June 6, 2015
by David Bredan
While the Bell & Ross BR-X1 Carbone Forgé may have a cool, high-tech material spelled in the weirdest way possible in its name, luckily, that does not stop it from being one of the most visually striking Bell & Ross watches that I have seen in a long time. It’s not even just that, as I feel it qualifies as one of the coolest looking square watches as well.
I remember seeing entire streets in Basel during Baselworld 2015 being decorated with advertisements for the new Bell & Ross BR-X1 line – and while I sort of liked what I saw there on the images, I did want to wait and see these hands-on before forming a final opinion. Last week at the Couture Show in Las Vegas, we met with the brand and saw the Bell & Ross BR-X1 Carbone Forgé in the… carbon.
Forged carbon has been around for a few years now in the watchmaking world, and it is known for offering a different aesthetic but comparable lightness and ruggedness as that other kind of carbon fibre, the kind with the checkered pattern resulting from the layered fabrics used in its construction. Forged carbon is manufactured in a different way, as its irregular, unique surface (that you can see just above) is the result of how the countless short, string-like pieces of carbon fibre are “forged” into one solid piece, as they are exposed to extreme pressure and heat inside a mold. Unlike most other materials used for watch cases, forged carbon always means a completely unique and irregular surface – something that tends to work really well on more technical looking pieces, just like the Bell & Ross BR-X1 Carbone Forgé.
Bell & Ross mentions two other materials on the back of the watch. While the text reminds me a bit of a shopping list, you will find ceramic and titanium on there – and although rubber has been unjustly excluded, it also found its way into the carbon-titanium-ceramic case’s construction. The forged carbon body is sealed by a black PVD case back in titanium, while its unique silhouette is made complete by ceramic and rubber additions on the side.
All four corners, as well as the lugs and the rocking pushers are crafted from ceramic, which is an excellent choice if you want to ensure that the sides of the watch – often exposed to bumps – remain scratch-free for – well, forever, basically. However, these parts are often subjected to bumps as one is reaching for something, and the sides, corners, and lugs are frequently bumped into things – and because ceramic tends to shatter upon a harder impact, one will want to be a bit more careful.
What I find to be the most striking visual element of the Bell & Ross BR-X1 Carbone Forgé – beyond the cool and random texture of the forged carbon case and bezel – are the protruding pieces on the four corners of the square shaped case. The 45mm-wide case not only appears to have a larger footprint because of them, but the otherwise quite basic square shape also looks a lot more complex, high-tech and modern. Bell & Ross went the extra mile and made the chronograph function’s ceramic and rubber start-stop and reset buttons in a way that they rock, fixed to the corners of the case. The action and feedback remain solid, and the case, symmetrical – a genuinely clever design solution.
Fitted to the case is a wide and thick rubber strap that, contradicting its shape and the first impression it makes, is remarkably soft and flexible – it’s about time all brands started supplying their watches with rubber straps that feel and wear good even on smaller wrists. The black PVD steel buckle is a great match in terms of color and overall aesthetics, but likely not the best choice in terms of durability – buckles tend to take a lot of abuse, as they get in contact with basically any and all surfaces you lay your hand on, and PVD is known to not handle scratches as well as DLC.
The see-through dial, and especially the skeletonized top plate of the movement underneath it, lend the Bell & Ross BR-X1 Carbone Forgé a highly technical appearance, one that matches the forged carbon case perfectly. Because the indices and hands are both wide and long enough – what a relief – legibility remains good, with the only problematic part being the running seconds at three that, with its thin hand and indices, does blend into the busy dial.
The movement inside is called the BR-CAL.313 – a sight those really eagle-eyed (or just helpless watchnuts) will surely recognize from something we covered a bit over a year ago. This unusual top plate is part of a Dubois Depraz chronograph (and date) module, that has been installed on an ETA base: with its visible gears and date disc, screws, and X-shaped skeletonized bridges, it really does make for a great, and of course busy-looking dial. It also goes to show the remarkable torque of base ETA movements: carrying those massive hands plus a chronograph minute counter that (although made from featherweight aluminum) is of considerable weight is no small feat!
Despite all the high-tech case materials and sophisticated movement inside, I found the Bell & Ross BR-X1 Carbone Forgé to really stand out because of the design’s fantastic proportions, the selection and combination of materials, and the overall impression it makes when seen live. Such complex and modern designs are certainly not for everyone – that is a given – but for those who like contemporary, rugged, and masculine watches, the Bell & Ross BR-X1 Carbone Forgé has a lot to offer. The attention to detail, mixture of forged carbon, titanium, ceramic, and rubber, and the fact that even upon closer inspection, no corners appear to have been cut anywhere, all come at a price, and in this “carbone forgé” instance that is $23,000. Steep, but not unusual for flagship products, something the Bell & Ross BR-X1 Carbone Forgé undoubtedly is. bellross.com