IN-DEPTH: Bell & Ross think outside the square with the sharply styled BR 123 Aeronavale

IN-DEPTH: Bell & Ross think outside the square with the sharply styled BR 123 Aeronavale

Felix Scholz

The story in a second

Bell & Ross ditch the tactical style of the flight deck in favour of the formality of the parade ground.


Ever since I reviewed the surprisingly seductive beige dialled Vintage BR 123 way back in the early days of Time+Tide I’ve had a soft spot for Bell & Ross’s round watches. The Vintage line offers a solid platform for the design-oriented brand play with colour, materials and military codes. Don’t believe me? Look at the watch above, then compare it to the beige dialled version, and finally check out this blacked-out chrono. Same essential platform – three completely different results. The unifying factor? A link back to the world of aviation. In the case of the Aeronavale the inspiration is more parade ground and less flight deck – the distinctive blue and gold livery comes from the dress uniforms of French naval pilots – the Aeronavale.

The dial


It seems the French navy know a classic colour combo when they see one, because the deep blue and shining gold of the Aeronavale is a real winner. It translates well on the wrist too. The sunburst blue dial and applied gold tone markers and hands look sharp and stylish.


The matching blue and gold bezel (indicating elapsed minutes) seals the deal. Predictably enough, the date is the only off note here, while B&R get points for matching the date disc to the dial the placement is a little jarring. It would have been neater to place it at six, keeping all the elements on a single vertical axis.

The case


The polished steel 43mm case of the Aeronavale is, despite the size, quite a vintage number. The lugs are long and tapered, angling sharply down from the case to ensure the watch wears well on the wrist. The bezel juts out; adding to the interesting profile and the heavily domed sapphire completes the look.

The movement


Turn the watch over and you can see the BR CAL 305 through the clear caseback. This movement is based on an ETA ebauche and is machine finished, with a nicely signed rotor. In short, it’s exactly what you’d expect to see in a watch at this price point.

The strap


The BR 123 Aeronavale comes with two strap options – calf or alligator – and both of them are excellent. The watch is pictured on a blue ‘gator strap, with matching blue stitching. It’s soft and supple as you’d expect, and it gives the watch quite a dressy demeanour. The other option is the padded, painted blue calfskin (which you can see on the Aeronavale chronograph here), and for me this (slightly cheaper) option is the winner. It’s an unusual, but high quality strap that really goes with the bold blue tones of the watch, and isn’t the sort of stock strap you’re likely to see elsewhere. Then again, if the dial and bezel are already attention grabbing enough for you, or you’re in need of something more formal, the alligator is the obvious choice.

The verdict


The BR 123 Aeronavale is, in short, a really well executed watch by a brand that continues to carve out its own niche. It hits all the spots: Great looks, good quality and a solid price. Sure, it’s not breaking new ground when it comes to materials or movement, but it really doesn’t need to. It’s a bright and bold design that makes a pleasant change from the parade of monochrome monotony we usually see out of Switzerland. It’s also yet another example of Bell & Ross playing to their design strengths. Honestly, of all the watches they’ve released this year it’d  be a toss up between this and the Desert Type chrono for my personal pick. Of course, it you’re not into blue then you might need to look elsewhere. But who isn’t into blue?

Talking point

Have you ever seen a cooler calf strap?

Who’s it for?

If you’re looking for a good quality everyday piece that won’t blend in with the herd, you may have just found your watch.

What would we change?

The date. Cliché I know, but it has to be said. Bell & Ross are usually quite good with integrating dates, but this guy sticks out a bit too much.

Bell & Ross Vintage BR 123 Aeronavale Australian pricing

Bell & Ross Vintage BR 123 Aeronavale on calfskin, $4200, on alligator, $4450.