Some 10 years plus ago, and before I really got more seriously into watches, I knew very little about B&R. If I am being honest, at one point I thought they were an also-ran US make! My education however has mercifully since improved! So, in fact the company is actually French, and founded in 1992 by Bruno Belamich and Carlo Rosillo who met at university. So, the more observant reader can now deduce the name’s origins!
I got a bit more up close and personal towards the end of last year when invited to their Burlington Arcade boutique in London. More precisely, this was to view two collaborative Bellytanker watches, initiated by The Rake/Revolution (magazines) founder Wei Koh. The watches are nicknamed after the post WW2 hotrod and speed record cars, their bodies being fashioned from discarded supplementary fuel tanks slung under the belly of a military aircraft. These of course were ideal as they were light – being made of aluminium, beautifully aerodynamic, and, importantly, cheap as chips – or fries! No doubt the racers of the day would use chronographs to time their races – hence one modern day connection.
B&W and Wei Koh in fact took this one stage further in that they identified a particular racer, Bill Burke, who raced using an ex-P51 Mustang tank painted yellow. So, one piece had a yellowish dial (Dusty) and bronze case, whilst the other had a steel case with more caramel hued dial (El Mirage) to reflect a dark “tropical” effect. These watches, whilst interesting, were aesthetically not really to my personal taste. As usual though, subjectivity is king!
Returning to the actual base watch, I was however interested. After chatting to the manager – the delightfully, and may I say elegantly named, Jean Falcon de Longevialle, we agreed to meet up properly when I was next in Town. This occurred a month or so later and after a convivial lunch we then viewed a curated selection back at the boutique.
B&R are pretty well known for their large, square and mainly black timepieces – based on the dials of French Mirage fighter jets. As a French business (but made in Switzerland) they have a significant Gallic market, including the military. I am not so keen on these signature pieces really, but the more conventional chronograph range was certainly of interest. At first glance the basic design looks rather like the Rolex Daytona – screw down pushers and similar case size and shape (but 41mm rather than sub this) to boot. The main differences are having a date window at 4.30, two rather than 3 sub dials, and a fixed black bezel marked in increments of 10 up to 60. Other aspects include; automatic movement (based on a modular ETA 2894-2 unit) – viewed via an exhibition back. Power reserve is at some 40 hrs and water resistance 100m.
Jean showed me several designs – but none really grabbed me. One reason being that I was sure I had seen somewhere a picture of a more retro version. After some discussion with staff, the model was identified and a lone one found in the boutique. This turned out to be the Heritage chronograph -reference BRV294, which is in stainless steel, has a black dial with lovely spear-like hands with sand coloured lume. Prominent numbers at 12 and 6 and batons elsewhere are attractive and usefully sized. The two sub dials at 3 and 9 o’clock cover 60 second and 30 minute timing. There is a minute and second track on the out dial edge. Lastly, sapphire crystal fore and aft – the latter revealing a mainly stainless steel view with the main bridge and large rotor sporting subtle Cotes de Geneve and Perlage type guilloche.
After some wearing and scrutinising I was delighted to buy. The only aspect that I would have altered is to increase the size of the date window – which is frankly on the small side, and move to either 3 or 6 o’clock for symmetry reasons. The watch comes with a bracelet which suits the watch well. That said, I am always keen to have an alternative look option if the fancy takes me. To this end I also chose a nice tan leather deployant alternative – as per the picture above. This did take a bit of fiddling as the sizes offered did not quite work with my wrist size – one too short, the other too long. So, Jean kindly agreed to mix and match the two sides, and perfection was obtained. Such agreement and flexibility is unusual and most welcome, and in the round costs little. Other brands please note!
Coming now to the present, I was passing the boutique recently and noticed in the Bellytanker window display a stunning yellow gold piece with a black dial, gold sub dials, hands, numerals and batons. I immediately went in to investigate further. Jean was away on a visit back to France but other staff were helpfulness itself. The watch actually turned out to be not in gold but bronze, and I was staggered by this revelation. For physics graduates the makeup is: CuAL7Si2! This apparently should not patina much unlike some other bronze watches.
The main watch underpinnings – so, movement, size etc, is the same as my watch. However, this version (ref BRV2 – 94) has a bronze and stainless steel case. The bezel looks cool – black with tachymeter graduations all in gold (er, bronze). A black calfskin strap with bronze butterfly deployant buckle compliments the watch perfectly.
The watch is being made in a limited run of 1000 and each boutique only have a few available. Would I buy it? For the overall package and price – most definitely! Did I? Well, but for already buying something similar 6 months ago, I would have proffered my credit card there and then! That said, it may have ended up a bit of a pain as conversations probably would have gone along the lines of “what a super gold watch – that must have cost a mint?” “ Well, actually it’s not gold……!” Also, but for that small date window, I would have probably given maximum marks!
Words: Karl Dennis
Photos: Karl Dennis