With the BR05 Artline we witness the new interpretation of a Bell & Ross classic and consider where the watchmaker stands between form and function.
Back in university, I did a class on development theory – the study of how processes of change in societies take place. It studies how humans build on existing concepts to improve them, how desirable changes to a system are best achieved. Take transportation for example.
Applying development theory, we are able to see how the invention of the wheel led to the cart, which then led to the horse drawn carriage, which led to the automobile, which led to trains and airplanes, all the way up to the complex systems of public and private transportation that crisscross land, air and sea today.
Each step in that evolution met a great need until today, we cannot imagine our societies, our economies, or our lives functioning without transportation as it exists today. Today, I appreciate development theory in watch design. I find the study of the subtle yet sublime design evolution of individual brands, how they develop their early icons into 21st-century masterpieces, to be thoroughly fascinating. And few watchmakers have a design evolution journey quite as compelling as Bell & Ross.
Form & Function
The Franco-Swiss watchmaker came to the scene in 1992 with the express intention of creating professional watches for divers and pilots, famously supplying chronometers for the French Air Force. Only two years after that, in 1994, Bell & Ross introduced the world to Bell & Ross Space 1, the first automatic chronometer to be worn in outer space. Four years later, in 1998, the Bell & Ross Hydromax 11 set the world record for wristwatch water resistance, submerging to depths of over 11,000 metres.
Clearly, between form and function, Bell & Ross was winning major points for function. They churned out watches that met the most rigorous standards in readability, performance, accuracy and resistance. But what about form? Can this watch, crafted to withstand the harshest frontiers, also be stylish? A tall order to be sure, but one that the watchmaker faces undaunted.
It eventually launched its “Urban” universe, to differentiate from its “Pilot”, “Diver” and “Racer” universes of watches. The Urban series, exemplified by the BR05, strived for sleeker silhouettes, while still retaining some of the technical advancements of its cousins.
When the BR05 was introduced to us in 2019, it was in many ways– and in many ways not – a departure from its predecessor, the BR03 from the brand’s Pilot universe. Gone was the matte black that made it an icon. In its place was a linearly brushed polished steel case – condensed to a sleek 40 mm. In this shift, Bell & Ross were making confident steps towards aerodynamic design.
In that age-old debate of form versus function, Bell & Ross stood up and asked: what if form and function informed each other? “The BR05 had potential,” said Bell & Ross co-founder Bruno Belamich – the “Bell” in Bell & Ross. “Its case offers a vast surface to decorate. And we wanted to launch a watch that was dressed, that was decorated.”
But as I said before, the evolution in design is subtle yet sublime. This new evolution retained the squarish face, but with stylish vertical grooves that flow from the bezel and down through the central links of the bracelet, what the brand terms the watch’s “gadroon”.
The inspiration from this might be old – they were taken from the corrugated aluminium fuselages of the first transport planes of the 1940s and are reminiscent of the Art Deco styles of the 1930s – but the effect is sleekly modern, a 21st-century watch for the urban, active gentleman.
“When you look at it, you immediately think of the American style of Stream-Line,” explains Belamich, referring to the aesthetic that arose in the 1930s alongside Art Deco. It was an aesthetic inspired by aerodynamic design, emphasising curves, long horizontal lines and nautical or even aeronautical elements, conceived in an age where trains and planes were playing an increasingly significant role in human development.
As a former student of development theory, I was delighted to learn about modes of transportation advancing watch design. And in the BR05 Artline, combining the “aero style” of the BR03 and its own unique “urban style” did not feel like a throwback, but a bold step forward.
Unlike its other watches, readability isn’t a particular emphasis here, which is understandable, given the watch’s place in Bell & Ross’ Urban universe. Again, this was a decision made to add a touch of sophistication to the watch. Gone are the display numerals at six, nine and 12. Instead, the BR05 Artline features baton indices, with a double baton at 12.
Nevertheless, some elements of readability are retained, such as the hands and indices coated in photoluminescent Super-Luminova. Another feature worth noting is a new sunburst ruthenium grey dial, continuing the BR05’s penchant for gorgeously eye-catching dials that can be traced to the original’s black sunray.
All in all, the BR05 Artline is an essential addition to Bell & Ross’ already impressive repertoire of chronographs. If I learnt anything in development theory, each major evolution within a system meets a great need. What need does the Artline meet? I think that it makes a clear statement of intent: for Bell & Ross watches to be held in high regard for their form as much as their function.
Our verdict is that the Artline will eventually become a series in its own right, giving sleek, modern reinterpretations of some of Bell & Ross’ most iconic timepieces, equal parts form, equal parts function.
PRICE + SPECS
Case 40 mm satin finished, polished steel and sapphire with 100 metres water resistance
Movement Automatic mechanical BR-CAL.321
(Images Bell & Ross)