A chronograph is one of the classical wristwatch archetypes. It never gets boring and often these types of watches even get better over time.
Bell & Ross is no stranger to chronographs and its emblematic timers have significantly contributed to the brand’s popularity.
With the new BR V3-94 Black Steel, Bell & Ross adds a new chronograph to its Vintage collection. This means that it is more classically inclined than models in either the Instrument or the Experimental collections.
The watches in the Vintage collection are more understated than their siblings, but don’t underestimate their potent design: they tend to age well – like good wine – and offer a variety of details that brighten up your day whenever you check the time.
Bell & Ross BR V3-94 Black Steel: a restrained sports watch
Bell & Ross highlights the bezel with a 60-minute scale, which can be used to measure short periods of time. But I say don’t count out its usability as a diving bezel. While I prefer my diving bezels with minute marks, which I admit wouldn’t match with the BR V3-94 Black Steel design, the only thing really keeping it from being a nice tool watch for the amateur diver is that the bezel rotates bidirectionally.
A slight disappointment for the enthusiastic diver, but understandable as most people will use the bezel above water not below, making the bidirectional bezel far handier. Still a pity to some extent as the BR V3-94 has a healthy 100-meter water resistance, which is impressive given that while the crown is screw-in, the chronograph pushers are not. And it has a sapphire crystal case back.
While I wouldn’t blink an eye about taking this watch into the water, its tachymeter scale illustrates that it also has a passion for speed on land. This shows that the BR V3-94 Black Steel is at its core a multifunctional sports watch, but that’s selling it short.
The BR V3-94 Black Steel is proof positive as to why, since around the 1990s, sports watches have become acceptable to wear with a suit and tie. It stands out just enough thanks to its robust appearance, while the black dial and bezel prevent it from becoming overbearing.
Addressing the elephant in the room: does it look a bit like a Rolex Daytona? Yes and no. The Daytona’s design has grown into one of the archetypal chronographs and many brands have been inspired by it to create their own interpretations.
A case can be made that watch brands should create and not replicate. While this is a valid opinion watchmaking is also a business, the design of the Daytona is immensely popular, and the vast majority of people interested in high-end watchmaking don’t have deep enough pockets (or the right relationship with an authorized dealer) to obtain a Rolex Daytona.
Making watches that give those people more affordable alternatives is simply good business, although I do prefer brands that inject their models with healthy doses of their own DNA as well.
The BR V3-94 Black Steel is such a watch. While the case profile may indeed resemble the Rolex Daytona, it’s also different in many other ways.
With a diameter of 43 mm, there is also plenty of room for a well-proportioned dial. Bell & Ross has never had trouble delivering that, and the BR V3-94 Black Steel is no exception. The brand uses its aviation-style heritage to create a very functional dial that also possesses a timeless charm.
One of the things I always appreciate about Bell & Ross’ Vintage line is that sharp edges are not part of the design proposition. This allows the details to fit in easier while standing out, which the owner is also likely to appreciate.
One of those details is that none of the subdials cut into anything, creating a symmetrical look where only the date stands out. But even that is subtle: Bell & Ross went to the effort to make the date window round and the background black, allowing it to perfectly blend in.
Bell & Ross delivers the BR V3-94 Black Steel on either a stainless steel bracelet or a black calfskin leather strap. The latter comes with a small metal attachment that covers the gap between the case and the strap.
While it looks good, it also makes it look a bit more Daytona-like – also because it has the three-segment design of an Oyster bracelet.
For the metal bracelet, Bell & Ross avoided the direct comparison by going for an H-shaped link connected with inner squares. I have extensive experience with Bell & Ross bracelets and can confirm that while they might look simple, they always deliver a very high degree of wearing comfort.
I feel that comfort is an underappreciated asset: it is the worst thing to have a great-looking watch that is uncomfortable to wear so they spend the majority of their time in the watch box. That’s definitely not the case here.
The BR V3-94 Black Steel is powered by Caliber BR-CAL.301. This is an ETA 2894-2, which is, in turn, an ETA 2892-A2 with a chronograph module. While some may wish for a manufacture movement instead, using the ETA base keeps the price down has the added advantage of being a sturdy and reliable performer.
The ETA 2892-A2 powers quite a few Bell & Ross chronographs, but also watches like the Rado Hyperchrome Chronograph and some Chopard Mille Miglia models. In that light, I consider the price of the BR V3-94 Black Steel appropriate, especially given its thought-through design and my expectation that it will age rather nicely and gently.