Former Olympic cycling coach Dave Brailsford once said, “If you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together”. The new Bell & Ross BR 03 features several small tweaks to its most iconic line of watches, and although not every modification is objectively ‘better’, the combination of all of the changes give us a watch that somehow feels less intense and therefore significantly more wearable. I’ve spent some time with the new BR 03 Military Ceramic to work out just what makes it feel so different.

On the face of it, not much has changed. A reduction in case diameter from 42mm all the way down to 41mm isn’t earth-shattering. Without seeing the two side by side you would be hard-pressed to know which one you are looking at. The other case changes are just as subtle. The shape has been altered slightly to round the corners a little more. The introduction of the BR 05 in 2019 saw a much softer ‘square’ shape from Bell and Ross. The new BR 03 remains much closer to the square instrument panel shape the brand is famous for, but the silhouette reshaping is one of those 1% changes mentioned above.




$4300




Hands-On: the New, Smaller, Bell & Ross BR 03

Case
Micro Blasted ceramic

Movement
BR-CAL.302

Dial
Khaki

Lume
Numerals and hands

Lens
Sapphire

Strap
Khaki rubber

Water Resistance
100 meters

Dimensions
41 x 50mm

Thickness
10.6mm

Lug Width
24mm

Crown
Push/pull

Warranty
Yes

Price
$4300







The diameter isn’t the only part of the case that has seen a slight size reduction. Each of the four lugs protruding from the case is half a millimeter slimmer. Again, this is such a small change that it wouldn’t be noticeable in isolation, but that reduction achieves two things. Firstly, it echoes the softening of the case lines. Secondly, and if you’ve been keeping your own notes about the dimensions you’ll have worked this out already, it means the new BR 03 retains the same 24mm lug width as its predecessor.

Although many manufacturers do dabble with odd lug widths, I’m pleased to see that Bell & Ross has kept its existing customer base in mind with this release. Many Bell & Ross owners, myself included, see the BR 03 line-up as some of the most chameleon-like watches out there, and quickly amass a varied selection of 24mm flared-lug straps to go with them. It must be pointed out that although the external width of the lugs will be very slightly narrower on this new BR 03 model, any existing strap collection can still be fitted here and look good. That said, the rubber strap fitted to this new BR 03 Military Ceramic also tapers slightly more, down to 22mm at the buckle.

Those three changes combine into a watch that still has the distinct Bell & Ross aesthetic but reigned in just enough to make it accessible to a slightly wider audience. I say this as someone who has no problem strapping on an older BR 03, but whereas I am used to wearing my BR 03 and it feeling like a large (but comfortable) watch, that overwhelming sense of beefiness is nowhere near as prevalent. To correspond to the slightly smaller case and dial, the hands are also reduced in size accordingly.





The final noteworthy update is the movement inside. Originally, the BR 03-92 used a modified ETA 2892 automatic movement. The ‘92’ part of the model name on the dial is no longer present, with the text now reading BR 03-A. Inside is the BR CAL.302 automatic movement, and although this isn’t the first time Bell & Ross has used this caliber, it now has an increased power reserve of 54 hours.


Comparisons aside, this is one of eight new watches in the 41mm BR 03 series. Four, including this one, have ceramic cases, and four are brushed stainless steel. All new models are three-handers with a date window at the familiar 4:30 position. Of the eight variants, this was the one that appealed to me the most, being a ceramic case coupled with a khaki green dial and strap. Two benefits of a ceramic case are the lightness and the scratch resistance. As you’ll no doubt notice from the accompanying photos, my PVD-coated steel model does nothing to hide the wear and tear, but the blasted ceramic will show no such damage in years to come. You may also notice that the ceramic models feature drilled lugs with regular spring bars, rather than the screw bars seen on stainless steel models.





The black hands and indices look good against the khaki dial. Although the black surfaces are either painted with (or formed from) luminescent material, the brightness of the lume isn’t a match for a more conventional white lume application. What you gain in day-time rugged coolness, you lose in low-light practicality. I also mentioned above that these square models are strap monsters, but honestly I found that only the green khaki and plain black rubber straps from my own collection worked with the dial.

The new, refined BR 03 is not a ground-breaking update. The 42mm square case has been a core part of Bell & Ross’s identity for the best part of two decades. It has seen more iterations than I can count. Chronographs, divers, ana-digis, skulls, steel, ceramic and more. I have long seen its brashness as part of its appeal. For that reason, I have never thought that shrinking and mellowing it, even by the smallest margin, would be a necessary or good thing. However, I do think the words of Dave Brailsford apply here. The result is a more refined and more wearable watch. Importantly, it still feels like a Bell & Ross. Now that it’s here, 1mm smaller is a lot more than 1% better.





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