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Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Bi-Compass Ceramic Watch Hands-On

Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Bi-Compass Ceramic Watch Hands-On Hands-On

At the risk of borrowing a somewhat cliché, famous turn of phrase, it was Henry Ford who reportedly once said a customer could have a Model T painted in “any color he wants, so long as it is black.” Granted, the black watch might not be destined for the “everyman” as the Model T once was, but I’d also argue that when done right, the black watch occupies a much more permanent and important property in watchmaking than a passing fad, as many might have purported during the height of the DLC/PVD craze of the early aughts. It’s why I’d also argue that Bell & Ross doesn’t get enough credit for elevating the black-cased watch to an art form — because, as we’ve since learned, it takes a lot more than just PVD-coating a case to make something that is equal parts stealthy and low-key sinister, but as classic and easy-wearing as its stainless steel equivalent. Nowhere is this more evident than the French tool watchmaker’s latest addition to its 42mm square-cased line: the ceramic BR03-92 Bi-Compass, unveiled at Baselworld earlier this year.

Maybe it’s because aviation instruments are already traditionally rendered in black, but there’s something about Bell & Ross’ black instrument collection that’s always felt natural and effortless — as though these watches are black out of necessity, rather than vanity. And from what I understand, Bell & Ross is no longer using PVD or DLC coating on any of its cases anymore, so if you see a black-cased BR01 or 03, it’s ceramic. Such is the *ahem* case with the new BR03-92, which brings that super-matte instrumental aesthetic to a novel new time display, driven by the Sellita-based BR-CAL.302. Inspired by an aviation compass, the movement has been lightly modified to reduce the hour display to a luminous triangle on a rotating disc that orbits the center of the dial. In classic Bell & Ross fashion, all of the timekeeping information is simultaneously legible, but also neatly color-coded in the same tones of the source material: beige for the minute hand and rehaut, and bright green for the hour disc and hour markers.

Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Bi-Compass Ceramic Watch Hands-On Hands-On

In the interest of preserving the square shape, all Bell & Ross instrument watches maintain short lug-to-lug measurements, relative to their respective case diameters — 46mm for the BR01 line and 42mm for the BR03 line. And while the former might be more classically Bell & Ross, it’s in the latter size that this case really sings. Thanks to its relatively thin bezel, the dial is stretched nearly the full width and breadth across the dial, so it feels like a “large” modern watch despite its compact wrist presence. And for being such a thin case, the BR03 maintains 100 meters of water resistance while nailing another detail usually left to the wayside in minimalist tool watches: depth and texture.

Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Bi-Compass Ceramic Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Starting at the edge of the bezel where the domed crystal meets the case, there’s a very short and steep rehaut that dives into the actual chapter ring, upon which the 10-minute markers are rendered in beige-colored print. The angled edge of this chapter ring is marked with single minute hashes as it slopes further inward towards the dial’s center, which is essentially the lowest of the three “floors” of the case. A small, circular date aperture is knocked out at 4:30, where the date disc is rendered in the same khaki-colored print as the chapter ring — a thoughtful touch, regardless of your stance on the inclusion of a date.

Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Bi-Compass Ceramic Watch Hands-On Hands-On

At a glance, the watch appears to be relatively flat and one-dimensional, but each of these layers — including the thin ring demarcating the inner rotating hour disc — adds an additional surface that punctuates the light and creates shadows in a different way, creating a far more three-dimensional appearance than one might expect from a printed dial that has one less layer in its hand stack. In an era of watchmaking where “design” usually amounts to digging up old blueprints and digitally scanning something from the archives, it’s great to see a design-centric brand like Bell & Ross continue to find clever ways to subtly iterate on a central theme to create watches that are as fun to look at as they are to wear.

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Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Bi-Compass Ceramic Watch Hands-On Hands-On

As we’ve reported before on models like the R.S. 19 race team collection, Bell & Ross has some pretty striking, highly complicated offerings like the BR-X1, but it’s pieces like this BR03-92 on the polar opposite of the range where the brand really seems to feel most at home in its own minimalist design language. Like the cockpit instruments that inspired them, these are tools with minimal ornamentation, designed to communicate information in a clear, legible, and unfussy way. And if you’re a watch or aviation enthusiast, they communicate that information in a pretty novel way as well. The price of the BR03-92 Bi-Compass watch in ceramic is $3,900. For more information on this, and other Bell & Ross pilot watches, head over to bellross.com.

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  • Dénes Albert

    I said it here before, and I’m asking again: could you pretty please include actual height measurements in your reviews? ”
    for being such a thin case” is a subjective judgement and I’m fairly certain many of your regular readers would welcome actual data, especially because most brands don’t bother to include height in their specification sheets.

    • That reminds me – I’ve really got to start carrying a pair of calipers in my camera bag 😉

      • And please don’t forget the photos in the dark!
        Especially when, according to bellross.com, we are dealing with Superluminova®.

    • Raymond Wilkie

      The thickness of this watch is 10.40mm.
      Can I just say that ABTW isn’t the be all and end all of watch blogs. Some reviewers from time to time will give out the thickness if its particularly thin or thick. If you don’t get the specific information you want then you go searching to see if you can find out that information yourself instead of typing in bold ( which is shouting )
      It took me all of 10 minutes to find the height.

      • Ayreonaut

        It’s a very legitimate request to ask for basic dimensional information like thickness from a hands on review. We come to this site for information, not to be told to go find out somewhere else…

        • Raymond Wilkie

          I don’t agree.

      • Dénes Albert

        I must respectfully disagree. When using bold, you are emphasizing something. SHOUTING is when you use capital letters.

        • Raymond Wilkie

          Fair enough.

  • Larry Holmack

    That’s really nice looking…and it would have been great to see a short video so we could actually see the watch working. Maybe put one up on YouTube???

  • Loved it when it first came out…still love it now!

  • Daniel Harper

    Wow I actually really like it! Hey, I’m not able to click through photos any more, it takes me directly to a solo shot of the image that I have to click Back to get back to the article from. Is there anything in the works to fix this?

  • Mikita

    Like the color scheme: very attractive and legible at the same time. Yet it has a problem of too much area per height; i.e. the case looks like it have been smashed with an anvil. This visual effect mainly comes from how small the main dial looks inside the case.

  • Raymond Wilkie

    It’s not a novel way, It’s an annoying way.

  • Independent_George

    I wasn’t going to comment because B&R does nothing for me, but I feel I must since there seems to be far too much love in the comments for a brand that essentially acts as a cut rate Richard Mille — oversized, overpriced and ostentatious fashion watches with no horological value whatsoever.

    There, I feel better. You may now commence flaming me.

    • Raymond Wilkie

      I’m glad you got that off your chest George.

    • Apart from their 45mm square cases, most of their other models are very well balanced and not oversized at all. I have a tiny wrist and can easily pull off most of their <45mm models. Have you tried them on?

      Price-wise where would you price them at retail prices? in the 1-2k segment? Along with say, Tissot / Hamilton? Or Christopher Ward? Keep in mind that they have a very distinct design DNA which not many brands have. Good design is not cheap. U-boat is a brand with similar pricing and with a much bolder designs, but really crappy quality (for the price). You can argue that they should command Sinn prices, but Sinn sells mostly online and in select boutiques in Germany, while B&R can be found in more retail locations (higher price margins).

      Also (not counting the 45mm square cases) they are the opposite of ostentatious. Especially the vintage line and the ceramic 42mm square cases are very subdued and fly under-the-radar. They do have a polarising design though, that is true.

      If you're looking for design and quality, B&R can hold their own against most watches with a heavier horological pedigree (in the same price range) which is not something you can say for fashion watches. I consider an expensive fashion watch something like a Feragammo or a Quartz Hermes / Quartz Bulgari or a diamond encrusted Jacob etc.

      Anyway, I understand you don't like them, and that's fine. But dismissing them because they are not a 150 year old company that invented the first "XXXXX", is not fair. Yes they are design-focused and their ads are more "lifestyle" than cold hard facts….but that's how everybody markets luxury watches.

      • Independent_George

        Fair enough. That was my “scalding hot take” on this watch and brand. Overstated, yes. I don’t “hate” B&R, I don’t hate any watch brand, but yes, B&R watches do nothing for me.

        Retail pricing: I wouldn’t do anything only because B&R still has to operate within the whacked-out scheme of Swiss watch pricing. But, like Bremont, they are overpriced at retail as evidenced by the generous AD discounts available, as well as the terrible resale value.

        Ostentatious(ness): In that “ostentatious” is defined as “designed to impress or attract notice”, yes, they are ostentatious. B&R square cased watches are/were not designed to fly under the radar. They were designed to have a significant wrist presence. When you wear one, everyone knows you are wearing one. It’s one of the reasons they were so popular with celebrities 10 years ago. As for the 42mm square watches, you are also talking about 60 mm diagonal. That is a lot of wrist area. They may fit you perfectly fine, but these are not conservatively sized watches.

        Quality: My AD says they are quality watches, and she knows that she is talking about. She also admits they are overpriced at retail, but she’s willing to make it up with a generous discount.

        I don’t really care about prestige. I was thinking about horological value. But $4,000 watches with Sellita movements? Not a lot of horological value in these.

    • Mikita

      Their watches appear much better after you try them. Initially, I was thinking similarly as you, but after I got my BR123 Heritage Carbon (impulse buy – the deal was good), I instantly loved it. Their watches are more well thought and complex than you might think. Let me explain using my BR123 as an example:

      1) The case and lugs shape is perfect for the wrist. I hate protruding movement compartments which make the watch “float” above the wrist, but B123 is perfectly flat and the lugs embrace the wrist, i.e. they are little bit curved down.
      2) Strap thickness ideally matches the thickness of the endings of the lugs – few will notice, but it’s beatiful. The angle of the strap’s widening where it attaches to the watch is ideally matches, so the strap is truely organic ending of the lugs.
      3) They are,the only brand in my mind who really puts thought into date windows. Look at BR123’s, for instance, – at 6 o’clock it looks organically placed, no rotating it, etc., has a nice chamfer (bevel) cut along the opening – even some multi$K watches don’t have bevel inside the date window opening.
      4) The crystal. It’s box shape and it’s so damn beatiful in real life. It’s not just simple box shape where the inner side is plain; the designed and milled the inside of the crystal to make it distort light in most beatiful way. Here is more about it’s shape:
      https://deployant.com/analysing-the-bell-ross-br-v2-94-chronograph-crystal-with-the-sam/
      5) The case coating is superb – the best I have ever seen. I’ve been using the watch every day for at least 4 years and it’s still intact.
      6) The buckle – it’s even more well thought than the buckle of my father’s Panerai! It has nice beveling along every edge (!!), even the CNC milled protrusion for the strap on the inner side – exactly matching the the width of the strap. Who else does things like that?

      So the watch is not only the movement! They do think how to design and make their watches. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/36c69b143a889cbbd01dd1234d861c105c62438fff7b86c503816105392463f8.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/006d91266577da9d8e3a4df106109a00d68d2afcccae2e1c32e7569b44464112.jpg

  • funkright

    after seeing the damage to a Paneria ceramic once it hit the floor, no way I’d every buy a ceramic… https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8cca60efd7709a413c1dc1af6c295833ee48e3788a55a5a933bed379b63a3d23.jpg

    • Raymond Wilkie

      Hit the floor!? It looks like it’s been run over by a steam roller.

      • Swiss_Cheese

        It’s alright Raymond, it’s a Panerai, they’re supposed to look like that.

        Couldn’t resist, sorry.

      • funkright

        Hit the floor, to take a quote from https://www.govbergwatches.com/blog/pros-cons-ceramic-watches/ “While ceramic is extremely durable and can resist scratches and common damages, due to the molecular structure it is not resistant to shattering. If a ceramic case falls onto a hard surface from a few feet or more, there is a good chance that it may shatter.” If you want lightweight and black get DLC Ti or any number of other technologies that provide the look/effect w/o the risk. The guy’s quote to fix this was something like $6000 Euro…

      • funkright

        Ya, doesn’t it. If I was to buy a PAM it would probably be one of the Carbotechs like this one… https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/349f1c378ace7567eed5a00b08876fe345017a32dfb2928f85366c3fea806dbe.jpg

  • James Honour

    Would look great as a travel clock.

  • This watch does not have a single compass.

  • WINKS

    This watch begs for a lume shot to be included in the review!

  • I’m nit generally a B&R fan, but that’s a sharp-looking watch.

  • Ulysses31

    The finish and deep black tone of that ceramic is gorgeous. It’s one of the most “instrument” like BRs i’ve seen in a while. If I had the spare change in my pocket for this, I might pick it up, but as is often the case with BR, their watches feel like novelties, and I have no doubt I could find a watch with more enduring appeal for the same money.

  • EON

    yeah, i want to see it too!