Bell & Ross reaches the zenith of its plagiarism with the BR126
Like most middle aged men with young children and a survival instinct, I spent much of the Christmas holiday holed up with my iPad in the bathroom — the only room in the house where, if you’re willing to feign an urgent bowel movement, you may manage to secure a few short minutes of peace and quiet. As I sat there, dreading the inevitable cry of “where’s Daddy?” followed shortly thereafter by the sound of little feet running up the stairs then a small boy kicking open the bathroom door, shouting “are you doing a poo!?”, I had the opportunity to catch-up on a bit of essential reading. One of the articles that I devoured during those brief moments of happiness was John Mayer’s thoughts on the new Bell & Ross BR126 over at Hodinkee.
You should definitely head on over and check out his full post when you have a few moments to yourself (cowered in the bathroom, no doubt) but let me give you a synopsis. Mayer loves the Sport Heritage BR126 because, he says, Bell & Ross “really looked past the price point and really broke the good design barrier on watches at this level.”
He loves the fake patina effect on the hands and markers saying that it adds “historical realism” while setting the tone for the watch as a whole. He praises the bezel noting that it borrows “the ultra-simple minute numbers and hashes from old dive watches of the 50s and 60s.” He even goes so far as to say that it gives the IWC Pilot’s Watch Top Gun Miramar “a run for its money.”
As I sat there reading the article through the haze of my Christmas hangover, Scotch vapours meandering from my pores, I found myself nodding in full agreement. Yes, at last, a Bell & Ross to get excited about. What a gorgeous looking piece. What a well-judged design. What a…*CRASH!* “DADDY, WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN HERE!?”
But later, something odd happened. Like an over eager school girl the morning after prom night, I developed a nagging feeling that I’d been duped, that someone had put his hand up my skirt when I wasn’t looking. Wait just a minute there, Mr Mayer, I thought, you’ve sweet-talked me into something I’m not entirely comfortable with. Bell & Ross you say? Really?
Although I find the prospect of disagreeing with a bona fide rock God — a man who also just happens to be best buddies with horology’s answer to Ben Afleck: Benjamin Clymer — a daunting prospect, on this occasion I feel compelled to.
My problem is this. Bell & Ross has only really ever made two kinds of watches. On the one hand, you have those awful square monstrosities, designed presumably to look like they were ripped straight out of a plane’s cockpit and then strapped to your wrist. Original? Yes absolutely they are. Because no other watch company would think of making anything as ugly. And I certainly wouldn’t think of ever wearing one. On the other hand, Bell & Ross also makes extremely nice looking, traditional pilot’s watches. The issue with the second category though is that they are always derivative of other brands’ designs. Bell & Ross, it seems, can do original & ugly or plagiarised & good-looking. Creating something handsome yet distinct has always seemed beyond them.
One of the words that crops up again and again in Mayer’s post is “borrows”. That’s another way of saying “copies”, “steals” or “rips-off.” While it’s fair to say that all watches are inspired by each other to some degree (there are, after all, only so many ways you can combine case, bezel, dial and sub-dials to create a watch design), with the BR126, Bell & Ross has truly outdone itself.
It’s all too easy to imagine how the design team put this thing together.
“Numerals. What should we do about the numerals?”
“Mais, René, let’s not tire ourselves out. Jean-Francois, grab the Panerai ad over there will you? That’ll do the trick. Let’s go for early lunch, oui?”
“Sure but we can’t just copy a Panerai. What about the bezel, can we do something original with that?”
“Hmmm…Can someone reach le catalogue Jaeger-LeCoultre from the top shelf? The DeepSea Chrono has something we can, er, borrow.”
“But, but, we can’t just steal bits from other peoples watches. We have to do something for ourselves. Shall we design some original looking hands at least?”
“An excellent idea, René! But let’s just have a quick look at the IWC Pilot’s Watch shall we to see if it ‘inspires’ us?”
“It’s starting to look like just a mashup of other well-known watches. Can we perhaps do something different with the sub-dials?”
“Of course we can, René. That is an absolument super ideé. But have a look here at the IWC Portuguese’s sub-dials. Pretty perfect, don’t you think? Come on, lets just pay homage to those.”
“Mais, non de Dieu! I insist that we add some sort of visual flourish to make this watch feel special. Some colour perhaps?”
“That, mon ami, is good thinking. What about a splash of red? That has always worked well for the Submariner…”
Hey, all jokes aside, Mayer is right. The BR126 — especially at this price point (it retails for about £3,000) — is a nice looking piece. And, considering it in isolation, you might have nothing but praise for it. The problem is that I can’t look at it in isolation. My judgement is informed by my familiarity with all sorts of other iconic watch designs. Borrowing or paying tribute is one thing. But with the BR126, Bell & Ross seems to have plagiarised on an industrial scale. The result is ultimately just a mash-up of other people’s ideas, a hodgepodge of details from other great watches.
It may look good, but there’s certainly no glory in it.
Originally published at www.theprodigalguide.com on February 3, 2014.