Bell & Ross is not what I would call an underdog brand, but their BR02 dive watch certainly has been an underdog. Not appreciated to its full extent, this is a really cool timepiece that deserves a bit of extra attention. I don't recall the exact year the BR02 made its debut, but it was on the coattails of the BR01 at the height of its popularity. Moving their attention from the air to the sea, Bell & Ross wanted to release a novel diver watch instrument.
Previous dive pieces in their collection such as the Hyrdomax were quartz-based and filled with oil. An attractive piece, the Hydromax was perhaps too tool-like and had too many style references to when Bell & Ross watches were more closely associated with Sinn. The idea of the BR02 was to make a dive watch version of the BR01. You can still get Hydromax watches today and they are water resistant to 11,000 meters (yes) - though compared to the "big Bell & Ross" image created by the 46mm wide BR01, the Hydromax was rather medium sized at 40mm wide.
Being a dive watch fan the BR02 immediately caught my attention when it was released some years back. One thing that was unique is the fact that it has a tonneau-shaped case. Probably the only dive watch with this case style that I can think of. Bell & Ross offered a unique look as well as something that genuinely felt like a diving instrument. Nevertheless, the unorthodox style might have been a bit too strange for some people seeking a more conventional look. I can appreciate that, as off the wrist the BR02 is certainly a "different" looking watch.
On the wrist however the tonneau-shaped case begins to sell itself. The dial is still round and the case feels natural on the wrist. Cases such as those also tend to compliment one's wrist visually. References to the BR01 are clear. There are the four large screws on the case as well as the dial which is inspired by the aviator look of the BR01. Having said that, the dial does feel appropriate for a dive watch and does not feel misplaced.
To make it a true diver Bell & Ross gave the BR02 an internal rotating bezel, an automatic helium release valve, as well as 500 meters of water resistance. The watch came in both three-hand and chronograph variant, while additional styles were added over the years. The large polished steel case is chunky feeling - as a good diver should be. The attached rubber strap is custom for the case and integrates nicely with the design. Best of all it is very comfortable and does not feel like a weight on your wrist. This is good because like the BR01, the BR02 is a large watch. It is almost 50mm wide including the crown and pushers, and about 49mm tall. Thickness is 17mm. With a large domed sapphire crystal it makes for a handsome and aggressive look.
Even being so domed the thick amount of AR coating on the crystal makes legibility high. Only at extreme angles is there going to be dial distortion. Wanting to look as much like a serious instrument as possible, the minute hand on this chronograph model is outlined in orange to match a couple of other elements on the dial. You'll also notice that Bell & Ross used different colors of lume for the hour and minute hand to amplify underwater legibility in the dark.
This chronograph version uses an ETA 2894 automatic movement which has been modified to have the 12 hour counter removed. It makes for a cleaner look on the dial but also gives the chronograph 30 minutes of timing capacity. The date indicator is very cleanly and covertly designed into the dial between 4 and 5 o'clock. Even though there is a lot going on the dial, it is still very legible. I further appreciate the internal bezel operating crown to be located at 10 o'clock, which makes it easy to use while the watch is on the wrist. All crowns and pushers are nicely done being partially rubber-coated and screw-down.
I still consider the BR02 collection to be under-appreciated, not because people don't like them, but rather because they simply don't get a ton of attention. On the wrist they really shine and offer a unique dive watch experience. Unlike most Bell & Ross watches which are often winners at first glance, the BR02 needs a bit more time to appreciate, and I recommend you put one on your wrist to see how the shape translates itself on you. This particular model is the BR02-94 Marine Chronograph and retails for $5,400.