The growing trend of vintage-inspired watches has been noticed throughout the industry, and one of the brands to respond is Bell & Ross. The company — which was founded in 1992 and thus has no authentic vintage watches of its own — has nonetheless always positioned its pieces as militarily and historically inspired. The brand’s hallmark square cases, seen on many of its watches, are themselves an homage to the dashboard instruments on military planes, and last year Bell & Ross released a wood-and-bronzed BR 01 inspired by antique marine clocks. This year the brand took its inspirations to a new level with the release of the BR V1-92 Military, part of its renewed “Vintage” collection, now in its third generation (picture below, courtesy of our friends at Monochrome Watches).
The watch itself cites no specific era or reference number for its inspiration, but it takes on design details from a variety of different time periods to create its distinguished look. Featuring characteristics from an array of styles from the 1930s through the 1950s, and of course also with many modern flairs, the watch appears to have remixed many fan-favorite features seen in vintage military watches and placed them in a straightforward, 38.5-mm satin-polished steel case.
Held by the utilitarian case, which itself features a solid caseback and miniaturized crown, is a vintage-inspired, curved sapphire crystal that resembles the acrylic crystals of yesteryear. Beneath this is the watch’s detail-packed dial with a B-Uhr pilot-style triangle at the 12 o’clock position, a red inscription toward 6 o’clock standing for “Military Type,” and faux patina accents throughout. The timepiece has an outer minute track with large printed indices and Arabic numerals rising in increments of 5 at each hour mark, with a subtle, round date window at the 4:30 position hiding in plain sight. Powering the watch’s distinct hand configuration is the automatic Caliber BR-CAL. 302, which is based on the Sellita SW-200, and stores a 38-hour power reserve. The piece is currently available online and through boutiques worldwide, priced by the brand at $1,990.
Among the clearest historically derived details, you’ll notice the no-nonsense steel case with simple satin-finishing, sized at 38.5-mm — which is at least 5 mm larger than the WWII-era watches it seems to be paying homage to, but still a size relatively restrained in comparison with the typically large watches produced by the brand. You’ll also notice the pilot’s-watch-style 12 o’clock hour marker, a feature first developed in the late 1930s on German B-Uhr pieces and which find their modern descendants in the Big Pilot and Mark XVIII by IWC, the Stowa Flieger Klassik, and many other watches. The last major vintage-inspired feature is in the small red inscription toward the bottom of the dial, a detail that was more common in later, post-war military watches like the Heuer-developed Bundeswehr 1550 SG (picture above, via FratelloWatches) discussed in our coverage of the 1950s-derived Junghans Meister Pilot. In all, the modern watch looks to be borrowing key features from early pilots watches like the B-Uhr and Mark 11 (picture below), while also taking on other military watch influences like those in the “Dirty Dozen” WWII pieces and later military chronographs.
The essential modern elements that Bell & Ross has worked into the watch include the choice of rising minute increments for the Arabic hour markers, the pilot-watch-inspired hand configuration now common in the “Vintage” collection, and the date window, which may have worked better placed at 3 o’clock, or even left off the dial completely, rather than hidden between other numerals. One of the most interesting contemporary features is in the size of the crown— while many vintage watches did have smaller crowns than those seen on watches today, the proportion of case to crown on the BR V1-92 Military actually seems smaller and subtler than on these vintage pieces. This design choice could have been to accentuate further the watch’s historical inspirations, but it is certainly unusual for a timepiece evoking older models to miniaturize, rather than enlarge, any elements.
As previously mentioned, this watch is not based on any particular model, but rather places its focus on bringing together many interesting historical details to produce a modern yet vintage-appearing piece. Whether or not this type of re-interpretation is desirable or not is a matter of personal taste, but on aesthetic value alone the BR V1-92 Military is, to me, a fascinating watch. The piece also represents, along with many other pieces in the third generation of the brand’s “Vintage” collection, a growing interest by mainstream watchmakers to cater to the growing market of retro-hungry consumers. It seems the trend is no longer limited to long-established players like Omega and Longines, or start-up independents such as Nezumi, but is expanding to all corners of the marketplace looking to ride this wave of horological nostalgia while it lasts.
For the most recent article in the “Vintage Eye” series, in which we compare the Omega Railmaster 60th Anniversary Master Chronometer 38mmto its historical predecessor, click here.
Caleb Anderson is a freelance writer with a primary focus on vintage watches. Since first learning about horology, he has garnered extensive knowledge in the field, and spends much of his time sharing his opinions among other writers, collectors, and dealers. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on many topics, and a casual runner.