Bell & Ross watches are known for being worn by The French Airforce, The Lafayette Escadrille team and other professionals of the extreme. However, the brand has been expanding its collections, as explained by General Manager Fabien De Nonancourt, in this exclusive interview at DJWE 2023.
OHLALA – You studied at the prestigious Ecole Centrale Paris. How did that lead you to a career in watchmaking?
Fabien De Nonancourt – When I was younger, I had a children’s book about machines and was always interested in how they worked. That’s why I decided to go to engineering school. Afterwards, I was offered a sales position at Tag Heuer. I love watches for their mechanisms and Swiss watches for their expertise and luxury, so I took the job. In 2010, I joined Bell & Ross. That’s how I became involved with the watch industry and never left it.
OHLALA – What inspires Bell & Ross’ distinctive square watch faces?
Fabien De Nonancourt – When Bruno Belamich and Carlos Rosillo – the Bell and the Ross – created the company 39 years ago, they were inspired by military aviation watches from the 1940s and 1950s. Then, in 2005, Bruno Belamich had a genius idea. He took inspiration from aircraft instruments and decided to put them on the wrist. That’s how he created the unique square design of the BR01. It’s black, like the cockpit, and square, like all the instruments you find in this part of the aircraft. You have the four screws that were used to fix them in the cockpit panel. On our watches, these screws work, of course. With our designer, Belamich, it’s all about function. There’s no gimmick, no decoration. It features a round dial with very legible information. Other brands might focus on making the pilot’s watch and, in a way, we have created the plane’s watch. The BR01 quickly became an icon in the watch industry and we’re very proud of that.
OHLALA – The BR01 Cyber Skull Bronze is incredibly unique. What inspired its design?
Fabien De Nonancourt – It all started in 2008 in France, when President Obama and President Sarkozy celebrated the liberation of the country after World War II. We decided to pay tribute to the first airborne division to jump over Normandy – the 101st US Airborne Division. On their uniforms, the paratroopers wore a kind of talisman – a skull with the logo ‘Death From Above’. So we created our first skull watch. We’re not trying to be fashionable. We wanted to pay tribute to those heroes. The timepiece has been so successful that, since then, we’ve made different versions of the skulls. The latest interpretation is the BR01 Cyber Skull Bronze. It’s very futuristic. Everything is angled like the plane, including the skull on the dial. We did it first in a black ceramic and this year we are launching it in a bronze case. It’s a really cool watch.
OHLALA – Your watches are designed with astronauts, pilots, bombdisposal experts and divers in mind. Who else wears them?
Fabien De Nonancourt – Anybody can wear our watches – anybody who wants to feel like these heroes.
OHLALA – What are you particularly proud of showcasing at DWJE?
Fabien De Nonancourt – That’s definitely the new line that we launched in October 2022: the BRX5. The iconic model that we launched in 2005 is a fantastic product, but it’s very focused on the aircraft instrument. Not everybody can wear it. It’s big and square and it’s difficult to wear with a suit. So, in 2019 we launched an urban version of the BR03 – the BR05. Take a look and you’ll still recognise the square design, the round dial, the four screws… In 2023, it’s time to revolutionise the design in a more robust, technical way. The case is more complex; It’s made of many layers and we’ve worked to make it lighter too. We’ve also decided to feature manufactured movement inside this incredible, technical case. We are proud to display this new line in Qatar for the very first time.
OHLALA – What’s next for Bell & Ross?
Fabien De Nonancourt – Next, there’s a new watch in the 05 Collection: the Golden Skeleton. It has a skeleton dial – with a transparent dial – so you can see the mechanism inside. It’s a limited edition of just 500 pieces.