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A History of Bell & Ross at Matt Baily

by Marco 6 January, 2010 View Comments

In 2004, Bell & Ross was a sleeping giant. Matt Baily caught on early to their potential, and joined their retailer network in time to witness one of the greatest success stories of the modern watch industry. Now recognizable all over the country, it wasn't so when Matt Baily Marchand de Montres et Bijoux became the first Canadian dealer of Bell & Ross in 2004. The Montreal boutique remained the sole retailer to sell the watches in Canada until the introduction of the BR Instruments exploded their popularity in later years. As an employee of Matt Baily, I witnessed the company"s transformation watch by watch.

A Brief History of Bell & Ross Before Matt Baily

Bell & Ross started as a university project presented by Bruno Belamich as part of his curriculum in Paris. Belamich enlisted the help of his friend Carlos A. Rosillo and Helmut Sinn of Sinn watches, who manufactured their first designs. This collaboration spawned Bell & Ross, who's name is derived from the names of its founders. The pair produced several models which were eventually met with enthusiasm at the 1995 international watch fair of Basel. In 1997, Belamich and Rosillo strike a financing deal with a luxury product giant providing Bell & Ross with funds and manufacturing facilities in La-Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. Between 1995 and 98, the Bell & Ross watch collection included the record breaking Hydro Challenger (predecessor of the Hydromax 11000), the innovative Space 3, and a few other watches from the Vintage and Classic collections.

Matt Baily Presents Bell & Ross to Canada

In early 2004 one of Matt Baily's more active customers had spotted a limited edition, rose gold Vintage Jump hour during his travels. As Matt is known as a retailer of up-and-coming watch brands, he was asked by the client if he could procure him one of these peculiar, elegant, and little-known watches. Having seen and loved the Bell & Ross timepieces at a recent trade-fair, Matt contacted the brand's representative and arranged to become the first Canadian retailer authorized to sell Bell & Ross watches.

Defining the Brand Prior to the BR-01.

During the first year and a half that we carried the Bell & Ross line it was evident to me that the company would become successful. The manufacturer stated a clear philosophy that it upheld with every model they designed. Their guiding principles assured that the watches incorporated function, quality, and a perfectly balanced and easy to read style. The watches were backed by the highest quality service with prompt helpful replies to our customers' enquiries. Quick repairs and parts delivery made servicing clients a breeze.

The brand's image, propagated by a sensible yet steady flow of understated adverts, reflects what many think to be the essence of luxury watches: quality, function, and beauty. The uniqueness of the Bell & Ross persona plays an important role to the company's notoriety. Professionals from fields such as bomb disposal and aviation not only inspired the timepieces, but took part in designing them, and are the focus on many of the company's advertisements. Even with the advent of the BR-01 Instruments and their conspicuous style, Bell & Ross has not strayed from its original philosophy.

The Bell & Ross Instruments

The first images of the BR-01 Instruments that Matt brought back from Basel showed a big square watch designed to look like the gauges on aeroplane instrumentation panels. Judging from the success of other large military-style watches such as U-Boats or Panerais, we were all excited about this new concept. The look was new and cool, but there was something not quite right. Matt pointed it out. The original strap fitted on the Instruments was completely straight - without the shoulders and width that now integrate the strap to the case - and made of semi-glossy leather. It did not quite balance with the large, military style and finish of the cases. Thankfully, the straps were redesigned shortly after the release of the watches to look like the ubiquitous version that we know today.

Right from the start, the BR-01s were acclaimed. Soon after, Bell & Ross released the smaller, 42mm BR-03 watches in an attempt to bring the square Instrument look to a wider range of enthusiasts. Ironically, the BR-03 allowed many who were originally apprehensive about trying the 46mm BR-01 to work up to it and find that they actually preferred the larger size. Nevertheless, the BR-03 watches are often praised to this day as one of the best luxury sport watches available.

The success of the Instruments became most evident with the release of the first limited edition versions of the watch. Four BR models were fashioned using bright orange markers and hands. 250 pieces of each BR Orange model were offered to the public. Catalysed by Robin Williams wearing the BR-01 92 Orange on a network late night show, the the demand for all the versions quickly surpassed their supply. Nearly all 1000 pieces had been sold before leaving Bell & Ross. The success of the Orange Instruments sparked a tradition of limited edition Colour Instruments including infamous models such as the BR-01 Phantoms.

Bell & Ross Tackles Complicated Horology

One of the ways many watch manufacturers show their horological prowess, is by creating ultra complicated models. The BR-01 Tourbillon was announced at the 2007 Baselworld fair in Switzerland. Demonstrating the level of Bell & Ross' popularity and their status amongst the leading watch companies, all sixty watches of the limited series were allotted by the end of the fair despite the US$135,000 retail price. As always, innovative design and technology prevailed. The movement was conceived and produced exclusively for Bell & Ross by one of Switzerland's best reputed manufacturers of ultra complicated movements. The Tourb pioneered the use of the ultra-hard diamond-like-carbon coating (DLC) for watches, and incorporates unique features such as carbon fiber bridges on the movement. The BR-01 Tourbillon showcases Bell & Ross' desire to innovate and their commitment to their guiding principles.

 

Since the first Bell & Ross watch passed through the Matt Baily boutique, we have become enamoured - as many of our clients have - with the company's products and philosophy. The quality, service, and design that captured us, also explains the success enjoyed by the relatively young but established watch brand. Throughout the years we have followed the steps that Bell & Ross took to achieve their present status as an industry leader. We look forward to the surprises, innovations, and - of course - new models to come in the future.

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