Available at Q2 2017, the retail cost is $64,900 USD.Bell & Ross has made a name for itself with its aviation-inspired timepieces. The newest proudly proclaims that onboard aviation programs would be its guiding force, and it’s been quite successful in incorporating the theme into wristwatches. These days, the square case and round dials of its BR aviation-inspired watches are instantly recognizable, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to state that the look is a modern horological and cultural icon. That said, Bell & Ross deny to be restricted by stereotypes, and its hottest watches see it drawing inspiration in the open seas. And in the words of Bell & Ross themselves, they’re “temporarily departing runways, radars and fighter planes” and heading for the open water.The fresh Marine Instrument collection is going to be headlined by three quite special, limited-edition watches.
He asks me (probably rhetorically), “what is the most important part of a wristwatch?” I’m pretty certain I know he needs me to state “the motion,” so I really do. “Yes,” and he proceeds to describe to me how the design philosophy of the BR X2 watch is all about eliminating what seems like the separation of situation and movement, rather melding it into one visual thing. Thus, with a steel movement plate between two thick layers of carefully manicured sapphire crystal, there is a transparent sapphire case that connects directly to the movement. The result is both visually stunning and quite novel.Bell & Ross does so completely for visual scenery – and it appears to work. When I last encountered a concept similar to this, it had been in the Piaget 900P (aBlogtoWatch hands-on here) that merged the movement plate and watch instance in order to generate the thinnest mechanical watch movement on the planet. Though the Bell & Ross BR X2 Tourbillon Micro-Rotor Automatic is actually thinner-feeling compared to the brand’s other square-cased “Instrument” watches, it is not about breaking dimension documents. More importantly, it’s all about looking damn cool whilst also being something movement nerds can reliably stand behind.Bell & Ross worked together with the Swiss movement manufacturer MHC to be able to produce the movement interior of the Bell & Ross BR X2 Tourbillon Micro-Rotor Automatic. The movement is, for the most part, simple (to get a tourbillon) and satisfying, supplying the time together with tourbillon as the moments indicator, and automatic winding via a micro-rotor which can be seen on the back of the motion. Bell & Ross utilizes their now signature ampersand emblem on the cage across the varying inertia balance wheel tourbillon mechanism. The tourbillon is decidedly wide in diameter in order to supply an expansive view on the dial.
Bell & Ross typically makes affordable, military-inspired wristwatches, which it does well. When the French watchmaker made complicated watches in the past, they tended to look, well, complicated. Taking a different tack is the BR-X2 Tourbillon Micro-Rotor.
Thin and conceived to have minimal case and maximum movement, it’s fitted with panoramic sapphire crystals front and back. The thick, bevelled sapphire crystals on both faces comprise more than half of the case height, offering a free and clear view of the movement.
The sloping sides of both crystals are mirror-polished, enhancing their transparency and letting more light into the movement. Clear gaskets on both side sit invisibly under the crystals, giving the case a respectable 50m water-resistance without obstructing the view.
Rather than enclose the movement, the steel case frames it, with the movement having been constructed to fit within like a painting in a frame. In fact, the movement and case appear almost seamless, with the narrowest of space between them.
The BR-X2 is a large watch, measuring 42.5mm both ways, but thin at just 8.9mm high. Though it is made of steel, the case feels like titanium, since there is little of it. The short lugs allow it to sit well on the wrist, while also accentuating its size.
The watch is one of the thinnest tourbillon watches on the market; there are only about a half dozen tourbillon wristwatches with cases below 10mm. Most of that height, however, is sapphire crystal.
The only fancy detailing on the watch is the tourbillon cage six o’clock that takes the form of the ampersand from the Bell & Ross logo. While that’s found on all of the brand’s tourbillons, a simpler cage design would have been more congruent with the clean lines of the watch.
Like the other tourbillon movements used by Bell & Ross, the BR-CAL.380 was developed by MHC Manufacture Haute Complication, a Geneva-based complications specialist formed by watchmakers from BNB Concept, a movement maker that was acquired by Hublot after going bust. Amongst other things, MHC helped build the Girard-Perregaux Tri-Axial Tourbillon.
The base plate and bridges of the BR-CAL.380 inside give it a square footprint with rounded cut-outs at each corner to accommodate the screws on the case. This allows the movement to slide neatly into the frame of the case, secured in place by four small clips on the back.
Measuring 36mm by 36mm, the movement is large but just 4.05mm in height. It’s self-winding with a micro-rotor made of a dense tungsten alloy on the back and a 50-hour power reserve.
The movement layout is intuitive, with the base of the winding mechanism visible on the dial at nine o’clock, while part of the gear train is visible on the back.
Though the watch is almost monochromatic, being almost entirely in different tones of silver, the varied surface finishing gives the colour palette nuance. Most of the movement is rhodium-plated and finished with a vertical brushed finish, though a handful of parts are sandblasted to leave a coarse, grained surface.
The contrast is obvious on the front, with the brushed base plate against the sandblasted bridge for the keyless works. And just above the base plate sits a sloping flange finished with circular brushing that holds the baton hour markers, which gently float above the dial. They are matched with frosted hour and minute hands, all of which are strongly legible.
On the back the aesthetic is identical, with vertical brushing on all flat surfaces, while bevels and recessed areas are sandblasted.
The look is crisp and functional, though smaller components are finished more decoratively. Gears, for instance, have their faces circular grained and spokes bevelled, while the tourbillon cage is brushed on top and polished on its edges. By no means artisanal, the finishing is eminently suited to the look (and price) of the watch.
Price and availability
The BR-X2 Tourbillon Micro-Rotor (ref. BRX2-MRTB-ST) is a limited edition of 99 watches, priced at US$64,900 or S$95,000. While that’s many multiples the cost of the average Bell & Ross wristwatch, it places the BR-X2 in the mid-price tier for tourbillons, mostly alongside watches from smaller brands like Manufacture Royale and Arnold & Son.
For more on the BR-X2 Tourbillon, visit bellross.com.