While overshadowed by the brand’s instantly-identifiable, square-cased BR-01 and BR-03 models, Bell & Ross’s Vintage line has always been the go-to family of watches for those who prefer unadulterated classicism. For collectors of aviation chronographs in particular, the Vintage series has proven a tonic if one is worried about wearing a 60-year-old Lemania or Gallet as a daily timepiece.
Not that the Bell & Ross vintage models are beaters. While referencing the appearance of hugely-coveted – but unfortunately rare – period chronographs, the Vintage models have developed their own aesthetic. The company was quick to recognise the charm of luminous material in a hue that recalls the colour of the tritium or other glowing paints that have aged to a crème brûlée tan. Bell & Ross also championed sand-coloured dials as an alternative to black, while the strap selection presaged the current craze for cloth, over-under or military-issue types. Along with the revival in interest in the big 3/6/9 dials created by MHR in the 1980s, the Bell & Ross Vintage models are dream “mash-ups” of the best period details – but in brand-new watches rather than fragile museum pieces.
Recently announced is what the company identifies as the “Third Generation” in the Vintage family, and any one of the trio might cause a stampede to the shops. As the company openly states: “Since it was founded, Bell & Ross has taken its inspiration from the history of aviation. It has developed Vintage collections that pay tribute to key eras of the great aeronautical adventure.” For aficionados of military watches, this modus operandi will call to mind the Dirty Dozen, Lemania RAF and NATO watches, the legendary Heuer Bund watch, the Zenith A. Cairelli and other milestones. But this isn’t to accuse Bell & Ross of imitation: I prefer to compare this to the witty eclecticism of rock bands like the Wondermints, the Smithereens and Raspberries, who respected their predecessors and fashioned their own sounds.
The first generation of Bell & Ross Vintage watches featured a classic dial, rounded lugs and a minimal bezel. It dates back to the earliest days of the brand, which turns 25 this year. The basic recipe was that of definitive time-only military watches, guaranteeing uncluttered dials with optimal legibility. The second generation meant a case and dial redesign in 2007, with larger cases and more distinctive bezels, while sharing details originating with the BR-01 line. For the Third Generation, the dials remain as before, but the stainless-steel case diameters have decreased and the watches are flatter. The rounded lugs are also better-integrated with the strap or bracelet, but the look remains “Fantasy Military Watch”, with Carlos Rosillo and Bruno Belamich sharing the passions of true military watch fanatics. One imagines them unable to resist doodling new designs on napkins in restaurants.
For 2017, the three debuts are:
BR V1: This automatic three-hander sports a smaller, slimmer case of 38.5mm diameter with a curved sapphire crystal to enhance the retro look and allow for the reduction in case thickness; it’s fitted with a black leather strap. The white-on-black dial and dagger hands provide superlative legibility, with date in a window at 4:30. A nice touch is the airplane shape on the tail-end of the sweep-seconds hand, a detail which appears on future Bell & Ross models as well as this watch’s two siblings.
BR V2-92 and BR V2-94: These both use a 316L steel 41mm case, also flatter than those of the previous generation and featuring screw-down crowns with protectors. Again, the dials are white-on-black, with date windows at 4:30 and the sapphire crystals are curved. Both are available with a choice of black leather strap or a newly-designed, polished and satin-finished steel bracelet. BR V2-92 is a three-hander like BR V1, but it also has a bi-directional rotating bezel. Its resemblance to various legendary diving watches is understandable as it is water-resistant to 100m. BR V2-94 is two-sub-dial chronograph with screw-down pushers and a fixed, graduated bezel with tachymeter scale; it, too, enjoys water-resistance to 100m and the sub-dials are large in the manner of the much-coveted A. Cairelli.
This article originally appeared on Revolution.watch.