It's midday on rue de Saint-Honoré, Paris's boulevard of chic, and inside a boutique called Colette a clutch of patrons has gathered by a display cabinet on the first floor to admire something. It isn't the latest gadgetry, a piece of rock-and-roll jewelry or the book of the moment that's tipped their hipness antennae. The coolest things in the case are an array of wristwatches with the look of gauges stolen from a Huey helicopter. The unabashedly utilitarian timepieces of Bell & Ross have trumped all fashion by pursuing its opposite, an instrument that puts function above all else.
The Bell & Ross BR02 and BR03 are the latest iterations from a brand created in 1992 with the help of space- and aircraft designers, who purpose-built and tested for such extreme professionals as bomb disposal experts, pilots and deep-sea divers, who likely don't shop at Colette.
The look of these watches—which can always be traced to their function—quickly became a trend, and in the last couple of years Bell & Ross has come out with a number of illuminated dials that are something out of sci-fi. The most popular has been a black face with black dials on the big, square BRO1—called the Phantom—which glimmers like a flashlight in the dark even though opaque. For those who want something a little less, well, dark, the dials also come in white, red, orange and yellow. They also came in blue, but the configuration was in a limited-edition BR01 until the smaller BRO3 and BRO2 were introduced a few months ago.
Like all Bell & Ross watches, the BR03 (which is the BR01 in a smaller—54mm—case) and BR02 are Swiss-made in the city of La Chaux-deFonds. The BR03 Instrument appeals to pilots with its distinct black finished square case, while the BRO2 is for divers with a rounder, softer design. The latter is water resistant to about 3,280 feet. Both come with automatic mechanical movements with hour, minute and second hands. The BR02 also gives the date and includes a unidirectional bezel in photo-luminescent blue. The straps are either rubber or various types of heavy-duty synthetic fabric.
The suggested retail price for the BR02 starts at $4,000 and goes to $22,000; the BR03 starts at $2,900 and goes to $7,600.