June 7, 2012
by Ariel Adams
When I wrote my Baselworld 2012 recap, I pointed to this watch as being one of my top picks from the show. There is nothing inherently novel or innovative about it. Nor does it represent a new design direction for Bell & Ross. Still, the piece is extremely appealing and well-done from a design perspective. So why is it still a top pick and great watch from Bell & Ross?
Between when this watch was debuted and now, Bell & Ross changed the name of this piece. The official name (now) is the Bell & Ross Vintage BR126 (BR 126) Sport. That little Sport part of the name was likely added because of the bezel – which currently isn’t shared on other pieces in the Vintage BR collection. For instance, in this article you’ll see images of the Bell & Ross Vintage BR123 (BR 123), which has the same case, but with a different bezel and three-hand, versus chronograph movement. Plus, there is a version of this watch with a polished bezel versus one with a black bezel insert.
I included images of the Vintage BR123 because it has the same style and is the time only (with date) version of this watch. Both of these models aren’t kidding when it comes to their “vintage” inspirations. Let me tell you why. While the collection does seem to be inspired by classic watches from 50-60 years ago, they are actually more inspired by Bell & Ross’ own history. Back before the BR01 (BR 01) collection of square instrument watches came out, Bell & Ross was much more of a “gentleman’s watch” brand. My first favorite Bell & Ross piece back in the late 1990s was the Geneva 123 and 126 models. You can see similar design notes on these models from the case and bracelet, to the dial and naming conventions. The Vintage BR collection is truly an updated Geneva and Officer watch collection that began early in the brand’s history.
The classic Geneva 123 model was about 37mm wide I believe. These new Vintage BR 123 and 126 models are up to 41mm wide. That isn’t huge, but is certainly a modern step up from sizes that wouldn’t cut it today as men’s watches. At 41mm wide they wear surprisingly well. The lugs are wide and the bezels are visually thin. This means that the pieces look larger on the wrist than they are. For me, the size is very comfortable and looks appropriately medium. Perfect as a daily wear. I want to stress that again. The design and utility of these watches make them extremely versatile. Casual or sporty, these watches really fit into most situations. Whether you prefer the Vintage BR Sport, or standard Vintage BR models, there are few occasions that don’t merit placement of one of these on your wrist. This is one of the main reasons the Vintage BR 126 Sport is a top pick watch – because it is so good looking and so versatile. In my opinion it is hard to spend a few thousand dollars on a watch you can only wear with certain outfits or only once in a while.
The high contrast of the dial mixed with a suitable level of polish is a testament to the details which Bell & Ross is known to pay attention to. I hear a lot of people complain that Bell & Ross watches cost too much. They don’t get the prices as they feel the watches are too simple. That is just the thing, the watches are often seamlessly appealing to the eye. They are classic designs with complex details that are hard to notice because they don’t stick out like a sore thumb. A new limited edition Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore will have an eye-catching dial filled with nuanced details and bright colors. The situation is just the opposite with Bell & Ross. The nuances are subtle, and more about refinement and tweaks versus boldness – especially in the Vintage BR collection. Everything from color shades to polishes are attended to in a watch that is supposed to define the entire watch versus small elements of the design. You don’t just notice the hands or the numerals, but the watch as a whole. It is an art to do this, and not many brands are able to pull it off.
The Vintage BR pieces have mostly polished cases with polished indicators and hands on the dial. In contrast, the Vintage BR Original models are more military themed with brushed cases and bracelets. Models like this Vintage BR 126 Sport have a bracelet with a polished middle link. The bracelet itself is very well engineered. It is hard to explain, but when you get your hands on it you’ll see how it isn’t like most other three-link steel bracelets. Over the dial is a sapphire crystal made to look like an old acrylic one. AR coating on the crystal is done well giving the dial a wide viewing range at angles. The case is water resistant to 100 meters.
The bezel is designed after diving watch bezels from the 1950s. Usually a watch like this would have a tachymeter style bezel, and I am glad that it does not. Unfortunately, the dive-style bezel is only for looks and to give another hour/minute scale. It does not rotate. That isn’t a really big deal, but having a moving bezel would have been amazing in my opinion. Dial legibility is really good and hands are all the right length. Inside of the watch is a Swiss ETA 2894 automatic chronograph movement. Bell & Ross retains the date, but removes the 12 hour counter to make it a bi-compax chronograph measuring up to 30 minutes. It is a very clean and attractive dial that for me looks perfect in black (other non “Sport” versions of similar watches have the dial in silver as well). On the rear of the watch is an exhibition caseback window.
In my opinion the watch looks great on both the black calfskin strap and metal bracelet. Though being a fan of good bracelets, I have to recommend that you go with that model if possible. This watch isn’t the timepiece to end all timepieces, but makes for a great daily wear. If you had just one nice watch, then the Vintage BR Sport wouldn’t be a bad option. I certainly want one. Plus, it is the type of design that will look good now or in 20 years. Price is $4,500 on the strap and $4,800 on the bracelet.