Conceptual Watchmaking – In Conversation with Carlos Rosillo

The watch industry is a pretty old one. Granted, it is constantly evolving, and we often forget that the wristwatch has been around for perhaps about a century at best. The wristwatches that companies claim should be passed down the generations have probably only been inherited twice at most. Most of today’s watchmaking achievements build upon technical inventions and innovations from the 17th and 18th centuries.

While it is difficult to be truly creative and carve a niche in today’s landscape, the story of Bell & Ross demonstrates that it is not impossible. It is a French brand, influenced by German Bauhaus design, manufactured with Swiss expertise which is already an anomaly in the industry. Probably the most iconic player in its price bracket, Bell & Ross’ famous circle within square design is recognised over the world by watch geeks and the general population alike. Not bad for a humble venture that started as a university project just three decades ago.

We speak with one of Bell & Ross’ founders Carlos Rosillo to better understand how the aviation-inspired brand took off the ground, and what they have their eyes set on for 2024 and beyond.

Tom: If you had to break down the Bell & Ross story into different chapters, what would they be?

Chapter 1: Belamich & Rosillo – meeting Bruno Belamich in 1980 when we were 15, the beginning of our  beautiful friendship and partnership.

Chapter 2: “So, are you ready to jump?” – Bruno developed a watch as a graduation project and I immediately believed it. In 1992, we created the company.

Chapter 3: Bell & Ross – on 13 September 1994 which is coincidentally Bruno’s birthday, our first collection was presented to the public.

Chapter 4: An Icon is Born – Our legendary circle within a square, held by four screws was unveiled with the BR 01 (46mm) in 2005. 

Chapter 5: An Ode to Haute Horlogerie – Our high-watchmaking debut with the BR-X1 Chronograph Tourbillon Sapphire in 2016.

Chapter 6: Urbanisation – Evolution to an urban environment with the BR 05 in 2019.

Chapter 7: A Heart of Our Own – Our first manufacture calibre arrives in 2022, with the BR-X5.

Bell & Ross Aero GT concept of 2016

Tom: How would you describe Bell & Ross’ unique approach of conceptual watchmaking? 

Experimental concept vehicles have always been very present in the DNA of our brand. Designing watches for three decades does not prevent Bruno from expressing his talent in unexpected forms. In 2011, the Nascafe Racer Bell & Ross appeared, born from an association with Shaw Harley-Davidson. Then we saw the birth under his pencil of the B-Rocket, a motorcycle-rocket heir to the machines formerly intended to break acceleration records (2014);  the AeroGT, a concept-car worthy of the most beautiful Italian (2016); the Bellytanker, a shell shaped car straight out of speed contests held in the 1950s on the Bonneville salt lake in the United States (2017); or the BR-Bird, an aircraft designed to participate in Reno-type aeronautical competitions (2018). Let’s go to the Blacktrack, a motorcycle – and a watch – that looks like a stealth machine.

Each of these streamlined machines, are inspired by the brand’s historical source of ideas: the world of aviation. Bell & Ross has created timekeeping instruments designed to equip the drivers of these extreme machines.

Bellytanker concept of 2017.

Tom: What do you think are some of the most unique Bell & Ross concepts over the years? 

We have created two important sagas that have spanned two decades: flight instruments and the Skull.

Since 1994, we have proudly been the ultimate reference in the field of pilot’s watches. To varying degrees, we found in all watches our design principles inspired by aircraft cockpits and aeronautical instruments. Legibility, functionality, reliability, and precision are fundamental for every Bell & Ross watch. Our most unique concept may be the BR 03 flight instruments. Every year we launch a new watch inspired by the aircraft cockpit instruments. This collection is a great success for us and our hard-core collectors look forward to discovering it every year.

BR 03 Gyrocompass Instrument of 2023.

The Skull collection is also symbolic in more ways than one, and we enrich this concept collection over the years. True to our military roots, the Skull pays tribute to the courage of military combatants that operates in the face of death. It becomes a talisman designed to frighten the enemy and ward off misfortune.

Tom: What inspired the development of LM3D? 

Whether in a plane cockpit or on a diver’s wrist, a central challenge for any watchmaking instrument has always been a display that glows in low light to offer the best possible readability. We have chosen to take things a step further and explore a novel avenue of creative expression.

To this day, the concept of luminescence is usually applied to the hands, numerals, indices and dials. On our new watch, it is the case that glows in the dark in a fascinating way never before seen, with this new material developed specially for Bell & Ross.

For the development of LM3D, the approach was initially to find a material as bright as the Super-Luminova but in ceramic. The result, LM3D, is an extremely technical material, perfectly homogeneous in colour and remarkably bright. It is as strong and light as carbon fibre – 84% lighter than steel, and its properties last over time. The material can even be slightly polished to remove scratches and other wear and tear.

Tom: What other frontiers of watchmaking would you like to explore in the future? 

Bell & Ross is constantly innovating and evolving, as demonstrated by our latest new family launch: the BR-X5. We have been able to offer a vertical with manufacture movements for the first time in our core range. The union of skills, an extremely dear value to the company as represented by our ampersand logo, represents the combination of different but complementary expertises that allows us to continue to push the boundaries of watchmaking. In our Haute Horlogerie range, we have more freedom to offer unique and particularly interesting pieces, whether in the movement or in the details of the dial. Our sapphire pieces are a good example of this, in particular the BR 01 Cyber Sapphire Ice Blue we released last year. We have no limits when it comes to creativity; however, it is crucial to always keep true to our identity.

BR 01 Cyber Sapphire Ice Blue

Tom: Without giving too much away, what can we expect from Bell & Ross in 2024? 

Our plan for the coming years is to further enhance our pillars with a particular focus on the BR X5 range. We would like to continue to develop our international presence and maintain our icons (BR 03) and our bestsellers (BR 05) to meet our customers’ expectations. Also, since 2016 with the BR-X1 Chronograph Tourbillon Sapphire, we continue to develop our Haute Horlogerie range by combining prestigious watches complications, technical performance and our signature design codes.

Specifically for 2024, our goal is also to elevate the brand by offering more with manufactured calibres. If I had to summarise the year, I’d say: ‘black, is the new black’.