Bruno Belamich, Bell & Ross
Angus Davies interviews Bruno Belamich, Bell & Ross
Angus Davies chats to Bruno Belamich, Bell & Ross, and learns more about the company imbued with a ‘dual Franco-Swiss culture’. In this interview, Bruno, the company’s Creative Director, provides an insight into the brand’s products, past and present, along with its fondness for cutting-edge materials and thought-provoking aesthetics.
In 1992, Bruno Belamich and Carlos Rosillo established a new watch brand, Bell & Ross. The surnames of Belamich and Rosillo provided the inspiration for the company’s nomen. From the outset, the mission of Bell & Ross was clear, namely, to ‘create watches perfectly suiting a professional use’. Indeed, since the foundation of the luxury brand, Bell & Ross has focussed on the professional needs of astronauts, pilots, bomb disposal experts and divers.
The company has always strived to create ‘utilitarian’ watches. The first watch to bear the brand’s ampersand logo was the BR01. The watch was inspired by the clocks found in aeroplane cockpits, a circular form within a square housing. It is unusual to create a radically different watch design, most horological forms have been produced before. However, the BR01 walked on virgin snow, resembling nothing before. It was, therefore, almost inevitable that the watch would subsequently become a design icon.
After the launch of the 46mm BR01, considered large by modern-day standards, Bell & Ross recognised that some would-be customers wanted a smaller case, releasing the BR03 with its 42mm housing. Furthermore, the brand, a comparatively young company in the field of horology, augmented the appeal of its collection of models by relentlessly innovating new concepts. Cutting-edge materials have conferred striking looks and beneficial properties such as light weight.
Bell & Ross BR-X1 R.S. 18
Bell & Ross has not fixated purely on avant-garde aesthetics, but has also produced vintage-style watches designed to pay tribute to WW1 and WW2. Whether Bell & Ross has looked to past or embraced the future, design has been at the forefront of its product strategy. It was with this in mind that I eagerly asked Bruno Belamich, Bell & Ross, the company’s Creative Director, about some of the firm’s watches, both past and present.
Interview with Bruno Belamich, Bell & Ross (BB) by Angus Davies (AD)
AD: What makes Bell & Ross special?
BB: Our story began in 1992 with a dual Franco-Swiss culture and has now become the benchmark for professional aviation watches. We defied all codes by designing an icon, the BR 01, inspired by the clocks in the cockpit of an airplane: a circle within a square.
Going limitless is one of our mottos for 2018. We have always tested ourselves to go further in haute horology and as a brand and will continue to do this.
AD: The Bell & Ross headquarters is based in Paris, while watch production takes place in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. Within the watch industry, this is very unusual. What benefits do you think this business approach confers?
BB: This business approach enables us to combine both French culture with Swiss know-how, which is, as we all know, the best in the world in terms of high-end watchmaking. Moreover, Paris, being the capital of art, luxury and creativity, is a very inspiring place for a watch designer.
AD: Bell & Ross is linked with ‘professional watches’, making timepieces for astronauts, pilots, bomb disposal experts and divers. Can you elaborate on this?
BB: Our watches are made to answer specific professional needs, they are models inspired by professional tools and watches. Sharing the same mindset, it was natural that Army corps and elite troops came to us with specific professional needs or memorial projects and that we became their official suppliers. We are proud to have developed some great models for very specific professional units, such as Civilian Security, Minesweeper, Submariners, Aeronaval and the RAID.We intend to keep on working in professional markets. Throughout the years, we have developed much expertise and know-how in terms of product development. We use this expertise for all our watches, even the ones that are purchased by the public at large.
AD: Clearly your professional watches have to be robust, legible and, in some instances, shock and water resistant. Can you provide some headline figures regarding shock resistance, anti-magnetism and water resistance found on some of your models?
BB: Our base rule is at least to follow the NHIS standards, however, this is sometimes insufficient for our tool-watches. For this reason, we pay a lot of attention to the construction of our watches and always ensure we are comfortable with the thickness of materials we use. For example, we will use better components such as thicker lugs, thicker crystals, bigger gaskets and special assembly screws. For instance, when we designed the new BR03 Diver, we developed extra thick crystals and a case back capable of withstanding pressures of at least 40 ATM through heavy temperature variations. We performed several heavy shock tests, long immersions in saline water, etc.
AD: A few years ago I saw a Bell & Ross Hydromax 11 100M and I was informed that the watch was incredibly legible underwater. As I understand it, the case is filled with a transparent oil which augments readability. Previously you have only offered this watch with a quartz movement. Could you envisage offering a version with a mechanical movement?
BB: We are not considering this possibility because when applied to a mechanical movement, it would create two problems: Firstly, the balance wheel would not work fast enough in an oily liquid, hence the watch wouldn’t be accurate. Secondly, even when only the space between the crystal and the dial is filled with liquid, the transmission might lead to magnetism or shock resistance issues. These are qualities which we are unwilling to compromise on.
AD: I love the Vintage Heure Sautante which features a wonderful jumping hours display. It is very different from your square instrument watches. Can you elaborate on the decision to make this watch?
BB: As you just said, the Heure Sautante is very interesting from a dial perspective, clearly inspired by the design of cockpit instruments which offer great readability. The Heure Sautante was therefore the perfect opportunity for us to present a complicated timepiece that would also be easy to read. Developing this watch also allowed us to meet Vincent Calabrese, a great man.
Bell & Ross Vintage Heure Sautante
AD: In recent years, Bell & Ross has demonstrated its passion for innovation, releasing forged carbon, sapphire and bronze cases. Do you envisage making cases in other materials and, if so, what materials are most likely to be used?
BB: Earlier this year, we announced a very interesting project concerning the modification of Titanium Grade 5 alloy using our High Resistant Titanium (HRT) process. This process modifies the metal structures, making it harder and giving it a unique khaki colour. The model will be launched in October.
AD: While Bell & Ross offer relatively affordable watches, it also offers über-complicated timepieces, such as tourbillons. I have looked closely at your haute horlogerie models and I’ve been mightily impressed with the finishing of the movements. Clearly, you have the competence to deliver high-end watches. Could you envisage offering other complications in the future, such as perpetual calendars, rattrapantes and minute repeaters?
BB: We don’t know the future! Until now all the complications we have released directly relate to our aeronautical DNA and the brand’s position on the market. So far we have focused on high precision chronographs or tourbillon movements which suit our iconic square shaped case.
Bell & Ross movement featuring tourbillon
AD: Bell & Ross offers a diverse range of models from vintage-inspired watches, such as the WW2 Regulateur Heritage, to the ultra-modern BR-X1 Hypersteller. Can you explain the rationale behind the company’s product mix?
BB: The history of Bell & Ross and the brand’s collection are closely related to the history of the aviation and military industries. We wanted to focus on the evolution of pilot watches from the pocket watch to today’s astronaut watches.
AD: I am a huge fan of Formula One and note that Bell & Ross are a team partner of the Renault Sport Formula 1 team. Has there been a technology transfer between the two companies?
BB: This year the collection we have launched in conjunction with Renault Sport Formula One has taken inspiration from the team’s use of materials – the 2018 chronograph trilogy uses titanium for the case of the watch as titanium is used for the chassis of the car. We have also used carbon fibre on the dial for the second year. But we share more than just technology, Renault Sport Formula One Team and Bell & Ross share a common goal of pushing the limits. This is extremely important for our brand this year and this partnership symbolises what can be achieved when precision and speed come together. We have embarked upon an exciting journey with Renault.
Bell & Ross BR-X1 Tourbillon R.S. 18 and uncased movement
AD: Where do you envisage Bell & Ross will be in five years?
BB: Bell & Ross is very different from the other brands within the watchmaking sphere, and yet, at the same time, we evolve our range of watches in a very coherent manner. It goes without saying that we will continue to develop technical, sporty or cutting-edge watches for professionals.
Since its inception, Bell & Ross has set aside conventional watch designs, conceiving its own innovative ideas. This approach has imbued each timepiece with a unique appearance. In the world of watchmaking, timepieces are frequently described as ‘iconic’, sometimes with little justification for the label. However, the BR01 is readily identifiable and deserving of its appellation, ‘icon’.
Rest assured, discussions about design do not mean that Bell & Ross has neglected the importance of watchmaking and, specifically, technical virtue. From the outset, the company set out ‘four design principles’: ‘water-resistance’, ‘precision’, ‘readability’ and ‘performance’. While some of these so-called design principles relate to aesthetics they also encompass functionality. Indeed, it is this functionality which is demanded by the various professions which entrust Bell & Ross to produce essential tool watches.
During my interview with Bruno Belamich, Bell & Ross, I learnt more about this innovative maison. The dynamic company embraces new materials which confer tangible benefits for its customers. This is manifest with the planned launch of the modified Titanium Grade 5 alloy, employing the firm’s HRT process. In addition, the company has worked closely with Renault Sport Formula One, employing the same lightweight materials found on the team’s racing cars. This need to be inventive is at the heart of the company’s paradigm.
Bell & Ross BR-X1 Skeleton Tourbillon Sapphire Black
Over the years, Bell & Ross has enlarged its portfolio of models. From vintage inspired pocket watches to high-tech ‘astronaut’ models and from simple three handed models to an incredible tourbillon, housed in a sapphire crystal case. While the company’s collection of watches is diverse, all models are infused with thought-provoking design. It is the design prowess of Bruno Belamich, Bell & Ross, and the company’s inspirational Parisian base, that helps differentiate this luxury brand from its rivals. Furthermore, based on my interview with Bruno Belamich, I suspect Bell & Ross will continue to offer watch lovers more interesting timepieces for many years to come.