Bell & Ross – it’s a little like the movies, and even a little bit of a movie, with its share of dreams, a movie created by producers during Hollywood’s Golden Age with the Selznicks and the Zanucks, where those who financed the film directed the operation as artists and as businessmen. A film was as much a product of a capitalist and a studio as it was the realization of a director. Bell & Ross is a watch brand with a producer and a scriptwriter at the helm, while the director is a watchmaker endowed with his own special skills.
The producer is Carlos Rosillo, a graduate of the HEC in Paris. The scriptwriter is Bruno Belamich, a graduate of the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Création Industrielle, also in Paris. Rosillo is the businessman and Belamich is the designer, hence the name Bell & Ross. While the name perhaps doesn’t call to mind the origins of its two creators, it is incredibly effective in terms of marketing. Bell & Ross evokes fine American engineering, the responsive motor and elegant chrome. With just the right touch of retro, from the leather jacket of an aviator to the long coat of a submariner, it implies a world of men with real values.
The foray into watchmaking by Carlos Rosillo and Bruno Belamich dates back to 1992. They were each 28 years of age. “We were friends, and we had a common passion – watches,” reminisces Carlos Rosillo, who welcomes us into the brand’s headquarters, located at 350 rue Saint-Honoré, in one of Paris’ most luxurious neighbourhoods.
Their adventure began nearly by a failure. As a part of his work towards a diploma, Bruno Belamich submitted a project of a watch being created to a panel of his professors. It was an ambitious and ‘classy’ project. Yet, one of the professors expressed grave doubts about it, and urged his colleagues to disapprove it. Fortunately, the others did not listen to the detractor, and they accepted the young man’s idea. To add to the legend, we should mention that the cynical member of the panel was the last director of what was once a flower of French timekeeping, Japy. “At that time, he had to lay off 3,000 employees,” remembers Carlos Rosillo, who does not seem to have very fond memories of the man.
“Even though we are French, we are not French watchmakers,” adds Rosillo. “French watchmaking has disappeared. It has transformed into a valley of the dead because it refused to choose between the low-end and the high-end of the market. As for us, we chose the high- end. This is why we manufacture in Switzerland.”
Bell & Ross, Swiss Made, of course, is nearly entirely Swiss, “with the exception of the straps, which we have made in Belgium,” explains Carlos Rosillo. The brand’s start was not, strictly speaking, difficult. In the beginning, each of the two partners put the equivalent of 20,000 euros into the business. Bruno Belamich, a regular reader of Japanese watch revues, noticed, in one of them, an article about a reputed watchmaker named Helmut Sinn, living in Frankfurt, Germany. A meeting took place and collab-oration followed. Sinn signed the first collection, made with Valjoux and Lemania 5100 Swiss movements. “He got our feet into the stirrups,” says Rosillo.
The first collection and the first catalogue were created. In the meantime, the young owners of Bell & Ross called upon the skills of another great professional, Lothar Schmidt, then Director of Production at IWC. And, finally, in 1995, for the premiere of the premieres, they exhibited at the international watch fair in Basel. With a memory of what was then hardly acceptable, but today highly delightful, Rosillo and Belamich presented their watches in a Twingo car that served as their stand, which was located near the toilettes, so close, in fact, that the buyers, among them the most prestigious, could not miss the young team. Bell & Ross was a great success.
In 1997, hungry for creations, but also money, Rosillo and Belamich signed a financial agreement with Chanel, which became a minority but essential shareholder in the company to keep it operational. Manufacturing facilities were set up in Switzerland, at Châtelain, the factory for the French group in La-Chaux-de-Fonds.
Although secretive about its turnover and its volume of production, Bell & Ross seems to be in good health. With a presence in 450 doors throughout the world, the brand has aspirations of becoming “a small Rolex.” Now in their early 40s, these two men certainly don’t lack ambition…
Source: Europa Star December-January 2007 Magazine Issue