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The "Racing Birds" have landed
Watchmakers have often turned to planes for inspiration. Designing and building their own plane, however, was unheard of. At least not till Bell & Ross came along.
Bell & Ross’s co-founder and creative director Bruno Belamich and his design studio proved that they know how to design and create things other than watches. After building a high-speed vintage hot rod (2014) and supercars (2016 and 2017), Belamich and his team produced the next big thing — a futuristic racing plane.
Not that surprising, actually, for a brand born in a cockpit and an ace at aviation-inspired watch designs.
The BR-Bird is an ultra-modern one-seater aircraft powered by a V12 Rolls Royce Falcon engine and constructed entirely with high-tech material — graphite, fibreglass, titanium and aluminium. Designed for speed, the BR-Bird is capable of competing in the Reno Air Races —an extreme aviation speed competition set at the edge of the Nevada desert in the United States of America.
A sleek design with a rearward cockpit sitting well behind a broad set of wings, the BR-Bird naturally provided Bell & Ross with the creative spark to yield two handsome pilot timepieces nicknamed “Racing Birds”.
One, the BR V2-94, is a chronograph watch powered by an automatic movement (the 42-hour BR-CAL 301) housed in a 41mm stainless steel case, with screwed pushers and crown, the same as the early Vintage versions. It has a two-register, 30-minute chronograph layout and comes in a blue or orange leather strap, or a three-link satin-finished steel bracelet.
The other timepiece is the BR V1-92, a three-hander. It’s built around a 38.5 mm wide stainless steel case equipped with a self-winding movement (the 38 hour BR-CAL 302). The watch has a blue calfskin leather strap with an orange lining.
While inspired by the BR-Bird, the watches use the same base as Bell & Ross’s revamped “Vintage” collection rolled out in 2017 — meaning the newly designed case, with a smaller, slimmer and rounder profile. And, of course, they conform to the brand’s “Form follows function” tag and four design principles — readability, functionality, reliability and precision.
What really separates the new pilot timepieces from past Vintage models is the unprecedented colour scheme, which is a far cry from the usual military-inspired hues. Both sport a white dial — like a plane’s fuselage — which is new for Bell & Ross. The brand has rarely gone beyond black, blue or dark brown, especially for the Vintage line. But white is definitely striking —and it turns the dial into the main drawcard.
Highly legible — a critical feature for pilot watches — the white background provides the perfect contrast for the different colours on the dial, making everything stands out. The hour indices are in blue Arabic numerals, the markers and part of the seconds sub dial on the chronograph are bright orange and the minute track is delineated in five-minute segments of alternating blue and grey
Framing the chronograph’s dial is also a fixed bezel with a tachymeter scale printed on a blue aluminium insert.
The Arabic numeral hour markers — a big change from the usual military indices and a modern take on the past Vintage timepieces — is taken straight from the on-board counter of the plane that inspired the watches. The three colours are also found on the BR-Bird. The orange second hand shows the silhouette of the BR-Bird on its tail, as do the stainless steel case backs.
The hands rotating around the dial of the new watches are illuminated by SuperLumiNova coating.
Another reference to the BR-Bird’s flight instrumentation is the expanded date window at three o’clock that shows an extra numeral either side — another departure from past Vintage versions, which usually feature a small, round date aperture. This “three day” and larger display is intended to convey the look and feel of an airplane gauge.
Both the new pilot watches are limited editions of 999 pieces each and are available at the Bell & Ross Boutique, #01-15 Mandarin Gallery. The BR V1-92 retails at $3,600 and the BR V2-94 at $6,400 for the leather strap option and $6,900 for the steel bracelet version.