Bell & Ross WW1 Monopoussoir ¶
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The WW1 series has been garnering a lot of accolades for Bell & Ross. A break from their “traditional” Instruments, the WW1 collection has a unique style that ends up being a very distinctive dress watch. Styled to resemble pocket watches converted into wristwatches (complete with add-on strap lugs) the WW1s are quite unique in the market – the closest comparison I can think of would be the Panerai Radiomir with its wire lugs and cushion case. This year BR expanded the collection by adding several new versions, including the 42mm Argentium and Jump Hour models, and the 45mm Monopusher (officially called the Monopoussoir). These models mark a significant step upmarket for Bell & Ross.
The Argentium and Jump Hour models are only available in precious metals (silver alloy for the Argentium, gold and platinum for the Jump Hour) while the Monopusher is made of good ol’ stainless steel. Where most BRs utilize unmodified ETA calibres, the Monopusher uses a La Joux-Perret chronograph movement. This adds some credibility to the brand in terms of complication and cachet – La Joux-Perret is a well-known supplier of complications and modifications in the higher-end of the Swiss market. The calibre used in the WW1 is shared with the venerable (but obscure) Vulcain brand, which is famous for its Cricket alarm watches.
Like the previous WW1s, the Mono has a 45mm round stainless steel case with wire-style lugs and a narrow (18mm) leather strap. The design overall is tweaked to give a vintage military feel; this example is the Heritage but it eschews the usual black-and-tan colour scheme Bell & Ross has become known for. In this case the number and hands have dark, dirty beige lume applied on a speckled matte black dial. The case is polished steel (not matte PVD like the other Heritage models), and the strap is a honey brown calfskin with white stitching.
The WW1 is an “all dial” design with a very narrow bezel. It gives the watch a much larger appearance than you’d expect. The narrow strap also contributes to the top-heavy look. The Mono adds a pair of oversized subdials to the mix, in classic bicompax (3 and 9 o’clock) layout. It is clearly reminiscent of early wrist chronographs, which were bicompax monopushers more often than not. I especially like the rough look of the dial, which is similar to the finish on the WW2 Bomber. Looks properly patina’d, like it got some moisture in the case about 30 years ago. My only gripe is the bright white finish on the hands and subdial markers - it doesn’t match the rest of the dial and looks odd with so much contrast.
The case is the same 45mm round, simple item you will find on the other WW1 models (specifically the big date and power reserve versions). It has a high polish finish and a smooth surface that really does look like a pocket watch for the wrist. Caseback is unfortunately closed (as with all the WW1s) so you can’t check out the monopusher mechanism. The sapphire crystal is domed and has an anti-reflective treatment, as you would expect on a watch of this calibre. The crown is oversized and features a large integrated pusher for the chrono. Pusher action is surprisingly light, especially if you are used to the solid clunk of a Valjoux or Valgranges chronograph. A light tap sets the chrono into action, a second tap stops it, a third resets it to zero. It’s a shame we don’t see more monopusher chronographs on the market, as they have a charming old-world function and a much cleaner design (no extraneous buttons on the case). Chalk that up to the complexity and cost of the complication compared to a standard two-button chronograph.
The WW1 Monopoussoir sets the bar a little bit higher for the Bell & Ross brand. After years of making variations on a theme BR is clearly trying to move the marque upmarket with a series of more complicated models – not just with the Monopoussoir, but also the new Jump Hour series and a quarter-repeating 5-minute repeating Argentium pocket watch. It’s a bold move for a brand that has become known for producing rugged, industrial-design watches with off-the-shelf ETA movements. I certainly hope that the Monopoussoir is a sign of things to come, as it is a refreshing departure from the norm in general.