I hope you’ll forgive me for going back before moving forward. As a newcomer to the watch space it helps me to orient myself and I imagine there are some readers for whom this is necessary and others who don’t mind a refresher.
The Bell and Ross BR X5 is the latest offering from French airplane cockpit instrument-obsessed duo, Bruno Belamich (Bell) and Carlos A. Rosillo (Ross). The BR-01 is the first watch in their circle-in-a-square family; it came out in 2005. The BR 03 came out in 2006. Here it is: To the untrained eye or casual observer, in several iterations these watches have certainly changed but not super dramatically. What I mean is if you are not a watch-obsessed person or collector, but rather someone just looking at watches, you might think, “oh, yeah, the BR 05 looks a little softer somehow than the BR 01 or BR 03,” but you might not be able to articulate that the rounded-corner element is provided here by the bezel and not the case. But otherwise, these watches all have four screws at the corner, and Arabic numerals at 12, 3, 6 and 9, which, like the indices, are quite large and don’t skimp on the lume.
The black steel we’ve seen before on these guys, but the ice blue is new and an unexpected twist for this company whose watches tend to be traditional, color-wise – red, black, steel, blue, with no added adjectives. The Arabic numerals are gone and have been replaced by stick indices. The date window is still at three but it is very large, large enough to show a three-day span. There’s a circle-shaped power reserve indicator at 9 o’clock, divided into thirds. The case is 41 mm, which is the same size as the BR 05 GMT, but 1mm bigger than the BR 05. The steel bracelet and display is the same as the BR 05, though you are looking at a different view. Finally, we arrive at perhaps the biggest difference between the Bell and Ross BR X5 and those who came before, and it’s inside the watch. The BR X5 is the first Bell & Ross to use a movement – the BR‐CAL.323 – created by Kenissi. If you’ve been paying attention, you will know that this is a relatively new movement manufacturer, known for its work with Tudor, Chanel, and Breitling, as well as for Norqain, TAG Heuer, and Fortis. Kenissi movements are supposed to be better. What does that mean? More accurate. Longer power reserve. Basically, up until now, Bell & Ross has used ETA or Sellita movements, and this Kenissi caliber is considered a higher-grade movement, the new kid in town in the “insert-a-decent-movement-into-your-design-focused-watch” category. This new movement has a power reserve of 70 hours, and due to its COSC certification it has a 5-year warranty, compared to the 2-year warranty of the Bell and Ross BR X5 .
When Norqain put a Kenissi movement into their Independence 20 Limited Edition last year, people kind of went nuts, 211 Hodinkee readers among them. ETA and Sellita have been ruling this space for a long time, and here Kenissi bursts onto the scene with movements said to be more durable, more accurate, with longer power reserves and greater customization from brands. That Bell & Ross have added themselves to the list of defectors with this iconic line of watches is a big deal for people who pay attention to such things.
The Bell and Ross BR X5 is $6,900 on a rubber strap and $7,400 on steel bracelet, making it more expensive than the BR 05, which sells for a little more than $5,000 on a bracelet. I’d like to think the difference in price spells out a difference in quality. I look forward to handling both models in person to see for myself. Then we come down to what it looks like. The ice blue is a pretty color, at least to me. At first I wasn’t sure if it went with the design of the watch; it’s kind of like a bodybuilder wearing a light blue satin tank top and shorts. Actually, now that I mention that, it could be cool on the right body builder. Due to the rather muscle-bound nature of this watch, pastels are not necessarily the expected vibe. But the juxtaposition is interesting. As for the rest of the aesthetics, you either love the circle-in-a-square look or you don’t. I have small wrists and I’m not “into” aviation, so that colors my opinion. Me personally, I miss the numerals in the BR 05. As for the date window, I don’t need to know the date yesterday and tomorrow – give me today and I will take care of the math. I’m torn about the power reserve window, which is like a gas gauge whose level drops while you’re not wearing the watch. An ageless W.I.S. debate rages on about whether power reserves should be on the dial or the caseback. I have yet to pick a side. That said, if B&R is trying to call attention to the watch’s (and the Kenissi movement’s) 3-day power reserve, this is definitely a way to visually represent that, and to remind you to rectify the situation whenever it’s been off your wrist too long. If I were going to buy a Bell & Ross, based on photos alone, I’d probably get something more basic and cheaper, like the pretty-but-sturdy BR 05 in blue steel. But the new one has enough going for it that I’m willing to be convinced otherwise. In real life it’s entirely possible I would find the ice-blue dial mood-enhancing and soothing and would find it helpful and entertaining to know, at a glance, not only what today’s date was but also what yesterday and tomorrow were. I bet the glow of that Super-LumiNova feels reassuring on a dark night, and I would gladly rotate my wrist to admire the ampersand on the crown, which I find to be rather cunning. In conclusion, I am forced, once again and not for the last time I’m sure, to mention my old pink-gem-bezel Hublot Big Bang Tutti Frutti. It looked preposterous in photos, and also preposterous in real life, but in real life I loved it. My point is that you have no idea what something is like until you wear it, and this watch is much less intimidating than that one.