If you haven’t yet worn a Bell & Ross BR01 or BR03 Instrument watch, I do recommend you try one on. The company makes excellent and affordable alternatives to many Panerai watches for the budget-conscious. The Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Nightlum is the latest in the Instrument collection, which debuted in 2004 with the BR01 and its distinctive 46mm square case and dial meant to evoke an airplane cockpit instrument wearable on your wrist. The later-released BR03 is more or less the same watch, but with a smaller 42mm square case. I still like the look of the BR01 case, but most agree that the 42mm BR03 case is more comfortable and versatile, and I can’t disagree.
As is the case with most Bell & Ross BR01 and BR03 timepieces, new models are variations on a theme, as opposed to entirely new products, given that what changes most are the dials, hands, and perhaps the straps. The BR 03-92 Nightlum is green, with a design that mixes a vintage cockpit instrument look with the green glow of much modern onboard aviation equipment. In a lot of ways, this is a Panerai-style Bell & Ross dial, not only because of the look of the hour markers (which Bell & Ross has been using for a while) but also because of the simplified dial, which removes the minute markers. A sister product to the BR 03-92 Nightlum is the BR 03-92 Black Matte — ideal for those who like the more traditional black-and-white Instrument dial (complete with minute markers). The Nightlum is the more fashionable, trendy model that removes some of the dial markers in exchange for a cleaner dial look.
Like the BR 03-92 Black Matte, the Nightlum sports a matte black ceramic case, which Bell & Ross renders very nicely. From a quality perspective, this looks just like PVD-coated steel but is instead in black, scratch-resistant ceramic. Now a classic, the BR03 case, as mentioned above, is 42mm wide by 42mm tall, and actually not very thick at just 11mm. It is water-resistant to 100 meters and has a flat, AR-coated sapphire crystal over the dial. With four symmetrically aligned screws at each corner of the square case, this now-iconic case design is popular because it is visually distinctive, has a functional inspiration, and doesn’t look as though it is trying too hard. All this makes for an elegant, masculine, timeless look that many men can easily enjoy on their wrist.
The green-colored C3 Super-LumiNova on the hour markers and hands is richly applied, making for excellent darkness-viewing. Bell & Ross got the details right, such as matching the date disc with the dial color, and also matching the date (located in a small circular window between 4 and 5 o’clock) numeral font with the green color of the hands and hour markers. Bell & Ross certainly fulfills its promise in making the dial of this BR 03-92 look like something actually taken from an airplane cockpit.
Inside the watch is a Swiss ETA 2892 automatic movement, which Bell & Ross calls its caliber BR-CAL.302. It’s never really been clear to me why they rename their movements in their technical specs because the actual ETA movement used is referenced in the “92” part of the BR 03-92 name. The BR 03-93 watch would, accordingly, have an ETA 2893 GMT movement inside. The 2892 automatic movement is thin, reliable, and keeps good time, operating at 4Hz with about two days of power reserve.
Attached to the case is a strap that I am seeing for the first time on a BR03 product. Bell & Ross includes two straps with the Nightlum watch: a highly durable black textile strap, and a gray-green calfskin suede strap. It’s not only good-looking, but also quite comfortable. The strap has a black PVD-coated steel buckle, as ceramic might be too fragile for this use. Attractive and functional, the BR 03-92 Nightlum is a fashionable everyday watch for those who like the look of a square timepiece and who also get a kick out of a military or aviation lifestyle.
The price seems a bit high, but the Bell & Ross fit and finish quality always impress me, and the bottom line is that if you like the look of this timepiece, no one does it better than Bell & Ross (or even equally well). For an extended discussion on how Bell & Ross BR 01 and BR 03 watches can be more affordable alternatives to Panerai watches, listen to episode 38 of the aBlogtoWatch Spending Time podcast, in which I talk about just that. The Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Nightlum reference BR0392-BL3-CE/SCA has a retail price of $3,800 USD. Learn more or order at Bell & Ross here.