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by Jason on 16 February, 2011
As part of our New Year – New Stuff theme (following up from the Marvin Malton post), this week I will be showcasing the latest items from Bell & Ross – the Vintage series of watches. Combining the distinctive Instrument dial design with the simple elegance of clean, round case, the New Vintage timepieces are a big improvement over the previous 123 and 126 models.
The Vintages are divided into three main collections – Original, Officer and Heritage. The Original is the simplest, featuring a printed dial that recalls the high-visibility Instrument design (with fantastic lume to match). The Officer dresses it up a bit with polished elements, applied hour markers and baton hands, and an alligator strap. The highlight of the range is the Heritage, which takes the colour scheme of the BR01 and BR03 Heritage models and translates them into the round Vintage style. All feature automatic movements, and all are 41.5mm diameter with angular cases and high top crystals that recall 1960s watches.
The Original is the most recognizable as a Bell & Ross design – the dial is a very direct translation of the Instrument. For years the Instrument has overshadowed the 123/126 series in sales and popularity. The Original makes a good go at winning over the people who like the look and readability of the Instrument but prefer a more traditional round watch. The dial is clean, easy to read, and very modern for an otherwise classic design. The case, shared with the other variations, features a brushed surface set off by a high-polish bezel. The real highlight is the much-touted domed sapphire crystal. It really does look spectacular. If, like me, you are a fan of vintage watches with high-dome acrylic crystals, you will love the BR Vintage series. You get the cool high-top style of an acrylic with the scratch resistance of a sapphire crystal – the best of both worlds.
Movements in all models are ETA calibres – a 2895 in the 123, 2894 in the 126. The 2895 is a workhorse 2892 series calibre modified for a sub seconds display at 6 o’clock, which fits well in the “vintage” theme of the 123. Additionally Bell & Ross integrates a date window just below the sub seconds, which adds a nice symmetry to the dial. The 2894 is Bell & Ross’ choice of chronograph movement, used in the majority of their automatic chrono models instead of the ubiquitous 7750 calibre. Featuring a bicompax layout (two subdials at 9 and 3 o’clock) it fits perfectly with the classic look of the Vintage 126.
The Officer takes the basic design of the Original and upgrades the details. The case is given a high polish finish all over, an exhibition back to display the movement, applied polished numerals and baton hands on the dial, and an alligator strap instead of calfskin. The dials are really spectacular. Available in glossy black or sunburst metallic silver, they completely transform the look of the design. Where the Original has a clear industrial-military influence, the Officer is a dress watch through and through. The silver dial in particular really stands out. It comes on a grey-coloured alligator strap, which looks odd in photos, but looks amazing in person. You really need to try one on to appreciate how elegant the combination is, pictures really don’t do it justice.
The Heritage has been the most talked about version of the Vintage lineup, and rightly so. The design is spectacular. It perfectly straddles the line between vintage (with a brown and black dial, simple hands, domed crystal, and nice tan leather strap) and modern (a matte black PVD coated case). I’d even say this colour combination looks better in the round Vintage than it does in the square Instrument. The Heritage 123 and 126 look good in photos, and even better in person. And just wait until the signature tan strap breaks in – after a few months of wear and tear it ends up looking like a baseball glove.
Overall the new Vintage series is a step up from the old 123/126 line. The details and finishing are markedly better, the design is excellent, and they finally give the Instruments a run for their money. If you like Bell & Ross and are looking for something more classic, more elegant, and more traditional, the Vintage line is a perfect choice. And if you are looking for a distinctive design from a smaller manufacturer that channels vintage elements without falling into the hokey-faux-retro trap, the Vintage series is a perfect choice. These are great luxury watches that bring Bell & Ross out of the shadow of their wildly popular Instrument. For years consumers forgot Bell & Ross also made distinctive classic designs – the new Vintages are a fantastic wake up call.