Bell & Ross has frequently looked to the world of aviation and motorsports for the design inspiration of their watches – for example, a lot of the dial layouts and design elements of Bell & Ross watches are based on flight instrument panels. The newly released Bell & Ross Vintage V1-92 & V2-94 Bellytanker watches are inspired by a racecar from the ’40s. The Bell & Ross Vintage Bellytanker series goes for a more calming and classic style and color scheme than some more aggressive Bell & Ross designs.
The name Bellytanker and the associated racecar actually have roots in the world of aviation. A Bellytanker is the name given to the external fuel tank of a fighter jet from the WW2 era. The idea behind these was to allow the flights to have an extended range, but once empty, could be dropped mid-flight and help save weight and improve remaining fuel economy. As a part of an aircraft, the Bellytankers were, by necessity, quite aerodynamic and this made their design applicable for racecars, specifically, for the kind of car designed to go very fast in a straight line in a place like the Bonneville salt flats. As a further tribute to these cars and that era, Bell & Ross also designed a concept car – a modern interpretation of the Bellytanker.
One thing that is particularly neat about the X1 series watches, even however, is that no matter how eccentric each layout gets, it still conveys Bell & Ross’ core layout language; this square 45mm case, screwed together at each of the four corners. And though this DNA does take through to the Bell & Ross BR-X1 Skeleton Tourbillon Sapphire, were it not for its instance signatures, this one could be mistaken for something apart from a Bell & Ross watch, because the key timekeeping cues (the hour and minute hands) were shrunken into the upper 12:00 region of the dial. While this does give lots of chance to enjoy the flying tourbillon’s motion against all the clear, negative distance from the sapphire, it does detract somewhat from overall utility and legibility in comparison with all the new pilot and instrument watches — something which other Experimental offerings have maintained.The steely gray lines of their 3Hz manually-wound BR-CAL.288 movement architecture cast a well skeletonized, industrial comparison against each of the translucent elements on the watch – even the strap is translucent rubber, which should make for some intriguing wrist shots. Part of the thought, aside from the novelty itself of a totally transparent scenario, is that the motion as well as the screws holding the case together are observable from about every angle. The only region of the watch that is not fully see-through is the large mainspring barrel itself, which provides 100 hours of power reserve, and is tucked conveniently behind the luminous hour and minute hands at 12:00, maintaining some level of legibility to get timekeeping.In keeping with the more exclusive traditions of the Experimental collection, just eight pieces of the Bell & Ross BR-X1 Skeleton Tourbillon Sapphire have been produced. However, this particular piece is now the most expensive of all of the X1 offerings – even beating out the BR-X1 Chronograph Tourbillon Rose Gold Diamond variant by a healthy margin – with an asking price for the Bell & Ross BR-X1 Skeleton Tourbillon Sapphire of $385,000.
Getting back to the watches, the Bell & Ross Vintage V1-92 Bellytanker is a time-only watch with a date function, while the Bell & Ross Vintage V2-94 Bellytanker is a chronograph. Both watches have a gilt metallic copper dial – a rather unusual but very appealing color and finish. It reminds me of the color of faux-patina lume that we see on a lot of vintage re-issues but much richer and deeper. Both watches have a steel case with a simple, familiar case design. The case has a brushed finish which gives it a utilitarian appearance, like a field watch or something you would wear to the racetrack – very appropriate for the context. The watches are rated to 100m of water resistance, and the V2-94 chronograph is even equipped with screw down pushers, a screw-down crown, and crown guards to maximize durability.
The differences between the cases of the two watches are case size, caseback, and the tachymeter bezel on the chronograph. The Bell & Ross Vintage V1-92 Bellytanker time-only has a steel screw-down caseback and is in a classical 38.5mm case size, which I think makes it suitable for multiple wrist sizes and all genders. The Bell & Ross Vintage V2-94 Bellytanker, on the other hand, has a display caseback and is in a 41mm case size due to a larger movement, busier dial, and the tachymeter bezel. Again, this is a nice size for sporty, vintage-looking chronograph.
The dial of the Bell & Ross Vintage V1-92 Bellytanker is simple and quite legible, with applied metal hour markers including Arabic markers at 12, 3, 6, and 9. The hands are polished steel and filled with Super-LumiNova for legibility in low light. A favorite feature of mine present in both watches is the counter-weight of the seconds hand, which is a simple triangle and seems to be designed to look like a delta-wing plane. Both the watches have a date window at 4:30 which, to be honest, I’m not a fan of and think could’ve been excluded. However, this is a personal preference and as far as date windows go, this is well done and the date wheel is in the same gilt copper color as the dial – no cutting corners with a black date wheel here. A finishing touch is a black minute chapter ring which adds some pop and contrast to the dial of the Bell & Ross Vintage V1-92 Bellytanker.
The Bell & Ross Vintage V2-94 Bellytanker chronograph shares a lot of the same features like the hands, the minute chapter ring, and date window. The main additions here are the two recessed, black sub-dials at 3 and 9 o’clock. The former shows running seconds and the latter is a 30-minute chronograph counter. Like the chapter ring, the sub-dials add some very nice visual contrast and also help legibility. The sub-dials replace the 3 and 9 hour markers, but the 12 and 6 Arabic markers remain and help fill in and balance out the dial visually.
The Vintage V1-92 Bellytanker is powered by the Bell & Ross caliber BR-CAL.302, which is essentially a Sellita SW300-1 (or ETA 2892-2). With a 42-hour power reserve and beating at 4Hz, this is competent, reliable modern movement found in more watches than I can list out here. The steel caseback has an engraving of the Bellytanker concept car along with the usual complement of text and information.
The Bell & Ross Vintage V2-94 Bellytanker chronograph is powered by the caliber BR-CAL.301, which is an ETA 2894-2. I discussed this movement in the Tissot Heritage 1948 Hands-On article here, but it is a modular movement based on the ETA 2892-2. Bell & Ross has slightly modified it to remove the third sub-dial but mechanically it offers the same 42-hour power reserve and remains just as reliable. The sapphire crystal of the display caseback is printed with a silhouette of the Bellytanker concept car. Unfortunately, Bell & Ross has not shared caseback images of the watches, but you probably get the idea.
The Bell & Ross Vintage V1-92 & V2-94 Bellytanker watches will be produced in a limited run of 500 watches each. They’re sized and designed conservatively enough to be daily wearers too. The Bell & Ross Vintage V1-92 Bellytanker ships on an aged brown leather strap for $2,300 and the Bell & Ross Vintage V2-94 Bellytanker is available for $4,400 on a brown calfskin strap or for $4,700 with a stainless steel bracelet. My personal preference would be the V2-94 on the bracelet. bellross.com