Leaders / Watches

Why Size Matters at Bell & Ross

Bell & Ross Managing Director Fabien Nonancourt explains the momentous decision to release a slimmed down BR 03 collection, while also getting into other behind-the-scenes details at the brand

Feb 26, 2024 | By Ashok Soman
Bell & Ross
Bell & Ross Managing Director Fabien Nonancourt

When one thinks of Bell & Ross, two names immediately come to mind: Bruno Belamich and Carlos Rosillo, who are of course the Bell and Ross of the brand name. Of course, you are much more likely to meet Rosillo than you are to meet Belamich, for example, and there are plenty of watchmaking brands where only a handful of people ever speak with the media. One even. Bell & Ross is not that kind of watchmaker, as Managing Director Fabien Nonancourt reminds us merely with his presence!

Bell & Ross
BR03 Black Matte

Appointed Head of Sales in 2010, Nonancourt is no stranger to the press, retailers, and collectors in this and other regions. However, it was likely when he took on the General Manager (a term apparently used interchangeably with Managing Director) portfolio in 2017 that his public profile began to grow. While Rosillo is the CEO of Bell & Ross and Belamich is the Creative Director, Nonancourt’s influence is perhaps most strongly felt on the front end of the brand experience. He has been heavily involved in what the brand calls the “optimisation,” of its 600 points of sale worldwide and has most recently been engaged in developing the brand’s network of boutiques in Asia and Australia. As a member of the senior management team, Nonancourt is certainly in the mix as far as product development is concerned (he is part of the weekly product development meetings in Paris), as he is likely to be one of the first people to learn what people think of the watches and, crucially, to receive feedback from the sales floor.

On a recent visit to this region, Nonancourt went through the most recent update to what is arguably Bell & Ross’ most popular line, the BR 03. Literally a small change, we could not figure out exactly how a one mm difference could be a big deal – no pun intended. Nonancourt was only too happy to tell us how much of a difference it makes.

We are meeting on the occasion of a major change in size for Bell & Ross watches, specifically in the BR 03 so let us begin there.

We felt the demand from the market for smaller watches so we had to find basically the best compromise by reducing slightly the size but not giving up on the strong DNA of the BR 03, which is an instrument with a (strong) shape. We are debuting eight models, six of which already exist, in 41mm (42mm was standard for the BR 03 – Ed>. So this means we have two new designs and we think we have achieved the perfect compromise in delivering the new size. By the way, it is not just the size that has changed; we have made the watches more sophisticated and more refined. We have rounded the corners slightly and the lugs are a little bit smaller, as you noticed. So a lot of little changes make a big difference at the end of the day.

BR 03 Gyrocompass

Read More: Bell & Ross’ BR 03-Cyber-CE Hits All the Right Angles

A change in size is certainly a big deal for something like the BR 03. Tell us more about the challenges.

I mean, you can really say size matters, even if just 1mm or 1/2mm millimeter; you can clearly see the difference <and feel it too – Ed>. And I can tell you, Bruno Belamich did so many prototypes with the different sizes of lugs and trying to have different (proportions) also of the rounded corners to find the perfect shape. The straps are also different (a result of the lug-width change) and the buckle is smaller too. This (evolution) has been the result of intense studies and difficult choices because (as mentioned), these are very small differences that make a big impression. Remember that way back when, some people would tell us that they love the BR 03 (and the BR 01 too) but that it was too big, too instrument-like, and too difficult to wear. So that is why we have created in 2019, the BR 05, which is another interpretation of the flight instrument, but in a more urban way that is suitable for any occasion.

So, the BR 05 was partly an answer to those clients, who are from everywhere…it is not the case that it was clients in Asia who wanted a smaller size. The smaller watch trend is everywhere, even in the US where they historically have liked small watches (including Bell & Ross models now out of production). In the watch industry, there are always trends with regard to size. Before, it was for larger watches, now it is for smaller watches. I think maybe people now want to be a little bit less ostentatious with their watches. It’s a little bit strange because at the same time, maybe people are willing to spend more and more money on watches! The BR 05 (for example) is a luxury sports watch.

BR 03 Copper

Help us understand how and why you arrived at this smaller version of the BR 03. Did you want to surprise enthusiasts?

First of all, there was the choice of the size and that was the first decision (with regards to the BR 03). There was part of the team that was scared to change this historical model because Bell & Ross was known for the 42mm size. I think the strength of this product is to have a bigger size; I mean we had also the BRS collection that was 39mm and that was not so successful. So the (new size for the BR 03) was a big, big decision. And when we compared the 40mm prototype to the 41mm one, we felt better with the 41mm one.

Even though it was smaller (than the 42mm original), but you can still feel the strength of the instrument design aesthetic immediately. Also, a 2mm change is quite big on the square watch form <referring to why the 40mm prototype was not chosen>; we did show the 41mm prototype to (selected collectors and retailers) who said the 42mm BR 03 was too big and they liked it. (As I said), a 1mm change makes a huge difference in perception (with the specific Bell & Ross instrument style of watch).

BR 03 Copper

We don’t want to surprise people too much or to make a revolution. It is like, you know, the Porsche 911 – it should always be the 911; Porsche is not going to make revolutionary changes to the car. The BR 03 has been a bestseller for us since the beginning, and these watches will continue to be the bestsellers. People do not expect to see a totally new BR 03. They expect to see the product that they know but with some improvements, like we are now using the latest movement so we have a 54-hour power reserve.

As far as a surprise goes, we have the BR 03- 94 Blacktrack chronograph (co-created with designer Sacha Lakic) which is in the motorsports arena <see Highlights this issue – Ed>.

And a new BR X5…

BR-X5 Green Lum

This is how we work with Kenissi, which makes a tough and reliable movement for us in the BR-CAL.323. Our main priority in pursuing the manufacture movement was to be more present, let’s say, with those brands going with in-house or manufacture movements. I think here there is a demand from the market for manufacture movements…I don’t think that collectors are strictly looking for manufacture movements (per se). They’re looking for the benefit of the manufacture movement. Bell & Ross is a strong name (in watchmaking) known for its design (expertise) and we wanted to offer something with a manufacture movement…but not at crazy prices. Yes, the BR-X5 is more expensive than the 03 and 05 collections but not by (too large an amount) for an improvement in power reserve to approximately 70 hours. There are also other benefits, like extended warranties, that add value to the final watch (as far as benefits that manufacture movements offer).

So (the manufacture movement for the X5) was our first move and it has been very, very successful. We will continue to extend the collection to be part of the manufacture movement world (as Rosillo and Belamich have spoken about). I mean, this is not for tomorrow but it is part of the plan (for the future). (But the manufacture movement) will not be limited to just this collection…we plan to eventually bring the manufacture movement to the BR 03.

Bell & Ross Managing Director Fabien Nonancourt

Read More: Aeronautical Acrobat: Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Patrouille de France 70th Anniversary

For now, Bell & Ross also debuted the BR-X5 Green Lum in 2023, which uses the same calibre that debuted in 2022, but now cased up in a very special material that glows in the dark. Taking advantage of the BR-X5’s multipart complex case structure, Bell & Ross have used a special material called Lum. Interestingly, this material was used for the first time by Bell & Ross in a 2017 BR 03 model, the BR 03-92 Horolum; this magazine continues to hold a special place in its heart for the 2020 model, the BR 03-92 Diver Full Lum, which you might also recall, given its popularity. – Ed

Leaving the world of bold contemporary styles aside, Bell & Ross also has a vintage side that we are curious about. Tell us more.

BR-X5 Green Lum

You know, when we launched, I was not working for Bell & Ross at that time (the company was founded in 1992 – Ed). Bell & Ross launched its first vintage collection in 1997, and it was probably the first brand in the entire watch industry to launch a product called “Vintage.” Today, everyone is doing something vintage, but to launch in 1997 a brand new model that is called Vintage, not to have reissues of vintage watches, we were really ahead of the trend. I mean it was Bruno’s inspiration and his feeling of the market that led him to think that maybe we should do a revival of the designs from the 1940s and the 1950s. Bell & Ross was alone at that time to do this. In fact, the name “Vintage” officially belongs to us…Bell & Ross has a trademark on the “Vintage” name; others are now doing reissues from their own back catalogues but no one can name these watches “Vintage.” Initially, this really helped us stand out but today, now that everyone is doing it, there is not such an advantage anymore.

This article first appeared on WOW’s Festive 2024 issue.

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