It often surprises luxury watch enthusiasts to learn that Bell & Ross is not only French, but less than 30 years old. The brand’s passion for quality and design eclipses that of many Swiss watchmakers with much more impressive pedigrees; indeed, it opened its own manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland in 2002. Bell & Ross is best known for timepieces inspired by aircraft instrumentation, especially its iconic square-cased watches with bold graphics straight from the cockpit of an F-35. Wearing one makes you feel like a fighter pilot, a large part of their appeal.
Bell & Ross, whose devotees include everyone from Robert Downey, Jr., Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gordon Ramsay, to the elite pilots of the French Air Force, is equally obsessed with speed on land, however. In 2016 they formed a partnership with France’s Renault F1 team, winner of both the Formula One Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships in 2005 and 2006, among other accomplishments, united by “shared values of high performance and high tech.”
This year the collaboration has truly come into its own however with the new Bell & Ross BR R.S.20 (for Renault Sport) Collection, comprised of four high-tech chronographs in black and yellow, and offering both square and round-cased designs. The top-of-the-line model is the 45mm BR-X1 Tourbillon R.S.20, which is priced at $194,000 and produced in a limited edition of just 20 pieces.
“These R.S. models showcase our expertise [and] our DNA and are in harmony with the design scope of our partner, the Renault DP World F1 Team”, explains Bruno Belamich, Bell & Ross’s Creative Director, noting that the watches employ the “latest technological advances and state-of-the-art materials” used in the world of racing.
“It seemed obvious to create a watch that drivers [for] the Renault DP World F1 Team would find useful”, Belamich says, pointing out that “historically, the chronograph has been linked to motor sports,” even before the introduction of the Rolex Daytona, the most famous of them all, in the 1960s.
The inspiration for the current collection included the Renault team’s 2020 F1 car, also dubbed the R.S.20. According to the official Formula One site, the wickedly fast wheels “will be tasked with the mission of helping the [Renault] team reclaim the fourth spot in the constructors’ standings that they conceded to McLaren in 2019.”
Another source of inspiration is Renault’s new R.S.2027 concept car, a vision of what the future of F1 racing could be like, complete with a 3D-printed transparent cockpit among other innovations—itself a tribute to the Renault RS01 of 1977, the brand’s original F1 car.
Perhaps most apparent in the design of the BR-X1 Tourbillon R.S.20, its influence can also be seen in the three other watches in the new collection, all “much more focused on design and graphics,” than anything Bell & Ross has produced in the past.
The steel-cased BRV3-94 R.S.20, priced at $4,400 on a rubber strap (or $4,700 on a stainless steel bracelet), is designed in a limited edition of 999 pieces, and is equipped with a bidirectional rotating bezel with a 60-minute scale which can be used to measure sprints and laps.
The BR03-94 R.S.20, priced at $6,500 and also limited to 999 pieces, gets an upgrade in the form of a scratchproof matte-black ceramic case. And the BR-X1 R.S.20, priced at $21,500, is a complex skeletonized chronograph limited to just 250 pieces and bound to be quickly snapped up by collectors.
Most recently the brand debuted the new BR 03-92 HUD (above), a tribute to the Head Up Display (HUD) found in the cockpit of fighter jets, with an automatic movement. It's limited to just 999 pieces for collectors worldwide.
You don’t have to be an F1 (or fighter jet) fanatic to appreciate the gorgeous design and impressive engineering of these watches, which manage to be both retro and futuristic. But you might just find yourself rooting for Renault at the next Grand Prix.