In designing pilot’s replica watches, there are three rules: legibility, legibility and legibility. What use is a tool watch you can’t read?
Bell & Ross copy, the French company known for its square, aircraft instrument panel-inspired watches, hasn’t always seen it this way. Alongside sensible pieces with black dials, white lume-filled hands and Arabic numerals – such as the black ceramic copy Bell & Ross BR 03-93 GMT announced earlier this year – it has also made pilot’s watches that were, by its own definition, little more than toys. Take, for example, the Turn Coordinator and Horizon iterations of the BR 01. Released in 2012, these were fun, memorable watches, but there was never a suggestion you might want to rely on one of them while actually piloting an aircraft.
Over a four-year period starting in 2010, top quality copy Bell & Ross introduced nine of these “Flight Instruments collection” pieces, but none stuck in the mind quite as long as the BR 01 Red Radar. Landing in 2011, it showed the time via a series of discs that mimicked the scanning motion of a radar’s light beams. Clearly it wasn’t a serious aviation tool, but it was a critical hit and, according to Bell & Ross, a commercial success. A moment of design levity that broke the conservative, really rather tired norm.
That piece has long since been discontinued, but today, a decade on, top quality copy Bell & Ross returns to its bloodshot concept with the BR 03 Red Radar Ceramic, a faithful update to that 2011 original.
The principle may be the same, but it’s not quite the same watch. The case, for starters, is a smaller, more wearable 42mm in diameter and now made of the increasingly ubiquitous watchmaking material black ceramic. The dial has two rotating discs: an outer disc showing the hour via a red passenger airplane and an inner disc showing the minutes via a fighter jet. On top of these is a slim red hand for the seconds, which skips around the dial like that radar light beam.
The effect is every bit as familiar and charming as before and, dare I say it, marginally more legible too. But in so gleefully abusing the rigid strictures of pilot’s watch design, Bell & Ross replica with black rubber strap has reminded us that tool watches, where form is typically obliged to follow function, can also be just for fun. Or for art’s sake, even.