor vehicle concept collaborations, like the B-Rocket and AeroGT. What is your motivation behind this and do you have any plan for commercialising them one day? I believe many would love to own one, if there’s a chance.
First of all, the machines are a source of inspiration. But it works both ways. A machine inspires a watch and vice versa. What interests us in these projects is the chance and freedom to build a whole universe around it and to go as far as possible. Why not produce it one day? Yes, that would be good. But one could also wonder if it would be better that it remains a chimera. Dreams create desires.