It was not too long ago in 2016 when Bell & Ross first became the official timekeeper of the Renault Sport Formula One Team. It has been a winning collaboration thus far, with the drive for improvement to the racing cars matching perfectly with the watches from Bell & Ross that are released as official team watches every year.
This year, the R.S. 18 collection comes to the fore, dressed in the signature yellow of the Renault Sport Formula One team and with the thematic emphasis of the design centered around the chassis of the Formula One car, an apt choice given the introduction of a radical change in the FIA rules this year.
Certainly much of the attention coming into the season has been about the introduction of the radical new “halo” device – a bar that wraps around and above the cockpit in a Formula One car in order to protect the driver’s head during impact.
Teams have had to redesign the chassis of their cars, in order to integrate the heavy high-strength bar made of titanium which weighs several kilograms. Despite the controversy over its aesthetics, the device has so far proven its worth in a crash at this year’s Belgian Grand Prix, in which driver Charles Leclerc was protected from injury in a huge pile-up between several cars.
With this in mind, its easy to see why the case material of choice among the three watches of the new R.S. 18 collection is titanium, since it is the same material that the “halo” is made from. Here, the perforated microblasted titanium case is not only light and strong, but also lends an understated and modern look to the watches, with its matte appearance that is all business and no nonsense.
As well, a new strap has been developed for this series of the three R.S.18 chronographs. Made from black perforated rubber, the new strap offers, by virtue of several tapering rows of vents, a high level of breathability and comfort.
As befits a motorsport centric collection, all the watches are chronographs and use as their basis, well-known and proven models from Bell & Ross, including the BR 03-94, BR-X1 and BR-X1 Chronograph Tourbillon. These represent the different tiers in terms of price and prestige of the chronographs offered by the brand, a notable and welcome move in allowing the widest possible inclusion of motorsport and/or Bell & Ross fans to partake in.
In fact it’s worth noting that the 2016 R.S. 16 collection featured only the BR-X1 and BR-X1 Tourbillon Chronograph in Forged Carbon, while the 2017 R.S. 17 collection added to these as well, a ceramic cased BR 03-94 for the first time. It’s good to see therefore that the BR 03-94 is included again in the new R.S. 18 collection, not only in allowing a complete representation of all the chronographs available, but also offering an affordably priced option.
The crown jewel of the collection however is most certainly the BR-X1 Tourbillon Chronograph R.S.18, which is a mono-pusher column wheel chronograph with flying tourbillon. First launched in 2015, this is certainly one of the best in-house movements from Bell & Ross, with a whole host of drool-worthy technical features.
Because this is a mono-pusher chronograph, one uses the pusher at the normal 2 o’clock position for all chronograph operations, including start, stop and reset. For visual balance, what appears to be a pusher at 4 o’clock is more a crown guard, integrated into the design of the case. For optimum ergonomics in operation, the watch has a yellow rubber thumb grip on the opposite side of the case – a distinctive touch, both visually and in use.
Movement wise, this chronograph does not have a centrally mounted chronograph seconds hand as can be seen in most chronographs and instead goes for a simpler solution that makes the dial cleaner in appearance. It indicates elapsed seconds via a 60-second counter at 1 o’clock, with a 30-minute counter at 11 o’clock indicating elapsed minutes. These two counters are visually distinct from the rest of the watch, and ringed in yellow for the former and red for the latter.
Further adding to the appeal is the skeletonized dial, allowing a view to the movement’s column wheel visible just under the 12 o’clock index. This is notable since dial side column wheels are not as common as rear side ones, and is an advantage in this case, since the chronograph related parts are visible during the start, stop and reset phases of its operation.
Finally, there is a power reserve indicator, discreetly positioned at 9 o’clock and indicating the 4 day power reserve of the movement that is attained via handwinding. Incidentally, it is because this is a handwound movement without an automatic rotor getting in the way that allows the gear train to be visible via the case back.
The highlight technical feature of this watch however is no doubt the flying tourbillon that stands proudly at the 6 o’clock position. Differing from a standard tourbillon, a flying tourbillon is only supported by a bottom bridge as opposed to a top and bottom bridge, creating the visible effect of floating in the movement. The cage is decorated with the ampersand logo of Bell & Ross, completing one revolution every minute, and with the highly visible parts that made up the tourbillon – the escape and balance wheels – all choreographed in a stunning mechanical spectacle.
The BR-X1 Chronograph Tourbillon R.S.18 comes in a limited edition of 20 pieces. The other two watches in the collection, the BR-X1 R.S.18 and the BR 03-94 R.S.18 come in limited editions of 250 pieces and 999 pieces, respectively.