HANDS-ON: The Bell & Ross BR 01 Instrument de Marine – an eighteenth century take on their classic square pilot

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If Bell & Ross’s Skull Bronze implicitly referenced the golden age of exploration with its nautical case material, the BR 01 Instrument de Marine is far more explicit in its influence. This distinctive watch is inspired by marine chronometres, naval timekeeping devices that were crucial for navigation in a pre-electronic age – the eighteenth century equivalent of a pilot’s dash display. Mixing this extremely classical style of watch with the aviation instrument inspired BR 01 case is quite a stylistic jump for Bell & Ross, but oddly enough it works.

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Instrument de Marine isn’t a single model, rather it’s a nascent collection of three pieces. The BR 01 is the simplest, and I think, the purest option (there’s a chronograph and a tourbillon if you’re that way inclined). The 46mm case is bronze, with inset side panels of rosewood, with titanium details. Yep, you read that right – rosewood. Not the typical case material, but one that, in Bell & Ross’s square case, echoes the large wooden boxes marine chronometres were stored in. The wood might sound odd, but it’s quite a good look in real life, adding some warmth and texture to the watch. And it would be interesting to see how it holds up over time. On that note, I think this is one bronze watch with a brighter, less patina-ed look.

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The dial is another radical departure for B&R – it’s white lacquer, looking very much like enamel, with blued spade hands, small seconds and black printed roman numerals. In short it’s every inch the classic marine chronometre dial, of the sort used by everyone from Ulysse Nardin to Stowa. On the back you’ll find a clear caseback showing off the manual Cal. 203 – which appears to be a simply, but attractively finished Unitas.

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The Instrument de Marine is an unexpected watch from Bell & Ross: There’s no clear link to aviation (aside from the case shape) and the Roman dial are very much outside the brands usual wheelhouse. The wooden inserts are unusual, but not without precedent in the brand’s at times whimsical back catalogue. Having said that I was surprised at just how well the watch came together; the white, bronze and wood all look good together, and the mix of modern square case and traditional dial works well together. It’s still an instrument watch – but this time it’s designed for the seas not the skies.

Bell & Ross BR 01 Instrument de Marine Australian pricing and availability

The BR 01 Instrument de Marine, limited to 500 pieces, $12,700.

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