Archive for the 'Vintage' Category

Bell & Ross Vintage BR126 Heritage: Flying in Circles

Saturday, August 20th, 2011


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.

Vintage Bull: The Blood Sweat and Tears of an OLDmega

Friday, July 2nd, 2010



Vintage watches are cool because they were probably much harder to manufacture than stuff we buy nowadays. They weren’t kidding when they said blood, sweat and tears went into the manufacturing process! Just to clarify, a watch made in the 80s is not vintage, its just retro. Same applies for the stuff that got churned out in the 70s and the 60s; that’s just old. To be truly vintage you have to go back to a previous epoch when all watches were assembled by bleeding hands and child- slavery was the norm. Assembling a watch- movement then tended to be incredibly accurate when some guy was cracking a whip on your back! Milling and lathe- machines were different when they were powered by a hundred little runts shoveling coal into the furnace! Where’s the romance today where people just flick switches? Pah!

But yes, vintage watches are cool for all sorts of reasons. Let us now examine the blood sweat and tears behind this particular specimen I now hold in my grimey palm. An Omega manufactured in the 1940s, it is commonly known as a W.W.W. (Wristlet Watch Waterproof, Waterproof Wrist-Watch, whichever) that was ordered by Her Majesty’s Ministry of Defence to be supplied to its military forces fighting around the world. Judging by the serial number on the caseback, this one was probably manufactured too late to see any action in the last great war of the 20th century. It did end up in the possession of a British soldier fighting in the Malayan insurgency of the 1950s though, and I’ld like to think it saw some action against the commies in the dense jungles of Perak. The nameless owner’s fate is unknown, but the watch eventually wound up in a rusty cabinet in the Queen’s Malayan Garrison.

My dad was an immigrant from China – like most who made their way to Southeast Asia in the fifties, he arrived with not much more than the shirt on his back and a scrap of paper with a poorly scribbled address. As a young man in his late teens, he was determined to make his way in the world; he worked extremely hard, slogging and walking for miles, peddling what little items he had salvaged for sale. A popular trade to get into then for a migrant Chinese – I would imagine it was the equivalent of the IT profession then – was the sexy and revolutionary scrap-metal business. My dad would puff and grunt on his trusty single-speed bicycle, wheeling for miles with a ridiculously large amount of junk strapped perilously to its back. And one day in the late fifties, as he did his rounds, hocking and trying to convince housewives that a hollowed-out mortar shell made a good cooking pot, he came across a British army camp.

That camp was being evacuated as part of a gradual reduction of British troop strength that would eventually cumulate in complete withdrawal of forces from Singapore by 1971. Like any good scrap- dealer, my dad sensed an opportunity for a smash-and-grab. The camp guards had no issues with selling him some unwanted bed frames and cabinets, but it got expensive when other scrap dealers got wind of it. A bidding war erupted, and eventually all my dad got for his $10 (Straits Settlement dollars, mind) was two bed- frames, one metal rack, and one cabinet belonging to a certain A. Nameless Tommy. You can imagine his surprise and delight when he discovered that little trinket when he was cleaning out the cabinet later!

And this little 35mm wristwatch has been in my family ever since. It still works well, and amazingly, the luminous hour markers still emit a faint glow. If you don’t find that impressive or at least intriguing, I would tell you that my dad is 68 years old this year. The other interesting thing about it is that at least two authorities on vintage wristwatches have remarked that the hour and minutes hands do not appear to be original and have been replaced before, whilst my dad swears on his old bed frame that he’s never sent it for servicing, repair or replacement at any time ever. Perhaps there was some inconsistency in the assembly and manufacture of WWW watches? Let it remain an accident of history.

The basic design of the WWW watches was shared between all the various manufacturers that the MoD contracted to supply, and as such, it has been propagated through the decades and never went out of fashion. Recently, with vintage being in vogue again, Longines has reissued their version of the WWW (named ‘Greenlander’), showing how timeless the design is. When it comes down to it all though, all vintage watches will have their own fascinating stories to tell; of fathers, grandfathers, or some unknown soldier fighting far away from his home. One does truly feel a sense of wonder when holding on to this timepiece; of all the trials and challenges have the men whom worn it been through in a tumultuous period of the 20th century. Let this tough and unpretentious watch forever stand as a testament to their industry and ingenuity. Salute.

For information on these wristwatches, the webpage W.W.W. is compulsory reading. Soldier’s image courtesy of

Bell and Ross Military 126 (Vintage 126 Collection)

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

Just right after I posted the last article I got an email, which went

“Cher Monsieur tourBULLion,
nous avons trouvé votre critique de notres belles montres de mauvais goût et pédant et grossière. Nous absolutement insistons que vous direz des choses avantageux. Si non, nous vous excluons de notres fêtes légendaire pour une durée indéterminée!
Veuillez agréer, Monsieur, l’expression de nos sentiments les meilleurs,
Messieurs Belle Andros”

I think it basically meant,

“Dear Mister tourBULLion,
we find your tasteless and pedantic criticism of our beautiful watches extremely offensive. We absolutely insist that you say something nice about our watches or we shall forever ban you from our wild parties that are the stuff of legend.
Messieur Belle Andros.”

What! Meester Belle Andros, do you actually think tourBULLion can be persuaded into contravening our own views just for cheap invites to your parties, which are allegedly the stuff of legend?! I should think not, our journalistic integrity is irreproachable and you will find our resilience similar to a strong wall made of plaster and plywood. Which is why we have to reiterate that the timing of this review is a complete coincidence and something we have been planning for since… some time ago.

To the review then. In the mad excitement surrounding Bell and Ross’ recent stunning successes- all of which can be pinpointed to that veritable 10-ton weight on the wrist, the BR01 Instrument series and its offshoots- its easy to forget that their stable still consists of some real gems that don’t need funky coloring to sell.



The Bell and Ross Military 126, one of two limited edition watches in B&R’s Vintage 126 line, carries what’s left of B&R’s polarised reputation like a wounded squirrel protects its hairy nuts. Standing out in the mostly black and white Vintage 126 range with its bold brown dial and strap, the Military just avoids being too butch, especially if you remove the redundant leather backing. Now this is still a very manly watch, being able to project sheer masculinity with just a scanty diameter of 39mm. Only 39mm. The last time a 39mm watch was considered manly was in the 1950s.

Aesthetically, its a very pleasing watch to look at. A nice deep fudge-like brown dial and strap, making you wonder why B&R didn’t call it the Chocolate 126 or Buff Squirrel 126. Contrasting against the dark color of the dial are the nice white minute markings and the red Bell and Ross ‘&’ logo just above the six o’clock position. It’s certainly not new, having been around for a couple of years now, but the clean and very readable design makes the dial look contemporary and sophisticated without being too busy.

But the obvious comparison here of course, is against its own stablemates, the BR01 instrument-series chronos. The Military drops the 3 and 9 o’clock hour-markers and retains all the others, while the BR01 goes the other direction and drops everything except for the 12 o’clock marker and a partially concealed 3 and 9. So you’re getting more numbers on your dial with this smaller watch, see. Now that’s a great indicator of value. Hour-markers.

Bell and Ross Military 126, Stainless Steel Case, 39mm, 200m water-resistance; sapphire glass caseback, 42 hours power reserve. Movement: self-winding ETA 2894.

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