Sports luxe, the trend that gave birth to the idea that stainless steel "sports watches" could be luxurious, is back in a big way this year.
The current insatiable demand for the original proponents of the genre, Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak and the Patek Philippe Nautilus, has led to a host of watch brands from Urban Jurgensen to Panerai exploring what their signature aesthetic might look like given an integrated steel bracelet, exposed screw heads and contrasting brushed and polished finishes.
For Bell & Ross, the experiment also represents an opportunity to explore what its watches might look like given a little distance from the military aviation theme that helped establish the brand and the BR05 is certainly its furthest departure yet from that founding style.
This entirely new collection from Bell & Ross debuts with a steel model with three sunray dial options in black, blue and grey and the choice of rubber strap or steel bracelet (although an integrated bracelet is usually seen as fundamental to the sports-luxe ethos, a la Gerald Genta's iconic designs, straps both rubber and leather have been commonplace on the Overseas, Laureato, Piaget Polo S, Cartier Santos and Bulgari Octo for some time now, not to mention the Aquanaut), a limited edition modern skeleton and, at its furthest orbit, a fairly spectacular 18ct rose gold model.
The 40mm case integrates the first link of the bracelet and coherently mixes linear brushing on its flat surfaces with polished, bevelled lines. Wrapping the circular dial in a softened square bezel is a neat trick, reminiscent of Omega’s mid-Seventies Mariner right down to the four exposed screw heads, although in this instance it has been utilised to ring-fence and preserve Bell & Ross’ traditional 6/9/12 dial identity within its boundaries. The rest of the watch might not look like any Bell & Ross we’ve seen before but the dial is a familiar landmark.
The design of the bracelet’s centre links mimics the soft silhouette of the bezel. Any angular corners are reserved for the main H-shaped links and the shoulders of the case itself. On the reverse a sapphire crystal caseback reveals the fully circular skeleton rotor of the BR-CAL.321
Limited to 500 pieces, the BR05 Skeleton succeeds in moving the watch in a new direction; the openwork design of its matt finish BR-CAL.322 might not be traditional or particularly intricate, but instead its simple and contemporary cutouts, when paired with an open dial and suspended hour markers, add a welcome sense of depth while the use of batons rather than numerals further distances it from the signature Bell & Ross look.
And the solid gold model? There’s little explaining a £27,000 Bell & Ross beyond the fact that these full gold Sports Luxe watches are fairly intoxicating on the wrist and the brand’s customers have proven how deep their pockets can be in the past: it sold a trio of BR-X1 Skeleton Tourbillon Sapphire watches last year, including one on Mr Porter, priced at £355,000 each.
Given that the basic tenets of Sports Luxe stem from those two original Gerald Genta designs (with special mention also reserved for Genta’s IWC Ingenieur SL, the Vacheron Constantin Overseas and Girard-Perregaux’s Laureato) it is nigh on impossible to diverge too far from them without becoming something different altogether. Some have certainly achieved it, the Cartier Santos for instance is Sports Luxe through and through but looks nothing like the Royal Oak or Nautilus.
As almost everything else in this category derives its look from these founding watches I’m not going to level that criticism at the BR05, although you’d be perfectly justified in suggesting that Bell & Ross has taken a ‘Greatest Hits’ approach to the design. The BR05 looks as ‘Sports Luxe’ as is possible for a watch and it has achieved this by distilling some of the most successful elements found elsewhere in the field.
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