Since it began in 2005, Only Watch has been a properly unique proposition in the world of fine watchmaking. Aside from an alarming abundance of alliteration, the previous sentence is notable for the relationship between the word unique and the auction known as Only Watch.
No other auction offers unique pieces, exclusively; all the watches are of course created specially for Only Watch. As we have written previously, Only Watch is very special indeed in bringing together so many watchmaking brands for a great cause. In 16 years and eight auctions, Only Watch has raised more than €70 million for Duchene muscular dystrophy (DMD) research.
Bell & Ross has played its part in the story of Only Watch since 2009, and this year it offers up a stunner, the BR 01 Cyber Skull Sapphire, that also syncs up nicely with its own history and motifs. If you are unfamiliar with the BR 01 Cyber Skull, you have been missing out, but you can fix that with our somewhat extensive examination of this striking watch late last year. If you’re short on time, here is the gist of it — the bare bones if you will.
If you know anything about Bell & Ross, you know the brand is deeply connected with aviation, and its timepieces are often inspired by planes, pilots and the history of powered flight. The BR 01 Cyber Skull fits right in, and so does the piece unique BR 01 Cyber Skull Sapphire.
The skull in the centre of the watch, which is equal parts dial, movement and even a bit of fun, is inspired by the fuselage of the Lockheed Martin F-117 Nighthawk stealth jet. It is also a paean to the heroic men of the WWII 82nd and 101st US airborne divisions, which means the watch is both a nod to the past and the present. The BR 01 Cyber Skull Sapphire maintains all this while adding a celebratory sheen and joie de vivre.
In the one-of-a-kind BR 01 Cyber Skull Sapphire, the skull is executed in orange sapphire crystal, which has the same faceted finish as the standard BR 01 Cyber Skull. Given that sapphire crystal is the second hardest substance known to man, this means that those facets were created and polished by diamond-tipped tools and diamond powder.
Diamond is the only thing hard enough to work sapphire crystal. This applies to the 43 mm case too because it is entirely in sapphire, turning the manual-winding calibre BR-CAL.206 into a floating visual wonder. This is amplified by the translucent rubber strap.
The skull here is made up of six sapphire crystal blocks while the case is machined from three blocks. In contrast with the beguiling transparent case, the skull is a lively orange, which Bell & Ross notes is both fitting for an aeronautical instrument and Only Watch, because it happens to be the thematic colour code this year.
The firm says this effect was obtained by way of orange metallization of the back of each of the six components of the skull. We look forward to seeing the watch in person this week during the Only Watch world tour. In particular, we will be looking out for all the facets you can just about make out in the visuals illustrating this story. The effect promises to be impressive in person.
Now, just like the BR 01 Cyber Skull, the skull is not just there to be gawked at. In fact, it is an integral part of the watch, with the movement beneath it shaped to match. Bell & Ross went one step further here and added an automaton that lends a little life to the skull. When the 48-hour power reserve of the time-only calibre BR-CAL.209 winds down, you will discover that the skull’s lower jaw moves as you turn the faceted grade 5 titanium crown to wind the movement back up.
To get a little more insight into the workings of the BR 01 Cyber Skull Sapphire and Bell & Ross’ long-term relationship with Only Watch, we went directly to the man with all the answers: Bell & Ross co-founder and CEO Carlos Rosillo.
Why is Only Watch important, and why did Bell & Ross decide to originally participate in 2009?
Only Watch’s unwavering commitment to raising funds for research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is commendable. It has provided us with a platform to do something incredible for society. We are sensitive to its action and to the extraordinary mobilisation around the research and the fight against DMD. We have received so much fulfilment professionally and personally during our years of establishment, it’s only right to give back.
Not every brand participating in Only Watch does so as consistently as Bell & Ross. Why do you maintain this level of commitment, and what keeps the partnership fresh?
Bell & Ross has supported the Only Watch project and its incredible fundraising efforts in the fight against DMD since 2009. We are now participating for the seventh time. This year again, we would like to mark our unwavering support [for] the victims of this disease: a will to commit and to act, translated by the realisation of a unique watch. We are putting our watchmaking expertise at the service of this cause.
We believe that consistency is the key to success. Not just for this good cause, it applies to many aspects of the brand like our design motto. Every two years, we get to create a unique timepiece, [one-of-a-kind] in the world, for the wearer. The possibilities to incorporate colours, materials, etc are aplenty. It is symbolic, inspirational and allows us to maximise our innovation and horological excellence.
We recently reported that breakthroughs in DMD are on the way, and clinical trials for promising treatments are coming soon. As a participating brand in Only Watch, how gratifying is this?
We see a ray of hope. It is through the participating brands’ support and commitment towards this good cause over the years, that allows us to see this beam of light. Without this consistency, it may take longer to achieve this. We are very thankful to be part of this meaningful initiative.
How, if at all, did the pandemic impact your view on Only Watch’s mission?
The pandemic has not curbed our intentions; it has strengthened our will instead, if anything. We realised the importance of coming together, staying together and working together in times of crisis. We can only achieve more when we are together.
How did Bell & Ross handle the challenge of the pandemic?
At Bell & Ross, we did not allow the restrictions to hinder our launches. We rolled out our launch calendar as normal and made use of a combination of channels to speak to our audience. We have our partners — media, watch collectors, and retailers, who churned out beautiful editorials. Then we have our social media channels to reinforce the message. The development of the Internet has been incredible during this time. Brands have grown closer to their fans and customers thanks to social networks. As customers could not travel, the search for information changed.
We have also noticed a clear reinforcement of the activities of the e-shops but, especially for us, the discovery of a direct mode of communication with our fans and our customers. An even stronger bond has been forged, with the sharing of the same passion.
This experience does not remain trivial, and we now continue to communicate in this way. In fact, we see this as an opportunity to allow [us] to renew ourselves as a brand. We are always looking to push the boundaries of design and function, and there are many new and exciting designs in the works. We also see this as an opportunity to adapt to greater challenges.
We were deeply impressed by the original BR 01 Cyber Skull last year. To set the stage properly for the Only Watch piece unique, let’s talk a little about the 2020 watch. A shaped movement with an automaton is a big deal, and it takes courage to bring something like that to market. Why create something like this?
In Bell & Ross, our first criteria is pleasure; the desire to do things, whether it is a new material or a new function. Together with this aspiration, we want to bring to the market a different Skull that emphasises on savoir-faire and workmanship. We wanted to go one step further and include a surprise that will make you laugh: the mandible moves and the skull grins back at you! But behind its provocative, symbolic and artistic face, the BR 01 Cyber Skull hides the secrets of an automaton watch belonging to the world of Haute Horlogerie.
Moving on to the BR 01 Cyber Skull Sapphire, we understand that the orange is inspired by the colours of Only Watch this. Take us through the decision to select the Cyber Skull for Only Watch, and why you decided on the defining characteristics here, including the sapphire case and the sapphire components of the skull.
Orange is also the colour for aeronautical instrumentation due to its high level of legibility and capacity for contrast. The Skull represents courage and strength, which is very apt for [the Only Watch] mission. Each element of the watch — the case, crown, skull, crossbones — is structured within the many facets that sculpt the surfaces, creating volumes and a 3D image. It is where watchmaking, design, symbolism and bold creativity meet. We wanted to work with clear lustre and elegant transparency to their fullest potential. Compounded by the brute force of the material, the aesthetic force of the timepiece merges technologies together. Machined by grinding using diamond powder meant the facets could be resurfaced, in the same way jewellers cut a precious stone.
On that note, the skull is an important motif at Bell & Ross. Tell us why.
We like to break the mould and think outside the box. In this vein, the BR 01 “Skull”, launched in 2009, was one of the first to ride the wave of the trend for skull watches. For us, it represents a timeless symbol and it all started in 2009. It is a key military symbol and the series of Skull watches by Bell & Ross pays tribute to these experienced and outstandingly courageous military personnel.
The skull symbol has been used for centuries, particularly by pirates. They considered it a talisman that brought them courage and frightened their enemies. It is also used by the military, as a constant reminder of their own vulnerability. These professionals often face death in the line of duty and this image appears on their uniforms and aircraft. It is a talisman watch above all.
For more watch reads, click here.