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.