Bell and Ross BR 03-92 Diver
Introduced in 2017, the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver is not the brand’s first dive watch, but it is the first dive watch in their iconic square case. It is, in my opinion, a great success in balancing various design elements and themes as well as boldness and wearability. “Balance” is a word that I kept returning to when considering different aspects of the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver. The result is a solid, refined dive watch with a look and character quite unlike any other I know of, and it is just plain fun to wear.
No matter how good, satisfying, or original a brand’s watches are, a genuinely “iconic” model is something most watch brands will never be able to convincingly claim – by its very nature the term can be accurately applicable to only a limited number of watches. I try to avoid even using the word, but I think many watch enthusiasts will agree that Bell & Ross’ square-cased, aviation-themed watches based on the dashboard instruments of old airplanes will qualify. The design is strongly associated with and rooted in aviation, but Bell & Ross has branched out to plenty of other genres or styles with the square case as the foundation. While the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver could get lost among so many other variations on the theme, taken alone it is successful as a compelling dive watch.
There are several Bell & Ross collections that use essentially the same basic case design but in different sizes (and each with different models). The BR 01 is a wrist-eclipsing (for me, anyway) 47mm, the BR 03 like the one reviewed here is 42mm, and the BR S is 39mm. The BR X watches are Bell & Ross’ “Experimental” collection that also use some variation of the square case but with generally more elaborate constructions, avant-garde designs, and haute complications (hands-on example here with the Bell & Ross BR X2 Tourbillon Micro-Rotor). There are divers in other collections – and there have been more in the past, such as the BR 02 – but, again, the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver is the first diver in the square case.
You will have to be the final judge as to whether Bell & Ross got it right with the BR 03-92 Diver – and I recommend you try it on first – but my judgement after wearing it almost daily for a couple weeks is that they did. The Bell & Ross case is immediately identifiable as such, but the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver is also just a serious-looking dive watch. It further manages to play the part of a bold-wearing luxury sport watch with an aggressive presence – and at the same time, it looks purposeful and down-to-earth, so the wearer doesn’t look like he’s desperate for attention. Finally, despite that boldness and presence, its size and dimensions somehow keep it surprisingly wearable. At least, these have been my impressions while wearing it.
About those dimensions: Looking at the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver on the wrist, one might not guess that it measures only 42mm wide. It might be a weird or abstract thing to say, but I would describe the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver as wearing more like a 44mm-wide watch. Square cases are going to wear larger than their measurements would suggest – if you are familiar with watch measurements and have a habit of guessing how a watch might fit you based on pictures and specs before seeing it in person. Perhaps a corner-to-corner measurement is a good way of evaluating the size of a square watch because that may better represent how much wrist real estate it occupies. I really made an effort to portray in some of the photographs how well it wears on my 6.5″ (17cm) wrist – though I probably couldn’t pull off even a millimeter larger.
Dive watches tend to be chunky, and water-resistance of 300m is more or less standard nowadays for “professional dive watches” – even though some brands get away with calling a 100m water-resistant watch a diver, and others take it much further to 1000m and more (Bell & Ross’ Hydromax in 1997 was rated to no less than 11,100m). Water-resistance is often understood by consumers as a shorthand for or way of quantifying general durability. The Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver is rated to 300m and meets all the other ISO dive watch specifications, and the brand emphasizes how those specifications influenced the design.
Considering that most dive watches are primarily used today to tell the time on dry land, I’ve often felt that the deemphasized hour hands found on many are kind of a sacrifice of real-life usability for the sake of being taken seriously as a “genuine” diver. Part of the ISO standards, however, stipulate that the minute hand should be more legible than the hour hand because the minutes are more critical when diving. For the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver, legibility is not hampered by the orange lume for the hour hand, but it is indeed deemphasized in the dark with a (much) fainter glow while everything else (hands and markers) shines bright green with Super-LumiNova.
Also familiar – and required for dive watch specifications – is the unidirectional rotating bezel. It’s a 60-click one in the case of the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver with an aluminum insert, and it is slightly stiff to turn but with a solid sound and feel. Bell & Ross also notes the BR 03-92 Diver’s shock resistance to professional specs, and the thicker caseback and soft iron cage help make the watch anti-magnetic to ISO 764 standards. The angular crown guards are another durability-emphasizing feature. While Bell & Ross has not provided the official measurements, as a dive watch, this will be significantly thicker than other BR 03 cases with the prominent bezel, thicker caseback, and thicker sapphire crystal. And it’s about as heavy as it looks. There’s no practical reason that the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver case needs to be square, but because it works so well in the end, there’s also no reason it shouldn’t be, right? A really good sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating can sometimes seem to even “sharpen” the dial elements, to my eyes. The Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver has a 2.85mm-thick flat crystal with great AR coating offering a clear view of the dial that is designed to be legible to begin with. The applied hour markers, sloped chapter ring, and date window at 4:30 with a black date wheel to match the dial color all help lend a sense of depth and interest that I always appreciate.
Clearly, I am bullish on the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver. It was one of the funnest recent watches I’ve had the chance to wear for an extended period of time, and I can’t really say I can find any actual complaints about it. There are a couple of things I can think of, however, that Bell & Ross could do to further sweeten the deal. First, ceramic bezel inserts are more scratch-resistant, and are becoming practically standard these days, which makes aluminum inserts start to feel less premium. Second, it is possible to have 300m water resistance on a watch with a display caseback, and that would increase the value, interest, and user experience for the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver. The solid caseback, though, is probably also helpful for protecting the movement from magnetic fields. Last, adding something in the movement department, like COSC certification, for instance, would further kick it all up a notch. All of these things would probably also be reasons to increase the price, of course.
The Swiss automatic movement inside is the perfectly appropriate, reliable, and common Sellita SW300-1 (“BR-CAL.302”). Power reserve of 42 hours, operating at 4Hz… you know the specs. The screw-down crown is coated with rubber and easy to grip with a solid and smooth-as-butter winding feel. I like the rubber on the crown, but I wonder how rubber elements such as this on watches will hold up over time. The strap is also rubber, is soft and comfortable, and has a suitably giant steel buckle. I like rubber straps but wonder what the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver would look like on a steel bracelet.
The caveat I have about the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver is that it is clearly not an everyday wear. This is best for someone who has more than one watch for different occasions, but who regularly has moods that call for a more macho accoutrement (or you could actually use it to go diving, I suppose). After a few days of wearing it, it felt good strapping on an old 37mm favorite for a change. The Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver can fit well into even a small a collection as a watch that’s bolder and more distinctive than most other dive watches.