HANDS-ON: The Bell & Ross BR 01 Skull Bronze HANDS-ON: The Bell & Ross BR 01 Skull Bronze

HANDS-ON: The Bell & Ross BR 01 Skull Bronze

Felix Scholz

The story in a second:

The BR 01 Skull Bronze is the latest version of Bell & Ross’s bold Skull watches – and this time they’ve taken to the high seas for inspiration.

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Bell & Ross introduced their first skull motif watch in 2009 as a tribute to the Airborne Divisions of the US Army, especially those 101st Airborne of D-Day (and Band of Brothers) fame. A popular design for the brand, it’s been released in blacked-out and iced-up versions, and in 2015 Bell & Ross are continuing their skull narrative with the BR 01 Skull Bronze, a watch that’s less ‘death from above!’ and more “release the kraken!”

Memento mori

While using skulls on a luxury timepieces might seem like a punk-ish act of rebellion, there’s actually a long and rich tradition between skulls and timekeeping. Memento mori is a Latin phrase that translates roughly as ‘remember you must die”, and refers to artistic or symbolic representations of mortality. Two of the most common themes are skulls (for, you know, death) and, you guessed it: time. The BR 01 could be seen as a modern memento mori, reminding us that life is fleeting, and that the most precious resource of all is time.

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The joys and challenges of bronze

Aside from the photo-luminescent skull emblazoned in the centre of the 46mm watch, its most distinctive element is, of course, the bronze. (For all you metallurgists out there, the specific alloy used, CuSn8, is 92% copper and 8% tin.) Pioneered by Anonimo and popularised by Panerai, bronze is a material well suited to watch cases, in that it’s slightly heavier and softer than steel. But its main appeal is the distinctive oxidised patina it develops over time. This offers the functional benefit of protecting the metal against corrosion, but let’s be honest, the main take-home point is that it looks awesome, and that no two models will ever be the same.

The patina of a Bronze Skull depends on a variety of factors, including exposure to the elements and the habits of the wearer, which means each watch will be unique to its owner (though not quite as unique as the next-level Skull Bronze Tourbillon Bell & Ross have made for the Only Watch auction).

But this individuality comes at a cost. The atmosphere in a watch boutique could affect the metal, as could a fingerprint from a potential customer, meaning that Bell & Ross needs to go to special effort to ensure the watches are presented in mint condition for their clients. Each watch will be displayed in vacuum-sealed packaging, ensuring that whoever’s lucky enough to end up with the watch has the joy of leaving their own marks on the metal.

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The Jolly Roger

Of course, the combination of skull and crossbones (which cleverly integrate the case screws) and bronze, a common maritime material, instantly evokes the romantic image of the pirate, as epitomised by Depp et al. Bell & Ross are playing with something new here – frilly shirts and gold doubloons are a far cry from flight suits and fighter jets. The aged leather strap and stylised sabre and dagger hands only accentuate the swashbuckling inspiration behind the watch. But, somehow, it works. And while this ‘retrofuturist’ (to borrow from the Bell & Ross literature) aesthetic is well beyond the comfort zone of the brand’s core DNA of aviation, it’s still very much in keeping with the spirit of Bell & Ross: bold, distinct and individual.

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On the wrist

The 46mm square BR 01 case wears large. Add to that the unusual bronze case and the dial’s grinning skull and you’ve got a watch with massive wrist presence. It’s comfortable to wear, thanks to the thick calf strap and the very short lugs. And, given that bronze, when it oxidises, can leave green marks on the skin, Bell & Ross have done well to minimise the amount of bronze skin contact by using a titanium caseback and a bronze PVD coated watch buckle.

Bell & Ross BR 01 Skull Bronze Australian pricing and availability

The BR 01 Skull Bronze is limited to 500 pieces worldwide (six of them are headed for Australia), has a retail price of $9200 and is available from the Bell & Ross boutique in Melbourne.

Images by Kristian Dowling/Time+Tide Images.

Specifications

Brand

Bell & Ross

Model

BR 01 Skull Bronze

Reference No

BR0192-SKULL-BR

Case Size

46mm

Case Material

Bronze CuSn8

Dial

Black. Photoluminescent skull. Gilt hands. Gilt metal index underneath the crystal.

Strap

Aged brown calfskin, bronze PVD coated steel pin buckle.

Movement

Automatic mechanical. BR-CAL.302.