Pilots’ Watch Review: Bell & Ross BR 03-94 Chrono

Bell & Ross BR 0394 CU

For the pilots’ watch review in our March-April issue, on sale now, writer Martina Richter selected two three-hand pilots’ watches and seven pilots’ chronographs to accompany a trio of pilots – aerobatics champion Klaus Lenhart and his protégés Axel Schütte and Andreas Langer − while they performed an aerobatic program, specially designed for our review, in the skies above the Swabian Mountains in southern Germany. One of the watches chosen was the Bell & Ross BR 03-94 Chronograph Steel.

Lenhart, who is the owner and CEO of the German Leki ski-pole company, flew a sporty, single-seat Leki Extra 330 SC; Schütte, an Extra 300 L; and Langer, a Giles 202. The program consisted of 14 aerobatic figures, lasting a total of about five minutes. Including takeoff and landing, the watches were subjected to stress for about 20 minutes. They encountered g-forces ranging from +7 to –4. By comparison, a passenger aircraft banking for a turn exerts about 2 gs; a rollercoaster ride 4 to 6 gs.

We measured each watch’s rate behavior on a timing machine before and after the aerobatic flight. The pilot’s appraisal of each timepiece was also included in the overall verdict. In particular, the pilot judged each watch’s legibility under various lighting conditions during the flight, as well as passing judgment on its wearing comfort, user friendliness and reliability.

The Bell & Ross BR 03-94 Chronograph Steel reminded Schütte of a cockpit instrument. With its large hour and minutes hands, this chronograph looks like the coarse/fine altimeter in his plane, Schütte said. This resemblance is enhanced by the 42-mm-square stainless-steel case with four screws at the corners to keep it securely closed.

Bell & Ross BR 0394 Chrono

This watch looks quite handsome on a man’s wrist. Schütte was particularly impressed by its legibility. Large white hands contrast very well with the matte black dial. Good legibility is made even better by the large numerals 12 and 6, which work well with 60 white minutes indices. The case’s matte finish also enhances the legibility: only the edges of the case are polished, thus reducing the likelihood of annoying glare or reflections. The date is placed between 4 and 5 o’clock, where it doesn’t eclipse any of the minutes indices. However, the date display is somewhat small, so more than a fleeting glance may be needed to read it.

Of course, a pilot doesn’t check the date very often. He’s far more interested in knowing the exact time, and that’s one subject Bell & Ross has mastered perfectly. In our test, the fully wound watch gained 3.3 seconds and we measured its balance’s amplitude at 294 degrees. The rate was even better when the chronograph was switched on: the daily gain decreased to just 2.4 seconds, although the amplitude declined somewhat, to 286 degrees. The Bell & Ross was relatively unaffected by wild loops and other aerobatics. After the maneuvers, our timing machine measured a gain of 0.7 seconds and the balance’s amplitude was 274 degrees. These overall satisfying results were confirmed by a measurement we made 3 days after the flight, when this flight-friendly chronograph gained 2.6 seconds and its balance oscillated with an amplitude of 294 degrees.

“The Bell & Ross is essentially comfortable to wear,” Schütte said. The rubber strap holds the watch firmly on the wrist and prevents it from slipping or sliding, although Schütte said the rubber made his wrist perspire during the flight. The smoothly running crown contributes to the user-friendliness of the BR 03-94. To-the-second time setting is facilitated by a stop-seconds function, which instantly stops the small seconds hand when the crown is pulled outward. Operating the chronograph mechanism is a bit more difficult: Schütte reported that the push-pieces were a bit clumsy to handle and somewhat hard to operate. If you happen to press the wrong button by mistake, your measurement is not lost because the zero-return function is blocked.

BR 0394 Chrono side view

Instead of screws in the back, four screws in the front keep the monocoque case of the Bell & Ross securely closed.
Numerals, hands and indices all glow in the dark with a bright blue hue. The indicators’ large dimensions make it very easy to read the time.
The finely matte-finished case prevents glare and reflections. As is appropriate for a pilots’ watch, additional information about the model and its components is shown on the caseback.

BR 0394 Chrono night

SPECS
Manufacturer: Bell & Ross
Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds, chronograph, date
Movement: ETA 2894-2, automatic; diameter = 28 mm; height = 6.1 mm; 37 jewels; 28,800 vph; 47-hour power reserve; gold-plated nickel balance; Nivarox hairspring; Incabloc shock absorber; bipartite index fine regulation; decorated with Geneva waves and circular graining; blued screws
Case: Stainless steel with nonreflective sapphire crystal; water resistant to 100 meters
Strap and clasp: Rubber strap with stainless-steel pronged buckle
Dimensions: Diameter = 42 mm, height = 12.1 mm, weight = 149 grams
Price: $5,300

PROS:
+ Easily recognizable
+ Good rate results
+ Design
+ Legibility

CONS:
– Pushers are difficult to operate
– Strap uncomfortable in heat
– Date display is too small

Find eight more pilots’ watch reviews — including models from Breitling, Oris, and Tutima — in the March-April issue of WatchTime, on newsstands now.

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About Mark Bernardo

Mark Bernardo is the digital media editor of WatchTime magazine, responsible for developing and overseeing the editorial content on WatchTime.com as well as for WatchTime's tablet editions for the iPad, Nook, and Kindle. As WatchTime's managing editor, from 2006 through 2011, he has written about numerous watch companies from major brands like Omega, TAG Heuer and Piaget, to exclusive artisan lines such as Jean Dunand, De Bethune and DeWitt. Prior to joining WatchTime, he was the editor of Smoke, a lifestyle magazine for cigar enthusiasts, whose beats included cigars, watches, cars, wines and spirits, celebrities, men's fashion, and other subjects, and has written about luxury items for a variety of men's-interest publications, including Robb Report, Robb Report Motorcycling, Stratos, Worth, and Bloomberg Markets.

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