New Bell & Ross BR02 Divers ¶
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Bell & Ross is best known for it’s Instrument series of watches, but they produce a number of interesting designs. It’s the price of their fame – the massive popularity of the Instrument has overshadowed a lot of their other offerings, which is a shame as Bell & Ross produces some very interesting watches - that aren’t square. One of my favourites outside of the Instrument collection is the BR02 Diver, a massive 44mm tonneau-shaped tool watch that stands out in a sea of ho-hum dive watch designs.
The BR02 is not a watch for shrinking violets. It’s massive. It wears bigger than the 44mm specs would suggest. It’s got a serious heft to it and it is sure to attract attention - think of an Audemars Piguet Offshore or Panerai Luminor, as the BR02 is in the same class of wrist presence. The shape is unusual, having short lugs and a wide barrel-shaped case that curves down into the flared rubber strap.
The design of the internal rotating bezel is what gives the watch its distinctive appearance. Instead of the usual external bezel that you rotate to count elapsed minutes, the 02 has a second crown at 2 o’clock that is connected to the graduated chapter ring under the glass. The internal bezel is turned via a unidirectional gear that clicks forward in one-minute increments. It all feels very mechanical. Once you set the bezel, you lock down the crown so it can’t be accidentally disturbed. Clever.
The raison d’etre of the 02 is diving, and in that respect it has the specs to back up the style. Stainless steel models are water resistant to 1000 metres and have a helium escape valve on the left side of the case. Both crowns screw down and have oversized rubber knurling to make them easy to manipulate. As with the Instruments, each BR02 is accompanied by a rubber and nylon strap. Another cool bonus is the box – every BR02 comes in a Pelican waterproof case. Not a Pelican-knockoff like some brands use – an actual Pelican, one of the toughest professional gear cases you can buy. They even come packed in the original manufacturer’s box. Sure it’s geeky and doesn’t have anything to do with the function of the watch, but still – PELICAN CASE.
The new series of BR02s, introduced at last year’s Baselworld show, is distinguished by their new dial and hand design. The original BR02 used the corporate Bell & Ross dial with large printed Arabic 12-3-6-9 and sword hands (a “Professional” model was available with simpler luminescent dots). The new dials have applied three-dimensional hours markers and matching baton hands. A date window is discreetly integrated at 4.30. It’s a nice look that modernizes the design while still being clearly identifiable as a Bell & Ross. The stainless steel watch features a carbon fibre dial while the Phantom PVD “Carbon” model has a black dial with charcoal grey markers. Both are standout pieces, with the Phantom taking the edge in stealth – it is less apparent on the wrist than the stainless steel version, which pops a lot more.
Aside from the new dials the design is almost identical to the original series. The case and crystal are unchanged, aside from replacing the bright orange HEV with a more-subtle black one. Caseback is still closed so no peeking at the movement, but that is to be expected on a 1000m diver. The straps are rubber and nylon, and I always recommend trying the nylon option – it’s more comfortable, lasts forever, and can be washed.
Want a cool diving watch with a distinctive design and loads of presence? The BR02 is hard to beat, especially considering the relatively reasonable price compared to most hefty divers in this category. If you want something with visual punch, go for the stainless steel model. If you want something more subtle and sporty, take the Phantom. Either way you are getting a very nice, functional dive watch from a respected brand. While Bell & Ross will forever be associated with the BR01 and BR03 Instruments, their BR02 is a superb design that warrants a look.