In the plush showroom of the Bell & Ross headquarters in central Paris, the brand’s CEO Carlos Rosillo showed a clip from the 1983 film “The Right Stuff” as a prelude to his interview with WorldTempus. Based on the 1979 Tom Wolfe book with the same title, the film starts with Captain Chuck Yeager becoming the first pilot to break the sound barrier. The aircraft in which he achieved this feat was the Bell X-1 and it is therefore understandable that Bell & Ross have chosen the same codename for their new “hypersonic” chronograph, with which the brand aims to break its own watchmaking “sound barrier”.
In commercial terms, the barrier is the psychologically important retail price of 10,000 euros. Since the new limited-edition BR-X1 costs 15,000 euros, the sonic boom it creates is certain to reverberate around the watch industry, as Bell & Ross leaves its familiar territory (a core range priced in the low thousands) to compete head-on with the likes of Audemars Piguet, Hublot and even Richard Mille.
“We are up against Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Offshore and Hublot’s Big Bang Skeleton,” admits Mr Rosillo. “But I think that the customer who is interested in this kind of watch will buy it because they don’t have it. We will undoubtedly be targeting people who already have these models but who want something new. It may even bring us a completely new type of customer.”
But just how do you break this horological “sound barrier”? “You can either do it with precious metals and stones, or you can do it with a level of technicality,” explains Mr Rosillo. Bell & Ross have clearly chosen the latter option, reinforcing the iconic square BR1 case (in a lightweight grade 5 titanium version) with ceramic and rubber elements for extra robustness. More importantly, the brand has opted for an exclusive skeleton chronograph movement developed in conjunction with Dubois Dépraz, with black DLC bridges in the form of an X.
These technical additions also have some clear ergonomic advantages. The red rubber inserts, for example, offer comfortable points to grip the watch to operate the chronograph and the pivoting chronograph pushers allow an ease of operation that is a delight to anyone familiar with the slight resistance found in most other chronograph pushers. The use of titanium makes the watch feel surprisingly light on the wrist, despite its 45mm width, while the added ceramic inserts offer extra robustness.
Far from being a mere talking-piece, the new BR-X1 ushers in a new era at the brand that will see more technical pieces being launched in limited editions at higher price points. With only 250 models to be spread across 750 points of sale for the brand worldwide, Bell & Ross is actively courting a certain level of exclusivity with this new strategy.
While the BR X1 maintains the characteristics of the brand’s iconic square model, its modular construction now allows for countless future configurations, where a simple change of colour for the rubber could, for example, create an entirely new piece. “It is a completely modular design akin to a Lego set,” says the CEO, “so we have a lot of flexibility in what we can do with it.”
There are limits, however, even to the hypersonic ambitions of the brand. Mr Rosillo concluded by assuring WorldTempus that these futuristic models will, for the moment at least, be confined to the square case of the BR1.