Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird”, the legendary spy plane that was a source of constant headache for the Soviet Air Defense system from 1964 to 1998 and was only retired because the Cold War was finally over (or so it seemed) and the defense budgets slashed, has once again became a source of inspiration for a watchmaking brand. Compared to the massive Breitling Blackbird Red Strike Chronograph that was released three years ago, the new Bell & Ross BR 126 Blackbird Flyback Chronograph Limited Edition offers basically the same functionality, which is packed in a more discreet, matte black body.
Although Blackbirds the Planes widely used titanium for their hulls and wings to ensure their overwhelming superiority over hostile forces both in top speed and in maximum altitude, this particular timekeeper is -rather disappointingly- done in a black PVD-treated stainless steel. While more resistant to scratches than titanium, steel is also considerably heavier, which is a pity for a massive timekeeper measuring whole 43 millimeters in diameter.
Still, even despite the controversial choice of material, the new BR 126 Blackbird looks definitely sexy with its matte black body and dial accented with white hands and hour markers and, of course, the orange canvas strap, which is so bright that it possibly can be noticed from low Earth orbit.
Of course, the main course here is the self-winding mechanical movement that tick-tocks inside the massive body. Based on a Dubois-Depraz blank movement (possibly, the ever popular among small brands Caliber 2020), the movement delivers so-called “flyback” functionality that allows you to measure lots of different time intervals with a push of a single button (you only need to push the button at 2 hours once to activate the watch and then use the push-piece at 4 o’clock to reset the totalizers to zero and restart counting without a moment of delay.)
These days, when even the most affordable planes are equipped with sophisticated GPS systems that pilots of the past couldn’t imagine even in their wettest dreams, the functionality keeps little more than emotional value, but it is still nice to have such a gadget on one’s wrist.
Like many watches in this class, the Bell & Ross BR 126 Blackbird Flyback Chronograph Limited Edition has a dial with a layout that may look strange at first, but allows you to get used to it almost in no time.
Of the three sub-dials, only one (at 6 o’clock) is reserved for a 12-hour chronograph counter: the one at 9 hours is a 24-hour day/night indicator and the one at 3 o’clock is a small seconds display. The chronograph minute counter is displayed with a central hand that bears an orange-colored stylized aircraft figure on its business end. The central chronograph seconds hand was, too, dipped in orange: a color that looks particularly contrast over a black background.
While the dial may look a tad clattered for a person that never owned a chronograph, I must say that date representation here is well-structured and it will only be a matter of minutes before you get absolutely used to it.
Bell & Ross says that only 500 individually numbered watches will be offered.
Photos: Bell & Ross
Build quality: 5/5
Value for money: 4/5
Bell & Ross BR 126 Blackbird Flyback Chronograph specification
Price: $6600 (Retail)
Movement: Automatic, Dubois-Depraz, Swiss Made
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, flyback chronograph
Case: Stainless steel, black PVD
Size: 43.00 mm
Hour markers: Luminous
Water resistance: 100 meters
Strap: Orange heavy-duty canvas and weave black rubber strap with pin buckle in black PVD finish
Crystal: Sapphire, antireflective