Inimitable and unrivalled – Bell & Ross BR01 Laughing Skull

A personal view and hands-on review of one of this year's watches from Bell & Ross

Bell&Ross-BR01-Laughing-Skull
Reading Time: 8 minutes

I had the pleasure to encounter the Bell & Ross BR01 Laughing Skull several times this year. I had the chance to wear the piece on several occasions, disparate in time and space just enough to form a strong and well-cemented opinion about it. I like the watch and declared it with every occasion possible. Read below why.

Bell&Ross BR01 Laughing Skull soldat
The Bell&Ross BR01 Laughing Skull is an impressive piece. From first sight, the signature square case reveals how special the watch is. Just look at it! Can you remain simply nonchalant in front of it?

Hands-on review Bell & Ross BR01 Laughing Skull

My first encounter with Bell & Ross Skull watches happened almost ten years ago. It was one of the first times when I became interested more seriously about the brand. Because the Skull watches were rare back then and Bell & Ross already had fascinated me with their signature case. The combination was fatal, I was conquered… But my old soul didn’t take the Skull watches too serious: big watches for my relatively small wrist, the question of where to wear them, on which occasions and so on. This changed this year. Meeting with Carlos A. Rosillo, co-founder and CEO at Bell & Ross, and listen to the story behind the Laughing Skull and experimenting it first-hand made me desire it, maybe more than I expected.

Bell&Ross BR01 Laughing Skull
A wager with death?! No way… The laughing Skull Reminds us to live our life to the full and make the best of it. And if we “go”, we should go in style, leaving behind us the best memories and only good deeds. This image is provided by my friend Daniel Chua, a.k.a @horogenie.

Let’s make an imaginative exercise: Carlos A. Rosillo in a grey suit covered with skulls and swords. What a view, what an appearance! He explained that the skull was and is still used by the elite troops as a symbol of courage. During World War II, special elite forces were sent behind the enemy lines in special missions. These men were using badges with Skulls as a special mark of their courage. Carlos explained that the Laughing Skull pays a tribute to the men of honour.

It’s called the Laughing Skull!“, said Carlos showing the automaton movement of the Bell & Ross BR01. “Why the Laughing Skull? Because it is a manual winding movement and when you wind the watch, the skull will laugh. It will laugh to death!

To understand that, have a look at this short clip provided by Bell & Ross:

The presentation of Carlos impressed me. I was curious to play with it, to have it on my wrist.

Bell&Ross BR01 Laughing Skull
The skull and bones are lovely interpreted on the square case of the Bell & Ross BR01 Laughing Skull

The skin and bones of the Laughing Skull

The Bell & Ross BR01 Laughing Skull comes in the brand’s signature squared micro-blasted steel case. The matt finish fits excellently to the watch’s theme. The 46mm case is further adorned on top with a “Clous de Paris” pattern finish. Producing this finish in combination with the top skull shape and the crossed bones requires special machining – a more complex manufacturing process.

Bell&Ross BR01 Laughing Skull
The matt finish of the case is produced by micro-blasting: a jet of small beads, usually ceramic, is applied to the entire case. Making a comparison with the traditional watchmaking techniques, micro-blasting can be compared with the hammering. But the modern process is computer controlled and use micro-beads for a much finer finish.

Unexpected but not an issue: the matte finish is so fine that is prone to the fingerprints, like the one clearly visible above on the case’s side.

Bell&Ross BR01 Laughing Skull
The Crown wears the Bell & Ross logo.

The Laughing Skull is pleasant in hands. I have noticed that I tend to touch it all the time and to play with the tip of my fingers on the face’s “guilloche” pattern or on the chamfered edge of the case. I wondered what is happening, in time, if it gets dirty. But even if it does get a little bit of mud, chocolate (it happened to me) or whatever, one just need to wash it a bit with some warm water. At 100m water tightness, there is no issue by cleaning. But carefully, using soap and warm water can have unpleasant surprises.

Bell&Ross BR01 Laughing Skull
The case profile is nice: the skull bezel and the crossed bones raise above the watch’s front. Please notice the crown’s construction and how well fits into the overall design. The lugs use screws to fix the strap.

Die another day – a laughing dial

Regardless of the beauty and the originality of the case, the main character is the “skull dial” – a likeable skull, friendly stylised. It is like an actor in the play of life. Unaffected by our opinions, decisions or life, it is sending a strong message: laugh in front of death.

Bell&Ross BR01 Laughing Skull
“Théoden: [laughs cruelly] You have no power here, Gandalf the Grey! [Continues to laugh]” – quote from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers movie. In the same way, the Laughing Skull reminds Death that it has no power in front of the brave (or foolish) ones.
The details on the dial’s skull are lovely. The Bell & Ross managed to get a rather pleasant presence. The skull presents many constructive details. And, of course, it laughs. It laughs by winding: the skull’s mandible moves during the winding process.

Bell&Ross BR01 Laughing Skull
The balance wheel is visible on top. Like a reminder that, even if we should not be afraid of death, the time is passing and we should not waste it on frivolous things.

Some nice elements on the dial are the sword hands. These are skeletonised and filled with SuperLuminova®.

The dial does not suffer from the lack of hour and minute indexes. The bezel presents a series of indentation that, besides the nice visual occurrence, serves as a minutes and hours rail tracks.

Bell&Ross BR01 Laughing Skull
Despite the lack of obvious hours’ and minutes’ indices, the bezel’s railway serves just fine for a good time reading. I noticed that I read the time without difficulties even with the small and curved hands and the “strange” distribution of time markers. In the picture above, the classical ten after ten is easy to be read.

A cold heart – but a strong one – the calibre BR-CAL.206

The Laughing Skull is powered by an in-house developed movement, the calibre BR-CAL.206. The movement was also designed into a skull shape.

Bell&Ross BR01 Laughing Skull
The back case reveals the calibre BR-CAL.206 in the shape of a skull.

The design team found a remarkable technical solution, using the crossed bones design from the top to mask the movement’s mounting system. The mainplate suffered the same micro-blasting process as the rest of the case and a black PVD. The back view wins a nice contrast between the case, mainplate and the gear train.

Bell&Ross BR01 Laughing Skull
The calibre BR-CAL.206 uses a separate ratchet wheel for the movement of the mandible. This is only put into motion by the winding. Notice the Bell & Ross logo printed on the crystal, above the automaton’s wheel.

Unfortunately, the photographed BR01 was a boutique piece and the protection label could not be removed for a better picture contrast. Still, there are quite visible the finishes of the  calibre BR-CAL.206: chamfered main plate, sunray brushing on wheels and polished screws.

Bell&Ross BR01 Laughing Skull
The back case has the same pattern as the front case. It is fixed on the case using four satin-finished screws, corresponding to four identical ones on top.
Bell&Ross BR01 Laughing Skull
The back case is almost as attractive as the face.

A watch for eternity?

The Bell & Ross BR01 Laughing Skull made me a good impression from the first time I have seen it. A nice presence with a strong message without being scary or unpleasant. The watch fits firm on the wrist. The wide strap confers a good position on the wrist. I was surprised to see how comfy the 46mm watch is.

Bell&Ross BR01 Laughing Skull
The BR01 Laughing Skull comes with a wide strap and a massive, but not tiresome, pin buckle.

As I have already said, the legibility is quite good on the BR01. Together with the impressive water resistance, the laughing Skull tends to get out of the comfort zone of a fashion watch. If you don’t mind getting it a little dirty, this timepiece can serve as a tool watch, at least as a daily watch. The case is not too sensitive to scratches and could be proper to an active lifestyle.

Bell&Ross BR01 Laughing Skull
I enjoyed wearing the watch. I have to admit that the impulse to wind it was there in every free moment.

The versatility of the watch is convincing. Good specifications and a price that reflects the complication of the manufacture movement and the unusual design (and all the drawbacks of the complex manufacturing process) makes from the Bell & Ross BR01 Laughing Skull an interesting proposition. My only wish would be to have this automaton linked to the barrel, so the skull will laugh slowly as the power is depleted. But I can leave happily ever after by winding it on every occasion.

Bell&Ross BR01 Laughing Skull on 5.5 inch wrist
And if my wrist is not convincing, maybe a girl’s 5.5-inch wrist is. Picture by my friend Chelsey, a.k.a @olive55wrist.
Bell&Ross BR01 Laughing Skull
Another lifestyle picture realised by my friend Daniel, a.k.a. @horogenie. The cover photo is also credited to Daniel.

Bell & Ross BR01 Laughing Skull Technical Specifications

Movement:

  • calibre BR-CAL.206. Hand-wound

Crystal:

  • sapphire with anti-reflective coating.

Functions:

  • Hours and minutes.
  • Moving skull when wound by hand.

Water-resistance:

  • 100 metres.

Case:

  • 46 mm in diameter.
  • Micro-blasted steel with “Clou de Paris” design.
  • variants: Light Diamond – bezel set with 104 diamonds 1.032 ct. / Full Diamond – case and bezel set with 394 diamonds 2.891 ct.

Straps:

  • Brown alligator and black rubber.

Dial:

  • Applique metal skull.
  • Metal skeletonized Superluminova®-filled hour and minute hands.

Buckle:

  • pin.
  • Micro-blasted steel.

Bell and Ross BR 01 Laughing has a price of 9,900CHF, 8,900EUR or 9900USD. For more information check the brand’s webpage here.

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