Review: Bell & Ross Space Two



Posted by Ed Hahn on January 18, 1999 at 11:56:23:
Bulletin Board Post Number: 280

Posted from Host: gatekeeper-w.mitre.org (128.29.4.1)

Bell & Ross Space Two
Manufactured by Sinn
Stainless Steel
List Price $2700

Review Copyright December 1998 by Edward Hahn

Thanks to articles by Jack Freedman, Harry Gasthuis, and Pierre Halimi
in the TimeZone Archives for additional information.


Introduction



(I had hoped to have digital photos of the watch to accompany this review; unfortunately, I was unable to locate a decent digital camera for rent or borrowing. People interested in rectifying my lack of a digital camera can make a financial contribution at the above email address.:-)

Bell & Ross is named for two Frenchmen, Bruno Bellamich(designer) & Carlos Rossillo, who head this Paris-based company. They market their watches as "instruments" for "men of extremes", such as deep-divers, bomb squads, pilots, and astronauts.

Bell & Ross usually invites some controversy in that parts of their line are identical in nearly all respects to watches sold by Sinn, the German company which manufactures the lines - the only difference being that the dials and bracelets do not have the B&R name and logo. While this in and of itself is controversial, the "kicker" is that Sinn sells these same watches in Germany, factory direct, for significantly lower prices. The reason for this situation, according to US distributor Pierre Halimi, is that Sinn has only a limited official distribution and sales network outside of its German factory, and none in the US. Furthermore, in Europe, all servicing is done at the central Sinn factory in Frankfurt.

Bell & Ross, to their credit, do not attempt to hide the origin of their watches, and in fact state right on their dials that the watches are "by SINN". Also, they have recently taken steps to move away from this situation by bringing out several new additions which will have no Sinn counterpart, among them the new Space 3 and the Vintage 120/123/126 series.

I took delivery of the Space Two from Richard Paige/Paris 1925 at the beginning of December 1998. I chose the steel version over the titanium because (1) I did not want to pay the extra expense of titanium, and (2) I am not averse to wearing heavy watches.

Packaging and Appearance


The Space 2 comes in a standard two-box package - the outer box being a silver-gray paper covered box, and a sturdier inner box covered with black vinyl embossed with the B&R Logo. The inside of this box is an off-white cream color, and the watch itself is fastened around a lozenge-shaped pillow of similar color. Aside from a humorous hang-tag (just the circled '&' - the B&R logo), the overall presentation is like a fine lab measurement instrument rather than luxury goods. Included with the inner box is a warranty booklet with a credit-card style identification card to be presented with the sales receipt in case warranty repairs are necessary, and a small booklet entitled "Technical Notes" in French and English.

Tony at Paris 1925 noted that the appearance of the steel and titanium models are nearly identical, and that he needed to feel the relative weights to make sure that I got the steel model (rats.) The third available finish is also in stainless steel, but is covered with a matte finished "black chrome" to reduce reflections off the case even more. While this may be helpful in a darkened cockpit environment, Richard and Tony are not convinced that the black chrome will "wear" as well as the regular metallic finish, as scratches which do penetrate the outer layer may draw unwanted attention due to the increased contrast. My impression is that they are correct, as there are some concerns for scratching on the bracelet (see below).

Initial impressions of the watch were that this thing was designed to be as serious as a laboratory instrument - there is a very no-nonsense look about the dial, hands, typefaces, and bracelet design. The only concession to levity is the B&R circled "&" embossed into the bracelet clasp.

Movement Vital Statistics


The Space 2 houses a Lemania 5100 movement, which is stated up front in the Technical Notes booklet. From Jack Freedmans movement database, he writes the following:

"The Lemania 5100 is an automatic chronograph movement with a power reserve of 45 hours. It has the following functions: hours, minutes, small seconds (with feature to stop the seconds), date, (with fast change capability), continuous hour in 24-hour format at twelve (not independently adjustable), chronograph with three counters (central seconds, minutes, and hours chronograph). Shape: round. Diameter: 31mm. Thickness: 8.25mm. Rubies: 17. Balance: smooth, with three arms, gold gilt. Frequency: 28,800 pulsations per hour. Balance-spring: flat, in Nivarox 1, with adjustmaent
device with micrometric screw. Anti-shock system: Kif.

"The Lemania 5100 is a simple yet robust design. Although it contains several plastic parts which many watch enthusiasts detest, the properties of certain plastics (polymers) are unique and may be superior to those of metal for certain uses so don't be put off by it. The movement is very simple in construction and not very appealing at first sight. But it is one of the few movements accepted by militaries for really tough use as it is considered extremely rugged. It is also known for its good accuracy although for some unexplainable reason it doesn't provide consistent and as good amplitudes as do the Valjoux 7750.

"The most distinguishing feature of the Lemania 5100 is that the chronograph minutes is on the central pinion along with the chronograph sweep second so that it is easier to tell the elapsed time. Unlike the Valjoux 7750 which chrono mechanism is a module added to the basic movement and which, therefore, needs to be boosted up in the number of jewels to 25, the Lemania 5100 IS A TRUE ORIGINAL CHRONO movement and needs no more than 17 jewels. The automatic rotor also has a different sound than the somewhat noisier 7750.

"Watch manufacturers who've used the Lemania 5100 are Porsche Design by Orfina, Sinn, Bell & Ross, Fortis, Tutima, Alain Silberstein, and Paul Picot."


One small additional note: the automatic winding mechanism is uni-directional, appearing to wind when the rotor moves clockwise as viewed from the dial side of the movement. The winding mechanism has a fine ratchety sound, and the rotor has enough mass and low enough friction to rotate several times in the idle direction when provided with an impulse.

The fact that the chronograph minute hand is a central sweep along with the chrono second hand was a key factor in my decision to purchase this watch. I had also considered a Breitling Cosmonaute, an Omega Speedmaster automatic (Michael Schumacher model), and also considered a Breguet Aeronavale Type XX (interestingly enough, all use Lemania movements.). The Cosmonaute had a jumping minute hand that transitioned slightly before the 60 second mark of the minute hand; the Omega did the jump somewhat better, and the Breguet has a small sweep minute hand - but for a much higher price. Ultimately, the Space 2 with its Lemania 5100 caught my eye because of the central minute sweep, combined with its maximum-legibility design.

I also decided to keep notes on the watches "running-in" period, to determine whether the conventional wisdom on this subject is true. These results will be documented in a separate article.

Case, Crystal, & Bracelet


The regular stainless-steel model of the Space 2 has a dark silver matte finish, which is created through a bead-blasting process akin to shot-peening. Like shot-peening, this process work-hardens the surface of the case and bracelet, making it more resistant to scratches than polished or brushed steel.

After a couple of weeks of wearing, it was apparent that the case and bracelet were indeed much more resistant to scratching than, say, the polished/brushed finished of my ORIS. Aside from a couple of unavoidable scratches on the bracelet (more about this later), there are absolutely no other detectable scratches after a month of wear, despite it resting on the same desk and computer wrist rest that scratched the ORIS bracelet.

The case is 40mm across the narrowest point, not including the crown which protrudes an additional 2mm from its recessed, screwed-down position. The chronograph pushers, which do not screw down, are housed in cylindrical cans which are attached separately to the case. Both crowns and pushers are about 6 mm across; the crown has a raised S embossed on it (perhaps standing for "Sinn"?)

The back is protected by a steel screwed back, which has the following engravings in addition to the serial number: "Sinn Chronograph",
"Edelstahl" (high-quality (stainless) steel), "Stosicher" (shock-protected), "Antimagnetisch", "Wasserdicht 20 Bar" (watertight 20 bars of pressure / 200 meters depth better than many so-called "divers" watches!).

This is a very thick watch at 14mm - over half an inch! Fortunately the styling and location of the bracelet connection to the case reduce the visual weight of the watch; friends commented that it was not noticeably thick until I called attention to it. The Space 2 in steel weighs in at approximately 170 grams or 6 ounces; the titanium version is significantly lighter.

The joining of the bracelet to the case is the one area where the design of this watch is truly questionable. Since the stylists at B&R chose to go with a lugless design for the case, the 19mm wide bracelet is held in by pins in a recessed area of the back. Unfortunately, this lets the first links to pivot on the pin, allowing the tops of the links to be scratched by the lip of the recess. Careful handling cannot eliminate the chances of this occurring - in fact, the watch arrived with these scratches - even though it was still wrapped in the protective plastic from the factory.

I can think of two ways that this could have been easily avoided. The first would be to weld the first link of the bracelet to the case rigidly, and allowing bracelet removal at the second link (several similar examples come to mind). The second would have been to place a protective rubber coating on the part of the first link which is inside the recess and not visible - to prevent the metal-to-metal contact from occurring.

Aside from the joining of the bracelet to the case, the bracelet itself is reasonably well designed, but not on par with more expensive bracelets, in that the B&R pinches arm hair. The links are made of two solid pieces of metal, which are joined together with pins. The three links either side of the clasp are removable using a small screwdriver to remove the threaded pins, with a fine length adjustment available through a spring-loaded pin on one side of the clasp. The clasp mechanism is made of cast metal, with a fliplock, cover, and flight-suit extension made of thick sheet metal. Folded up, the clasp is commendably short, and comfortable in that length is not noticeable.

The crystal is approximately 35mm in diameter, is flat, and lies flush with the top of the case. It is coated on both sides with anti-reflective material. Thus far, Ive been very impressed with this coating, as I havent had any scratches in the reflective material to change my mind of its utility.

Dial and Hands


As mentioned above, this watch exudes an aura of a scientific instrumentation. Having spent a fair amount of time around aircraft instruments as an avionics engineer, I can say that this watch looks like it belongs in an aircraft because of the design features borrowed from aircraft instruments: the dial and tachymetric "bezel" (which lies under the crystal) are both truly matte-black, with not even a hint of reflected light from the surface. Despite the three subchapters, sub-second precision markings on the main dial, and the tachymetric/pulsometric markings all in white, the dial is very readable - Bravo, B&R!

The outer false bezel contains both pulsometric and tachymetric markings. To use the pulsometric scale, one starts the chronograph, counts 15 pulses, and stops the chrono. The pulse rate can then be read out directly across from the chronograph second hand. To accomdate the pulsometric scale, an abbreviated tachymetre is provided, starting at 19 seconds @ 190 units/hour).

On the main dial are the chronograph and time functions. Time functions use white hands, and chronograph functions use flare-orange hands. As mentioned above, both the chronograph second and minute hands are center sweep; the minute hand has wings to distinguish it from the second hand. The 12-hour chronograph accumulator is located at the 6 oclock subchapter.

The normal hour and minute hands are both covered with tritium, as are the hour markers and the center of the triangular 24-hour indicator at 12 oclock. The constant second hand at 9 oclock does not have tritium. All of the subchapters are slightly dished into the surface of the dial.

The chronograph mechanism itself gives good tactile feedback - with a firm push required and a positive feel and sound given in return. Some attention is required when pressing the reset pusher: to ensure that the hands return completely to zero the pusher must be fully depressed, especially when the minute hand is around the 45 minute mark. Starting the chrono does not cause any of the hands to jump, and the hands return exactly to zero when reset fully.

(One question is in order, however: why are the dial seconds subdivided into 1/5 of a second, when the movement beats in 1/8 second intervals? I even looked in G. R. Lang's book on chronographs; they mention that the Lemania 5100 beats at 28,000 A/h, yet subdivides seconds to 1/5's. How can this be?)

The central hands are stacked as follows, starting from the bottom: constant hour, chrono minute, constant minute, and chrono second. The attention to detail on the finishing of the hands could be better, with some slight overspray visible on the hour, minute, and chrono second hand without magnification.

The screw-down crown sets the hands and date in the normal fashion - the first detent reached after unscrewing the crown winds the watch. Pulling the crown outwards one detent operates the quick-set day and date mechanism - day in one direction, date in the other. Pulling the crown outwards to the final detent stops the balance wheel and allows one to set the time. Interestingly, there is a gearlike feel when operating the hands in the forward direction - quite unlike anything I would have expected given the other watches Ive had. It doesnt feel like its binding or anything, but it is interesting.

Whats With All the Fonts?


Despite the formal, scientific appearance of the watch, Ive noticed an interesting styling/design quirk: there are no less than 5 different
fonts on the dial of the watch.

They are:


  1. The "Bell & Ross by SINN" (sans-serif bold - and one could question whether the Bell & Ross is the same as the by SINN.)

  2. The main dial subchapters (sans-serif, except for a serif '1')

  3. The day-date (sans-serif - although they appear to use both serif and sans-serif'1's! Note that this is probably Lemania's doing, not B&R or Sinn)

  4. The remaining numbering on the main dial (serif, with rounded rectangle motif)

  5. The numbering on the false bezel (similar, but not the same as the previous - the '3' in the tachymeter "130" is different from the "35" second label on the main dial. One is a flat-top 3, the other is a round-top three.)

Despite this proliferation of fonts, the whole seems to fit together pretty well. However, one wonders who was "at the controls" of the design,
and whether this was intentional. The only other watch I own which has more than two fonts on it is a Seiko with 3, and it has a flight-computer slide rule.

Summary


With this watch I had set out to obtain a good mechanical sports/pilots chronograph to add to my small collection. Since I do occasionally time events, I thought it to be fairly important that the chronograph work well and be readable. What I found was that while there a lot of chronographs out there, there are relatively few which are readable, and which dont have operational quirks which would get in the way of timing things. The Bell & Ross Space 2 in that respect is an outstanding combination of readability and precise operation, and I am honestly thrilled with it despite the shortcomings noted above.

Wearing the watch in daily life is interesting - its thick enough that I usually roll up the sleeves of dress shirts, and despite its size, it doesnt attract that much attention. Friends who know of my watch interest have praised it for its relative simplicity and readability (for a chronograph). Finally, the day-date feature has made this into my everyday watch, at least when I dont need a dress watch.

The finishing of the case and bracelet are truly outstanding in providing a high-tech look and scratch resistance. Aside from the slight bracelet scratches, the watch has retained a pristine, almost new-in-box look to it.

This may actually be a downside in some respect. My wife burst my bubble of pride in the finish by saying it looks like that silvery-gray plastic that toys are made of. I can't win.

Ed Hahn

For more information, visit the Bell & Ross Web Site:

www.bellross.com



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