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.
Held from the utilitarian case, which itself features a good caseback and miniaturized crown, is a vintage-inspired, curved sapphire crystal which resembles the oil crystals of yesteryear. Under this is the view’s detail-packed dial with a B-Uhr pilot-style triangle at the 12 o’clock position, a red inscription toward 6 o’clock position for “Army Form,” and faux patina beams throughout. The timepiece comes with an outer minute track with large printed indices and Arabic numerals climbing in increments of 5 at every hour mark, with a subtle, spherical date window at the 4:30 position hiding in plain sight. Powering the watch’s different hand configuration is your automatic Caliber BR-CAL. 302, which is based on the Sellita SW-200, and stores a 38-hour power book. The piece is now available online and via boutiques worldwide, priced from the brand at $1,990. One of the clearest historically derived details, you will observe the stainless steel case using simple satin-finishing, sized at 38.5-mm — that can be at least 5 mm bigger than the WWII-era watches it appears to be paying homage to, but nevertheless a size comparatively restrained in comparison with the generally large watches produced by the brand. You’ll also notice the pilot’s-watch-style 12 o’clock hour marker, a characteristic first developed in the late 1930s on German B-Uhr bits and which find their contemporary descendants in the Big Pilot and Mark XVIII from IWC, the Stowa Flieger Klassik, and many other watches. The final major vintage-inspired feature is at the tiny red inscription toward the base of the dial, a detail that was more common in afterwards, post-war military watches such as the Heuer-developed Bundeswehr 1550 SG (image above, through FratelloWatches) discussed in our coverage of the 1950s-derived Junghans Meister Pilot. Overall, the contemporary watch appears to be borrowing key attributes from ancient pilots watches such as the B-Uhr and Mark 11 (image below), while also taking on other military watch influences like people in the “Dirty Dozen” WWII bits and later military chronographs.
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.
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