Monday, January 21, 2013

Review of Bell & Ross Vintage BR 126 Original Automatic Chronograph

Model # BRV126-BEI-ST/SCA
Brand/Model:  Bell & Ross Vintage BR 126 Automatic Original Chronograph
Movement:  Swiss automatic
Material:  stainless steel case and leather strap
Complications:  date display, chronograph timing in one second increments up to 30 minutes
Price:  MSRP  $4,200 USD

Plenty of photos follow the review.  Click on the pictures to enlarge.

Bell and Ross sounds like it could be a comedy team, a law firm or a singing group.  But it’s actually a watch company that makes some pretty cool watches that sell in the $2,000 to $4,000 USD range or so.  The company started in 1993 when they rebranded/relabeled Sinn watches and was able to gain enough of a foothold in the watch world to go truly independent in 2002, designing and manufacturing their own pieces solely under the Bell and Ross moniker.
They believe in four design principles with their watches:  visibility, functionality, water resistance and precision.  Not a bad list and something I would appreciate in any watch I own.

The Bell and Ross Vintage Series holds the most interest for me in their current product lineup and that’s why the Vintage BR 126 chronograph is the subject of this review.  I had become interested in a BR 126 XL last year and since this particular model seemed to be a few years old, discontinued and was produced in small numbers, I was unable to procure this exact model.  But the standard BR 126 was a second choice for me, and in some respects, I’m glad I went this route instead.  The BR 126 chronograph is a superb watch with a simplicity and clean design that is hard to fault.  I have no regrets with my purchase.
The Vintage BR 126 chronograph starts with a fully brushed (satin finish in B&R’s parlance) stainless steel case that measures 41.4mm without the signed standard design non-screwdown crown; 44mm with the crown.  The caseback is also fully brushed and screws down, with basic info about the watch stamped into the caseback in a very military-like (ie: plain) fashion.  Nothing wrong with that, as this series harkens back to the spirit of watches worn by pilots in the 1940s.
Case thickness is 13.8mm, lug spacing is 22mm.  The overall proportions of this watch are just about perfect.  Nothing is too large or too small or overdone in any way.  The crown is about as ‘standard’ or traditional as you can get and the chronograph pushers are ‘standard’ style, too.  A simple brushed bezel sets the case off.  The only polished part of the watch case is the lower side portion of the bezel, where it meets the case top.  Very subtle.  It all looks good and functions well.  Fit and finish is on the mark.
Bell and Ross’ logo is the ampersand symbol and while it looks good signing the crown, on some models they make, they tend to over-do the use of this logo and it makes these other models look garish.  Luckily, they restrained themselves on Vintage BR 126.
The dial on the BR 126 is a near-perfect shade of beige (it could also be described as ‘ivory’, ‘cream’, ‘off-white’, ‘pale yellow’ or any other number of colors depending on who is looking at the dial).  Bell and Ross also makes the Vintage Series with black and silver dials, but I really like the warmth of the beige.  The markers and arabics (large 12 and 6) are screened on the dial in black.  Bell and Ross states the markers and arabics are ‘electroluminescent’ but they are not, they do not glow in the dark.  Only the hour and minute hands are luminous, fairly disappointing give the price point and pilot heritage this piece represents.  Lume quality is good, but not great.
The sword-style hands are black with the aforementioned inset lume and are super legible against the beige dial.  I love the look of the chronograph registers (I do have a soft spot for two-register chronographs) on this watch.  They are large-ish without being comical and again, are easy to read.  The left register is the chronograph’s 30-minute totalizer.  The right register is the watch seconds hand, which has a simple marking ring with hash marks every five seconds only.    The subdials are ever so slightly inset on the dial and the hands are simple black and smaller versions of the chronograph seconds hand.  The central chronograph seconds hand is a simple black slenderized arrow.
A quickset date display is located at the 4:30 position.  Unlike most conventional date windows, the window on the BR 126 is circular instead of square.  A nice design touch, as is replicates the subdials on the watch.  The date wheel is black on white and although a bit small is fairly easy to read.
A nod to the past on the BR 126 is the high-dome (Bell and Ross calls it ‘ultra-curved’) sapphire crystal.  It replicates a high-dome acrylic crystal that would have been found on a 1940s style pilot’s watch, but crafted in durable, modern sapphire with anti-reflective coating.  Super cool, especially when you look at it from the side or edge.  No distortion has been noticed with the crystal despite its thickness and it gives the watch a great look and feel.
Dial printing is tastefully done, with the Bell & Ross name below the twelve position and ‘automatic’, ‘chronograph’ and ‘100M’ just above the six position.  The BR 126 is factory rated for a modest 100 meters of water resistance.
Doing yeoman duty inside the BR 126 chronograph is the excellent ETA 2894 automatic chronograph movement.  This Swiss-Made powerhouse packs 37-jewels and beats at 28,800 vph.  Performance has been outstanding, with a 24-hour accuracy of -3 seconds and a useful power reserve of 48-1/2 hours.  Of course the movement hacks and manually winds and sets perfectly.  Chronograph operation is good, with crisp start, stop and reset actions via the pushers.  No complaints here.
The simplicity of the BR 126 also extends to its strap.  It’s a smooth finish, quality crafted medium brown calfskin leather strap with matching stitch and a brushed and signed outer clasp with a polished machined deployant.  The strap measures 22mm at the lugs and tapers to about 17.8mm at the deployant.  The shade of brown compliments the beige dial beautifully and gives this watch a purposeful and no-nonsense look.  
One note, the deployant is mounted ‘backwards’ on this watch (at least to me).  Others will argue that the way Bell and Ross does it is the correct way, but to me, it’s backwards; that is, the free end of the strap is on the inside of the wrist instead of the outside of the wrist.  You could easily swap the strap around and fix this; I decided to leave it alone, as it’s the only watch strap I have oriented in this fashion and I guess it helps makes this watch a bit more unique.
Presentation isn’t anything special, a black two-piece signed outer cardboard box and black padded signed inner box.  Nothing fancy, but could be a nicer setup given the high MSRP of this watch.
In summary, the Vintage BR 126 Original chronograph is a watch that has a simplicity that is getting harder to find in today’s in-your-face watch design world.  As previously noted, the overall dimensions, the look and feel and the overall design parameters all harmonize together to create a watch that is legible, functional, good looking and finely crafted.  While Bell and Ross may lack a long-standing tradition of Swiss watchmaking, they have made their mark in their two decades of existence and you have to hand it to them for persevering and putting out some great pieces.
Pros:  great Swiss engine, super cool high-dome crystal, warm dial color, supreme legibility
Cons:  more/better lume would be nice, a better presentation is expected at this price point, ‘backwards’ mounting of watch deployant/strap
Verdict:  not an everyday name in a watch that looks good, works well and has a clean design that is functional to a ‘T’.  The Bell and Ross Vintage BR 126 Original chronograph, while pricey, is a quality watch that can stand side-by-side with other better known Swiss makes

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Review of Hanhart Sirius Automatic Pilot’s Chronograph

Model # 710-020A-00
Brand/Model:  Hanhart Sirius Automatic Pilot’s Chronograph
Movement:  Swiss automatic
Material:  stainless steel case, stainless steel bracelet or leather strap
Complications:  date display, chronograph timing in one-second increments up to 12 hours
Price:  MSRP:  $5,200 USD (watch has been discontinued)

Plenty of photos follow the review.  Click on the pictures to enlarge.

Hanhart is not a watch brand that you hear about everyday.  The company was established in Switzerland in 1882 and shortly afterwards, moved to Germany.  Hanhart has been located in Gütenbach in the heart of the German Black Forest since the early 1930’s.  This town is a small 1,500 person hamlet that’s a destination as a health resort.  It’s also in the part of Germany known as the ‘watch highway.’  Gütenbach is famous for the production of cuckoo clocks and mantle clocks, so Hanhart is in good company.

Since 1924, Hanhart has made their mechanical stopwatches in Germany, the product the company is best known for.  They introduced mechanical chronographs for professional pilots in 1939, which has led to Hanhart being a modern producer of mechanical, digital and electronic stopwatches, time measurement devices and chronographs today. 

The mechanical chronographs that Hanhart produces are top-quality pieces that blend a vintage-inspired design with contemporary features that make these watches extremely useful, stylish and unique.

The Sirius chronograph starts with a fully satin-finished 316L stainless steel case that measures 40.2mm without the large screwdown crown, 45.5mm including the crown.  Case thickness is 15.1mm and lug spacing is 20mm.  The screwdown display back has a sapphire crystal and shows off the beautifully decorated movement with signed rotor.  The Sirius is factory rated at 100 meters of water resistance.

Fit and finish of the case, bezel, pushers, caseback and crown are first-rate.  The watch has a great no-nonsense look about it while still being approachable; it’s a fantastic look on the wrist.

The dial shines on this model, with a silver guilloche design (radiating circular patterning) adding a nice vintage look.  The hour and minute hands are black with inset lume and pointer tips.  The arabics are black and printed on the dial, very simple but effective.  A black 60-minute chapter ring encircles the dial at the outside edge.  Minimal and small dial printing consists only of the Hanhart name, ‘automatik’ and ‘1882’.

As the hour and minute hands are the only luminous features of this watch, you may find yourself wishing there was more lume.  I guess keeping only the hour and minute hands lumed fits with the overall simplicity and all-business approach of this watch, but more lume would be a bonus.  What lume there is of good quality; bright green that you can’t miss.

The subdials for the chronograph are inset slightly into the dial, with black hands (non-luminous, arrow style on the timing subdials) and feature simple black arabics and minute tracks.  The central chronograph seconds hand is a thin black stick with an arrow tip.

The subdial at the 9 position is the watch seconds hand.  The subdial at the 3 position is the chronograph’s 30-minute totalizer and the subdial at the 6 position is the 12-hour chrono totalizer.

An inset date window sits at the 4:30 position, with a black on white date wheel.  The date is fairly easy to read and alignment within the window is good.

The dial is capped by a slightly domed sapphire crystal, which doesn’t appear to have any anti-reflective coating on it.  An omni-directional coin-edge style bezel rotates smoothly in either direction, as there are no clicks to lock it into position.  A simple black hash mark on the bezel serves as the marker for timing purposes.

As mentioned earlier, the main time setting crown is nice and big and is easy to turn and use.  A unique design feature of the Sirius chrono are the asymmetrical chronograph pushers.  Both pushers are conventional in their look and feel, have small ‘locator’ points in their centers and function well.  The upper pusher (chrono start/stop) is spaced farther away from the crown than the lower pusher is (chrono reset).  This is done to ease chrono operation without having to either look at the watch directly and makes it easier to operate while wearing gloves.  A subtle but cool feature.

Another design element that is present is the rather thin look of the lugs in relation to the thickness of the case.  It’s not that they look wrong or out-of-place, but they are noticeably thinner than lugs on many other watch cases.

Powering the Sirius is a modified Valjoux 7750-based automatic chronograph movement, running with 28 jewels and beating at 28,800 vph.  Hanhart does a wonderful decorating job on the movement, with ‘fire’ blued screws, Cotes de Geneve detailing, perlage, high polished parts and a decorated and signed rotor.

The movement has turned in fine performance, running at -3 seconds over 24 hours and providing a long 51-3/4 hour power reserve.  Winding and setting operations work as they should and the chronograph starts, stops and resets crisply.

The Sirius is fitted with either a stainless steel bracelet or a leather strap.  My watch came with both and I prefer the strap.  The bracelet is a quality piece, a fully satin finish five-link design.  Links are solid, as are the end links and the clasp is signed and double locking with a machined deployant.  Four microadjustments are provided on the clasp.  The bracelet is continuous width, measuring 20mm from lugs to clasp.

The strap is a beauty.  A simple, somewhat thick, but soft and comfortable black leather, with a single rivet at each lug end.  Grey contrast stitching, a satin finish signed buckle and two keepers (one fixed, one floating) complete the strap.  The strap measures 20mm at the lugs and tapers to 18mm at the buckle.  The overall vintage look and feel of the Sirius is greatly enhanced by the leather strap.

Presentation is another bonus with this watch.  Inside an entirely plain cardboard box are the simple instructions (separate pamphlets in both English and German) and the main watch case, a hand-finished brown leather case with snap closure.  The leather box is horseshoe shaped and has a cotton duck type lining with watch pillow and a small pouch also finished in the cotton lining material.  The leather box would make a great travel case for this watch or others in your collection.

The Hanhart Sirius chronograph is a functional watch with some great design details that make it unique in many ways.  It’s a quality piece that you definitely won’t see on the other guy and that alone makes it a worthwhile get.

Pros:  true watchmaking heritage, beautifully decorated movement, legible, functional, no-frills to detract from its intended purpose
Cons:  could use lume on a few more places, case thickness in relation to lug thickness could bother some, hard-to-find in the marketplace, can be pricey
Verdict:  a super cool, great looking chronograph that you can wear practically anywhere and exude style and panache, knowing you have a watch that gets the job done

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.