The 2015 Bell & Ross WW1-97 Heritage (ref. BRWW197-HER-ST/SCR) delivers the familiar mix of a well-calculated design, which is both elegant and masculine, and a bullet-proof mechanism, which is both reliable and accurate. All of them are offered at a relatively affordable price that makes this new creation one of the best choices in the “Value for Money” category.
The Swiss watchmaking brand Bell & Ross is quite prolific when it comes to styles and shapes of their timepieces. Besides their signature box-shaped Aviation family that often features the most outrageous design (including, but not limited to, stylized skulls and aviation instrument gauges,) there is also an expressive Marine line, and a vast collection of Vintage and Heritage models that are inspired by timekeepers that were issued back in the 1940s, 1930s and even earlier.
This new WW1-97 Heritage Automatic, for example, is inspired by a whole generation of wristwatches that were designed around pocket-watch calibers and, in some instances, were basically normal pocket watches with wire lugs welded to their cases. The devices were, of course, impressively large, but that was okay, too, since they were most often ordered by pilots and the military that didn’t care a lot about looks but was more concerned with reliability and accuracy.
Bell & Ross, with its decades of experience, has brushed and polished the collection to a point where it just can’t go wrong: although telling one their model from another sometimes requires a great deal of concentration, they all look absolutely wonderful making it especially hard to resist putting a huge dent to your family budget when you have a computer with internet access, a credit card and a serious desire to burn some money in the stove of your vanity.
Case & Strap
At 45 millimeters in diameter, this watch predictably consumes almost all available space on an average wrist. Even the short wire lugs that seem to be welded to the stainless steel body don’t help a lot when it comes to making this timepiece more comfortable to wear for a normal person: its overall lug-to-lug length is still around 52 millimeters. Of course, it doesn’t look ridiculously large like some recent pilot’s watches that are styled after pre-WWII chronometers that were supposed to be worn over heavy leather jackets’ cuffs, but it is still fairly massive.
Well, large size has its advantages, too. For example, the oversized setting/winding crown is a lot more ergonomic than similarly proportioned jobs on smaller watches. The mildly distressed-look strap is, too, wider than on many “aviators” and will probably feel more convenient for a majority of owners although I would prefer the strap to be equipped with perforated padding to make it even more comfortable on hotter days.
As some may have already guessed, the WW1-97 Heritage shares its underpinnings (and basic dial layout) with the 2011 Vintage WW1 Reserve de Marche model. It, too, is powered by the same modified ETA 2897 automatic movement, which is now called Caliber BR-CAL.307, but still features the same 42 hours of power reserve and is built on the same 21 jewels.
Being essentially the well-known ETA 2892 with a power reserve add-on module attached to it, the mechanism is known for its impressive reliability (given you don’t forget to service it at scheduled intervals) and adequate accuracy. In fact, some specimen are so good that they can put to shame a lot more expensive chronometers with official COSC certificates and other paperwork behind them.
Perhaps, the only thing that this family of mechanisms lacks is an extended power reserve: these days, 42 guaranteed hours after being fully wound doesn’t sound particularly impressive. Well, for a relatively “affordable” luxury watch that is offered at $4500 MSRP (you can find one online at just above $2000 though,) this is still more or less acceptable.
Perhaps, it is the dial that may become the stumbling block for some potential customers. Yes, it makes an impression of a meticulously crafted object with its stylized Arabic numerals featuring finely brushed surfaces that help the polished leaf-shaped hour and minute hands even better stand out against matt black surface of the dial. Its beige-colored chapter ring, power reserve scale, central seconds hand, and, of course, the “Bell & Ross” logo, too, looks contrast providing the case with that extra feeling of depth that you rarely see with most vintage-styled aviators.
But even the superior contrast doesn’t allow me to give this WW1-97 Heritage Automatic 5 out of 5 stars in this brief review.
While it is extremely clean and easy to read in normal lighting, it, unfortunately, lacks any sort of lume on its main elements making reading it at night not an easy task. If you look at it just like another dressy accessory that also happens to be styled as a pilot’s watch, you may be absolutely fine with this design. However, if superb legibility in any lighting scenario is a priority for you, this may be a major drawback.
Pricing & Availability
As I have already mentioned, the Bell & Ross WW1-97 Heritage Automatic (ref. BRWW197-HER-ST/SCR) is currently offered at a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $4500, which makes it a lot more interesting compared to, say, IWC Pilots Mark XVII with its MSRP of $4900. The watch was originally presented last spring at Baselworld 2015 trade show and is now readily available on all major markets.
See also: Bell & Ross WW1 Argentium Hand-Wound
Build quality: 5/5
Value for money: 5/5
Bell & Ross WW1-97 Heritage (BRWW197-HER-ST/SCR) specification
Price: $4500 (MSRP)
Movement: Automatic, Caliber BR-CAL.307 (base ETA 2897), Swiss Made
Number of jewels: 21
Movement frequency: 28,800 vph
Power reserve: 42 hours
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, power reserve
Case: Stainless steel
Size: 45.00 mm
Numerals: Arabic, brushed metal
Hour markers: Railway-style chapter ring
Hands: Polished metal
Water resistance: 50 meters
Strap: Black alligator leather strap with polished steel pin buckle
Crystal: Sapphire, antireflective