The most spectacular successes are sometimes liable to experience the most drastic declines. Many had predicted that the BR 01, a brilliant marketing coup by Bell & Ross, would be a mere shooting star in the watchmaking firmament.
The years on, even sceptics are forced to admit that the watch has found a lasting place on the watchmaking scene and has achieved something even rarer by asserting itself as a reference model alongside juggernauts that have been around for several decades. And yet this fine model still conceals a few secrets!
1. At the time of its launch, the BR 01 was not a watch, but a concept
The BR 01 was originally a modular watch concept. With the help of a few accessories commercialised when it was launched, the wristwatch could be transformed into a pocket watch or a desk clock. These concepts soon merged to become a single wristwatch.
2. A not-so-classic construction
The BR 01 is not opened via a screw-locked case-back like most contemporary timepieces. It opens up and is cased up from above, by unscrewing the four visible screws in the four corners of the bezel, which serve an authentic mechanical purpose and are not merely aesthetic elements. For Bell & Ross, the technical coherence of the BR 01 has always been paramount.
3. There are more than 150 variations of the BR 01
That’s a pretty impressive figure: with more than 150 interpretations in 10 years, the BR 01 is constantly evolving. It reflects the marketing approach adopted by Bell & Ross: whereas many brands feel that continuity and stability are key, Bell & Ross has taken the opposite path and yet achieved the same or even better results with a degree of customer recognition and loyalty that many may envy. And yet 150 variations in 10 years means an average of one new model every 15 working days!
4. The personal choice of Mr Lauren
In 2005, the year it was launched, the BR 01 was chosen by Ralph Lauren himself for a trip to Europe as the accessory for the fashion model starring in the advert for Black Label, his chic sportswear line. Four years later, in 2009, Ralph Lauren presented his first watch collection, also strongly geared towards black.
5. From steel (snubbed) to PVD (preferred)
The BR 01 was introduced in a steel version, an obvious choice for a launch, being the least expensive and most widely used material. Yet early fans showed an immediate preference for the black PVD version, which is still the best-seller today. In retrospect, it turns out to be more faithful to the aeronautical design codes that inspired it.
6. Looking for the red skull
The two versions most sought-after by collectors are the BR 01 Skull and Radar. This frenzied appetite has been fuelled by a countless number of different variations –Airborne, Skull & Crossbones, bronze, gem-set, luminescent – often issued as limited editions. The BR-X1 Red Radar has just been interpreted in a 50-piece boutique edition (at 17,000 euros).
7. One-of-a-kind and rare models
The most limited series of the BR 01 is its tourbillon model, of which just 18 exist in its 113,000-euro Phantom version. There are also a few one-of-a-kind models that were brought together for the 2013 edition of the Only Watch charity auction (Bell & Ross’ third participation): a set of six one-off models, the Flight Instrument Collection Orange in a collector’s box that sold for 32,000 euros.
8. And the most prolific Bell & Ross collector is...
...American! This unconditional fan currently owns around 50 of them.
9. A winning pair
The success of the BR 01 is almost entirely based on the use of two ETA (Swatch Group) movements: the 2892 and the 2894. The latter is a 2892 with an additional chronograph module.
10. The future of straps?
The vast majority of BR 01 straps come in either leather or rubber, along with four canvas variations from the BR 03 model, adapted to the BR 01. The BR-X1 has however introduced a third option, with a strap combining the two materials: a hybrid structure with a rubber base and a leather insert. Could this be the future of BR 01 straps?