Bell & Ross Vintage BR126 Heritage: Flying in Circles


There are some things that you can tell with just one glance that you aren’t going to take a liking to. Like broccoli. For me though, it’s been broccoli and the Bell and Ross Instrument series of wristwatches. Perhaps it’s the oddly-shaped case that’s supposed to resemble a cockpit indicator. Admittedly I’ve not been in that many cockpits, but I’m not sure if modern plane-makers will stick a big old clock right in the instrument panel. I would have thought stuff like altimeters, flight speed indicators and compasses would be more useful to the pilot. But Bell&Ross thinks pilots need clocks. Maybe they’re right since the flights I take somehow always end up late.

Will not fit in small pockets

Which is a shame really, since B&R is obviously much more than a manufacture that just draws squares. They came up with the rather interesting Demineur, which despite a quartz movement, is a handsome and understated watch useful for bomb disposal. Now THAT’s a real instrument! Readers will also know that I have a soft spot for the Vintage 123 and 126 series of wristwatches, which are well designed and versatile timepieces of a good-size and (somewhat) decent price. It’s therefore good to know that B&R has been refreshing these lines in recent years and coming up with new ones that are not quadrilaterals, such as the Pocketwatch (PW) series they showcased recently at Baselworld.

Right now I’d like to talk about the Vintage 126 though. As mentioned earlier the 123 and 126 lines have been face-lifted recently – the dial markings have become more minimal – culminating in a simpler and less busy look. B&R have released several variations, but I was most impressed by the Vintage 126 Heritage.

The good stuff first. The Vintage 126 Heritage is a fairly striking watch from any angle. Black and tan has always been a good colour combination for watches pretending to be vintage, and it really shows here when paired with B&R’s matching leather strap. The manual tells you that the patina on the strap looks better with use, and you’re encouraged to abuse it as much as you can in order to give it an aged look. I can appreciate the rather heartwarming thought of aging together with your cherished timepiece, but not the point of buying something new just to make it look old. Weird.

The dial has been well-designed; although it packs a chronograph with a seconds hand and a date window, everything looks nicely spaced- out. Much of this has to do with the design of the sub-dials, which are completely unobtrusive. The marks and lines on these have been kept to a bare minimum, and interestingly, the circumferences of these subdials are actually formed by hollowed- out circles on the main dial itself. The end result is a very uncluttered and clean look. To appreciate this you only have to look at the dial of an AP Royal Oak Offshore, which has acres of space by comparison but still has to chop off bits of the 3 and 9 o’clock markers to make space for the chrono. Vintage buffs will also appreciate the raised watch crystal, which resembles the domed acrylic crystals of watches of old.

Now the not so good-bits. The carbon-blackened case comes from PVDing, which is probably just about the next most un-resilient method of turning steel black other than using a can of paint. Although there are varying levels of PVD quality, the feedback on several watch forums seemed to indicate that B&R’s is probably not anywhere near the top of that scale either. So a scratch on that otherwise smooth and well-finished carbon coat is really going to show, and show up very prominently against the matt-black case it will.

Not very pushy

The chronograph pushers could also be better constructed. When I first fiddled with the watch I couldn’t depress them no matter how hard I tried, so I thought the piece was defective. Then the sales rep had a go and he managed to push them in after heaving and turning blue. They’ve come looser now after some use, but I would really expect a bit better from B&R. I know very few people actually use the chronograph function, but still.

But these are small problems you can overlook for a watch that looks pretty darned good. B&R have taken considerable effort to replicate a vintage timepiece, and for most part, it’s worked. This is a neat watch with a handsome design that might just actually look better with age. Anyway the whole point of a pilot’s watch is to look vintage and transport the wearer back to a romantic age of aerial combat and exploration. In much the same way, the Vintage 126 Heritage transports us back to a better time in Bell and Ross’s history. To a time where the company did not make squares.




BR Vintage 126 Heritage, stainless steel PVD case, width 40mm, Movement ETA 2894 with 37 jewels and 42 hours power reserve. Screw-in case back, luminous hands and markers, scratch-resistant raised sapphire crystal glass with anti-reflective coating, tan leather strap with PVD buckle. Recommended Retail Price S$6700.00


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