While it may not generate the excitement of some of the splashier releases this year, Bell & Ross has just announced a subtle but meaningful update to its classic BR 03 collection. With eight new models, B&R announces the sizing down of perhaps its most recognizable watch, from 42mm to 41mm. We got a chance to handle the new collection, which includes four models each in steel and black ceramic, at this year’s Couture show in Las Vegas. While they may be smaller, they haven’t lost any of the spirit that has always made Bell & Ross watches stand out.
Among the new models are many familiar faces: black dials with white markings, the brand’s beautiful sunburst blue, and a couple of lesser-known dials, like the all-black Phantom, the Golden Heritage with its rose gold-on-brown colorway, and the Heritage with its brown-on-black. But the brand has used this opportunity to introduce two new models to the BR 03 collection. The first is a very tacticool olive dial in a black ceramic case, which the brand is calling Military. It has black markings and hands and a rubber strap coordinated to the dial; this one is green in renders and press photos, but there’s a yellowish hue that can come through in person. The other new variant is Copper, which features a vertically brushed dial with a polished blue handset.
The design and layout remain the same. For most of the models, stark contrast is the name of the game, and there was no issue with legibility except the aforementioned reduction on the Golden Heritage, and, of course, the Phantom, which offers a black-on-black dial that relies on the depth provided by the applied, molded lume indices (similar to the Military). The watches all feature the rounded Arabic numerals that Bell & Ross uses on almost every model, plus a 4:30 date window, the positioning of which is somewhat mitigated by its size and the vertical orientation of the text on the color-matched wheel. The blue, which you can see a bit more closely in this review, has a lovely sunburst that truly comes alive in the light, and the brown of the Golden Heritage is similar, though it should be said that legibility isn’t quite as good on the latter since the hands offer less contrast with the dial. While there wasn’t a chance to properly test out the lume, experience tells us that the black and vintage lume will glow more dimly than the standard Super-LumiNova, which on Bell & Ross watches is usually perfectly adequate if not exemplary.
OK, fine, you’ve got the dials sorted, but you want to know about this smaller case. Can 1mm really make a difference? It sure can. On a normal round watch, you can shave off 1mm from the diameter without touching any other dimension, but with a square watch, you have to keep it square (obviously). Reducing the length and width decreases the watch’s footprint twice as much as reducing just the width. The effect here is a watch that wears noticeably smaller but still retains the chunky square quirkiness of Bell & Ross’ Instrument watches. If you haven’t ever worn a square Bell & Ross (or any square watch, for that matter), it’s important to know that the design of the straps, which flare out to the full width of the lugs instead of the internal width, make the watches wear even better as the watches become part of a cuff, almost, instead of being allowed to stand out too much. I’ve tried a BR 03 with a standard strap and the wrist presence is entirely different and not one I would recommend.
While they may look the same, the cases actually differ a bit in size, with the ceramics measuring almost 1mm thicker than the steel cases. I can’t pinpoint why exactly this is true, but it is. It did not, however, have a meaningful effect on the wearability of the ceramics, but the 9.65mm-thin case of the steels is pleasingly slim. To accommodate the change in diameter, and avoid an even bulkier look, .5mm was shaved off the width of the individual lugs. Practically, this has very little effect other than keeping things in proportion. The cases all have flat sapphire crystals and 100m water resistance with pull-out crowns. Perhaps not surprisingly, the copper and Military dials really stood out for me, sucker as I am for less common colorways. If I had to pick, I’d go with the Military, as it’s so different from the other options; the blue hands of the copper, for me, were a miss.
One final change is the movement. While the caliber is still marked as the BR-Cal.302, based on the Sellita SW300, these are some of the first Bell & Ross models to benefit from the power reserve upgrade that Sellita delivered in 2021 when it introduced a new barrel and mainspring, increasing the reserve from a dated 42 hours to a much more acceptable 56 hours. Otherwise, it’s the same old SW300, thin and beating at 28,800 vph.
In replacing the 42mm BR 03 models, the new Bell & Ross BR 03 41mm watches will likely serve to broaden the brand’s base, bringing in those who may have been scared off by the prospect of a chunky, 42mm square watch (however well they may actually wear). The size reduction follows industry trends that have seen nearly every brand start to offer either smaller versions of existing models or entirely new models and, in some cases, both. When you consider the shift from 42mm to 41mm, it makes sense that Bell & Ross has discontinued the former case size; although this will attract a wider audience, this isn’t a substantially different watch like, say, a 38mm would be. While some may complain about the reduction, the style remains the same and while noticeable, there’s still quite a wrist presence—these are still the Bell & Ross watches you know and love. The Bell & Ross BR 03 41mm models start at $3,600 USD in steel and $4,100 USD in black ceramic. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.