At Bell & Ross’ booth at Baselworld this year, one watch clearly stood out among the others as “the A-list star”. That timepiece was the Bell & Ross BR 01 Airborne watch, a provocative new iteration of the brand’s extremely popular BR Instrument line that combines the seemingly contradictory impressions of foreboding and whimsy.
The foreboding aspect comes from the arresting skull and crossbones design that makes up the entire case and dial of the BR 01 Airborne. The 46mm square case is in stainless steel, with a serious-as-death black carbon powder coat. Interestingly, Bell & Ross created a case in which the dial aperture is skull shaped, and the crossing bones are integral to the case, but raised slightly above the base surface. This is a highly effective frame for the grinning skull face that makes up the dial itself, complete with hands that resemble skeletal digits – or curved swords. Cut the lights, and the Superluminova coated skull glows an eerie green. I’d call that part whimsical, in a slightly Halloweenish way.
However, this watch isn’t about cheap scares or novelty for its own sake. It was Bell & Ross’ intent to create a timepiece that would honor the valiant work of the 101st Airborne division, an elite group of American fighters who parachuted in behind enemy lines during WWII, contributing decisively to such epic battles as the Normandy landing and Battle of the Bulge. While their mission was to deliver silent death to their Axis foes, these warriors were often in at least as great a danger as those they descended upon, and casualties were always a looming possibility. As a result of this duality in every mission, the skull and crossbones became an omnipresent talisman of paratrooper divisions across the Allied forces.
Because the Bell & Ross BR 01 Airborne is clearly not designed to be a conventional or traditional watch, I don’t think its fair to judge it as one. Accept it for what it is, and the BR 01 Airborne becomes a unique and very cool timepiece that fulfills a specific niche in a sports watch collection nicely. While it does make an individualist statement up close, the BR 01 Airborne watch is quite stealthy much of the time – just like the descents of the paratroopers who put their lives on the line to keep the world safe from tyranny more than half a century ago.