Back in 1992, childhood friends Bruno Belamich and Carlos Rosillo united over a shared passion for horology and launched their own watchmaking brand.
With Belamich a talented designer and Rosillo a finance graduate, the pair had the perfect combined skillset to turn their passion into a success story and, sure enough, some 25 years later, Bell & Ross is still going strong.
Inspired by aeronautical instrumentation and driven by an insatiable desire to create functional yet beautiful watches for professional use, Belamich and Rosillo are now the proud custodians of what has developed into one of the most respected military watchmakers on the planet, with astronauts, fighter pilots, armed police and special law enforcement, submariners and even bomb disposal divers using their timepieces when completing their missions. Here, we catch up with co-founder and creative director Bruno Belamich, to find out the backstory behind this fascinating brand.
MM: What exactly does your role of creative director entail?
There is not one typical day. My main role is to think of the collections, so I always dedicate a part of my day to thinking about what I want to do next in terms of design. However, this represents only a small part of my job.
The rest of the time, I am working on all the ‘communication’ that happens around the product and the models I developed: the brochures, photographs, website... everything! It takes an incredible amount of time to make sure that the world that we create for the brand is coherent and in line with the image we want to develop.
Last but not least, I spend a lot of time on the production aspect of the business. Once the watch is designed, I need to follow-up on the production process: the materials, the feasibility, the timetables... We use the combined skills and knowhow of master watchmakers, engineers, professional users and designers to refine each watch design into something exceptional.
How much do you have to think about practicality and how much can you let your creativity run free?
If you look into all of our limited editions, you will understand that they are the products of the boundless creativity and inventiveness of our watchmakers. Managing our own company, it is a luxury to be free in the creation of our timepieces. I even think that some of our models, including our iconic Instrument BR01, might never have seen the light of day at the time they came out if they would have been the subject of a study or an approval from the sales and marketing department.
This is one of the strengths of our company, and the consequence is that creativity is unrestrained and free from financial constraints. That being said, obviously we cannot ignore the reality of the market, and my partner, Carlos Rosillo, is often there to remind me of it. All my projects are submitted to him, and we approve them together.
What is your relationship with Carlos like?
We had this longtime dream project together. We both shared a common passion for the watch industry, and a common goal to create utilitarian watches suitable for professional use adhering to strict military specifications where function takes precedence over design.
I was naturally pointed out as the creative director and understandably Carlos became CEO of the brand. However, we consult each other daily for important matters and we work as a team – this is what I call the combination of expertise.
You’ve stuck with the same logo ever since the company was created in 1992. Was there ever any point when you considered changing it?
We immediately began reflecting on a logo to lay the foundations of the brand. I pictured it as extremely simple: pure, functional, reflecting utilitarian and timeless professional features, and capable of firing the imagination. It soon became obvious to both of us that we should contract our two names: Belamich and Rosillo.
This led to the selection of the Din and Franklin fonts, commonly used in the fields of aviation and security. As a final touch, the ampersand completed the logo, which forms the shape of a watch laid out flat. The circle surrounding the ampersand represents the case, with the hands at the centre. The ‘Bell’ and the ‘Ross’ form the two parts of the strap. The ‘&’ in the circle is the symbol that identifies the brand – a character often used in functional signage, it was chosen to symbolise the combination of expertise.
It turned out to be such a good choice that it has no connection with our names anymore. This logo was the first concrete manifestation of my functional training; it is evidence of the correlation between the spirit of the past and the modern brand.
How did your early fascination with Japan inform your later work?
As a teenager in the 1980s, I grew up in the midst of the technological revolution – a period rich in innovation and performance. It was also a time when the masters in those arts were bringing them from Japan. This is when my interest began and it explains my early fascination with that captivating country, which presented an insight into the world of the future.
What is it about aviation watches that appeals to you so much?
Our motto is ‘the essential is never compromised by the superfluous’. Military and aeronautical watches are probably the best examples of this principle. Why? Because they must answer certain simple principles: a military watch has to be readable at the first glance; it has to offer rigorous precision, whether it is mechanic or quartz; it has to be reliable and extremely solid; and its functionality has to be perfect. These four criteria became the DNA of Bell & Ross.
One of the best examples remains the creation of our iconic timepiece: the Instrument BR01. It comes from the simple idea to turn a cockpit instrument panel clock into a wristwatch, ‘From the Cockpit to the Wrist’. What you might not know is that the black case developed for this model is directly inspired by the dashboards and tools used in planes, especially military planes, the absolute reference. Indeed, most dashboards are black to minimise any light reflection and thereby optimise the readability of all the instruments and dials. Bell & Ross uses black cases with the same objective. It increases the legibility of the dial. At the same time, the black case gives our watches an elegant style that we believe is timeless and that will make them future classics.
What are the key ingredients to a good aviation watch?
Every detail has its own meaning and function. A good watch always starts with a precise function – it needs to answer to a specific professional need. So, I would say something that is functional, discrete, maybe minimalist. Today, it is the race to complication that matters. However, truth lives in the obvious, which is in the essential piece – a timeless style. It is a great challenge and great satisfaction when you get it. The BR Instrument collection has all the required qualities to become a classic: it has become an icon, it is unique, and its design doesn’t age.
What’s next for you?
This year, Bell & Ross embarks upon the world of the extremes, and focuses on the three favourite elements: air, land and water. Following our new advertising campaign and tagline (‘Watch Beyond’), our new collection allows us to place ourselves in the world of the professionals who work under extreme conditions, where a watch is an ally at every moment. With this campaign, we share our vision of time and highlight the accomplishments of the heroes who use and endorse the brand’s watches thanks to their readability and reliability. So we plunge into the universe of our heroes throughout all the new models.
Among the features, we are very pleased about our first professional square diving watch – the BR03-92 Diver. Offering water-resistance to 300m and meeting the requirements defined by international standard ISO 6425, the watch was designed for men and women whose professions expose them to extreme temperatures, violent acceleration or dangerous pressure.
We also aimed at combining the past and present through the launch of the third generation of our Vintage collection. Taking its inspiration from the history of aviation, this collection pays tribute to key eras of the great aeronautical adventure. This new Vintage generation has seen much innovation. A modern touch has been added by redesigning the diameter and thickness of the case and many of its details have been reworked.
We are also strengthening our partnership in the motorsport field by releasing a series of three new high-performance watches. This racing trilogy of chronographs is inspired by the steering wheel and driver’s dashboard of the new Renault RS17 F1 car and adopts a very sporty, yet sophisticated look.