Held from the utilitarian case, which itself features a good caseback and miniaturized crown, is a vintage-inspired, curved sapphire crystal which resembles the oil crystals of the past. Under this is the view’s detail-packed dial using a B-Uhr pilot-style triangle in the 12 o’clock place, a red inscription toward 6 o’clock position for “Military Type,” and artificial patina accents throughout. The timepiece has an outer minute track with big printed indices and Arabic numerals rising in increments of 5 in each hour mark, with a subtle, spherical date window at the 4:30 position hiding in plain sight. Powering the watch’s different hand configuration is the automatic Caliber BR-CAL. 302, which is based on the Sellita SW-200, and stores a 38-hour power book. The piece is currently available on the internet and through boutiques worldwide, priced by the brand at $1,990. One of the clearest historically based details, you will notice the no-nonsense steel case with easy satin-finishing, sized in 38.5-mm — that can be at least 5 mm bigger than the WWII-era watches it seems to be paying homage to, but nevertheless a dimension relatively restrained in contrast with the generally huge watches produced by the brand. You will also notice the pilot’s-watch-style 12 o’clock hour marker, a characteristic initially developed in the late 1930s on German B-Uhr pieces and which find their modern descendants in the Big Pilot and Mark XVIII from IWC, the Stowa Flieger Klassik, and many other watches. The final important vintage-inspired feature is at the tiny red inscription toward the bottom of the dial, a detail that was more prevalent in afterwards, post-war military watches like the Heuer-developed Bundeswehr 1550 SG (picture above, through FratelloWatches) discussed within our coverage of this 1950s-derived Junghans Meister Pilot. In all, the contemporary watch appears like borrowing key attributes from ancient pilots watches like the B-Uhr and Mark 11 (image below), while also taking on other army watch influences like those from the “Dirty Dozen” WWII pieces and later military chronographs.
To begin with, the large 46mm-wide case, bezel, and crown are made using bronze. The choice of bronze is obvious as it is the metal that is most associated with the sea. In case you don’t already know, bronze is widely used in marine applications because it naturally forms a patina which protects the underlying bronze metal from corrosion. Look closer still, and around the periphery of the case is a band made of rosewood. Like bronze, wood is another material closely associated with the sea. And finally, the case back is made of titanium – again, a material ideal for marine applications as it is highly resistant to corrosion. It is also hypoallergenic, which makes it great for contact with skin as bronze has the propensity to stain skin.
The case is well-constructed and expertly finished, and the design is one that we have all come to know and love. It’s a simple design, but it is powerful and very attractive. And while it may be a big square case, it isn’t overly thick, so it wears quite well on the wrist. The wearing comfort was also aided by the comfortable brown alligator strap. The strap comes with a matching bronze buckle, which is a nice touch. That said, I think the large Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine case works best on owners with chunkier wrists. Like other BR 01 watches, the Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine is also water resistant to 100 meters.
The next thing that catches all your eye is probably the brilliant white dial, which is actually lacquer – an unusual dial material for Bell & Ross watches. What’s also unusual is the use of Roman numerals, railroad-style indexes, and blued pear-shaped hands, which pays homage to marine clocks of the past. These design elements give the dial an old-world charm, but it takes getting used to because the BR 01 case is usually associated with aviation-inspired designs, which tend to be more modern. Nevertheless, it’s a harmonious look, and I especially like the blued steel hands and the whiteness of the lacquer dial.
There’s a subdial for the running seconds at 6 o’clock, and in the middle of the subdial it reads CAL. 203. That would be a reference to the calibre BR-CAL.203 that beats within. It’s visible through the sapphire case back, and it’s a hand-wound mechanical movement. The choice of a hand-wound movement is apt because marine clocks of the past were also manually wound. It beats at 3Hz and features a suitably long power reserve of 56 hours.
Though Bell & Ross doesn’t say it, the BR-CAL.203 is likely the ubiquitous Unitas 6497. A tried-and-tested hand-wound movement that sees action in many other watches. In the case of the Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine, it has been simply finished with brushed and darkened bridges and blued screws. It looks very industrial, and if I were to nitpick, I would have preferred a more elaborately decorated movement to suit the rest of the watch. As it is, the dial of the Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine is definitely more intricate than most of Bell & Ross’ other offerings, and I think a more classically decorated movement with chamfered bridges, Côtes de Genève, or perlage would be more suitable.
The new Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine marks an interesting departure from the brand’s usual aviation-inspired pieces, and the end result is certainly intriguing, if not attractive. I don’t think everyone is going to be a fan of it, but if you like watches like the Ulysses Nardin Marine collection, then I think the Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine will be an interesting alternative, as it mixes the classic look of marine-inspired watches with Bell & Ross’ signature BR case. If you like the look of it, you’d best hurry because the Bell & Ross BR 01-CM Instrument De Marine is limited to just 500 pieces. Price is $8,700. bellross.com