Bell & Ross: A Chat with Carlos-Antonio Rosillo
The first thing I noticed about Carlos-Antonio Rosillo before we sat down for a chat was the two watches that sat on both his wrists. "No, no. I don't usually wear two. I'm just not sure about which shade goes with my shoes better," he says while laughing, "What do you think?" It's a humble gesture from a man without airs and one whose style has influenced an entire range of watches. Rosillo's adventure in the world of watches started in 1992, after him and childhood friend Bruno Belamich started up Bell & Ross, building their vision of military-inspired watches. Sharing their passion for horology, the two decided on a range of timepieces that would focus on the functional aspect of horology that wouldn't be compromised by the superfluous. Recently in Singapore to pay tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Dassault Falcon, a business jet that revolutionised the aviation industry, Rosillo shared with us a little on the partnership between his brand and Dassault.
How did the collaboration first come about?
Charles Lindbergh, in his telegram to the president of Pan Am, who was looking for the best jet in the world said, "I've found the bird." It struck me that we had the perfect watches for Dassault and so I said to the CEO of Dassault, "I've found your watch." We have always liked aviation and because of our branding as a mostly military or flight-inspired brand, I think we made a good pairing. When you love airplanes, Dassau is the best company for airplanes and they are one of the only independent companies left that are internationally known so it made sense for us to work with them. They have a plane as well, the Rafale, it is one of the best fighter jets in the world. We sponsor the pilots and do see them at our airshows.
Will there be a collection based on the Rafale then?
We have looked into this but the problem is that when you look into a Rafale, it has only digital screens so the technology in the Rafale is more advanced and updated. It wouldn't be as mechani-based and our problem is that if you develop a high-tech watch based on advanced technology, people all over the world who love watches will see that it's not along the same line as our watches. We are very history-driven and we like the old planes but we are considering still. It will just take time to find the right balance.
So, where do you see Bell & Ross now in the watch industry?
I think we are still a challenger. We have a combination of tradition and modernity and we are, in a sense, avant-garde with the Flight Instruments range and all that but we can also be traditional in our more vintage watches. We are definitely challengers still and we need to innovate. I think that when you love product design, you always want something that's innovative otherwise, it just gets boring.
For Bell & Ross, the cockpit of a plane has been a major influencer for design. Are there any other aspects of flight that inspire you?
Cockpits are the soul of the airplane. We love them because it is where aviation is formed but the other aspects are just as important to us. For instance, when you see what we achieved with the Falcon, the leather is similar to the leather they use for the sofas that are in the airplane itself. The engines and the turbines are also something we try to emulate, with the power in the watches. But there are two things people recognise an airplane by - its profile and the dashboard. So having a watch designed in the same aspect gives the wearer something to feel for. We have done a watch with the SR-71 Blackbird, the silhouette was amazing so we used it. The challenge today is that the technology of aviation today is modernised. Too modernised, in fact. Everything is analog, everything is digital. Can we change the mindset of people? We used to have some quartz watches which were very innovative like the Hydromax which was the deepest watch in the world. But people prefer mechanical watches.
Is there a reason why you choose to limit your collections even though they sell well as a set and are mostly evenly priced?
Well, the technical products are harder to produce so there is an actual need to limit it. Limiting it also creates a bigger desire in watch collectors' eyes. For instance, I saw it with the Airborne. it was a very successful limited edition watch. It was striking and it was very different. Today, there are still a lot of people trying to find the watch. The price has tripled or doubled in auctions. We did some watches for the SWAT team and the Air Force. That day, I was at an auction and we saw three of the watches we made for the Air Force and they all went for five times the original price. It was crazy
Outside of watches, you've been known to be quite the foodie. What's your favourite South-east Asian dish then?
I will eat anything. And it's so hard to pick one. I think why I like Asian food so much is the variety and the different cultures that make the food. I don't have a favourite but I do like the seafood here in Singapore.