In 1992 Carlos Antonio Rosillo and his close friend Bruno Belamich made their long-time dream a reality when they launched their own watch brand.
Bell & Ross was conceived as a brand that would shake up the industry. Rosillo and Belamich had a common passion for watches and the industry and they had a clear goal in mind: to create watches suitable for professional use that adhere to strict military specifications, where function takes precedence over design. In 1994, Bell & Ross introduced its first collection of functional and durable timepieces. They were inspired by aviation and the military specifications and technological advances that accompany it.
As a relatively young company, Bell & Ross still has much to do. Only recently did the brand partner with Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons and make its first move into the Middle East. CEO Carlos Antonio Rosillo was recently in Dubai as part of the brand’s participation in Dubai Watch Week. A&E caught up with the entrepreneur to discover what it is that makes Bell & Ross different from any other brand out there and what we can expect to see from the future of the modern watchmaker.
What can you tell us about your experience in Dubai and the feedback from Dubai Watch Week?
It seems like SIHH or Baselworld has moved to Dubai, it was a fantastic event. The organisation and kindness of everyone has been great and the state of mind of the people involved was very relaxed, yet professional. We are at the heart of what’s important in the luxury watch industry – transmitting, cultivating and making sure it’s not just the watchmakers who are passionate but ensuring that this comes right through to the point of sale and therefore to the customers. This means they understand why they are paying so much for a beautiful watch because they understand what is behind it and the craftsmanship.
I must say congratulations to the Seddiqi family who are so devoted to the watchmaking industry in the region. Yesterday we closed with a beautiful event and we were lucky enough to have all the family including the young ones attend and it was a very beautiful moment. Some people today will say that young people only care about digital. This is wrong. Yes, we all need digital but does it give you emotion? No – it’s useful but it doesn’t give you the same emotion that you get from a timepiece.
What can you tell us about your customer in the Middle East? Do the buying patterns and habits of consumers differ in this region from those in the rest of the world?
Customers here are very knowledgeable and informed. It is a new start for us in the region as we only started working with Seddiqi one year ago, so it’s quite fresh, but we have definitely made the right decision. Bell & Ross is about partnering, even when you look at our logo it highlights this. We represent the link between designer, watchmaker, engineer and customer. When you build a brand, you need a good product, good communication, good distribution and good servicing. If one is missing you will not succeed. Since partnering with Seddiqi we have a good distribution system and that means that the end-user has good service which means they can understand the products much better.
People in this region are very knowledgeable and they appreciate luxury. They are very sophisticated. Until recently they didn’t really know Bell & Ross. At Dubai Watch Week I saw people being captured by what I was saying and they wanted to understand the brand better. They are very open to learning more about a brand that isn’t yet established in the market and they are very engaged with what we are doing. That engagement means that they love to discover. Bell & Ross goes from very professional watches to very high-end watches and when the customers
What is the vision of Bell & Ross today and has it changed since you founded the brand?
We haven’t changed a single thread of the initial vision. We are more mature and older but our vision is still the same. We love professional watches and this is the soul of the company, whether it’s aviation watches, diving, or racing watches. But our philosophy is and has always been about credibility, precision and functionality. We have kept this vision to have a brand that is creative and distinctive.
What do you think are the challenges a modern watch brand faces in comparison with those that have existed for centuries?
The biggest challenge we face is getting people to understand the brand and creating brand awareness.
What about the advantages you have over others by being a modern brand?
The big advantage that you have as a new brand is that you don’t have hundreds of years on your shoulders. You’re free to experiment. When you’re an old man you are wise, but you don’t have the freedom to create your life – that has been done and you hope it has been wonderful. When a new baby is born its life can become anything it wants to be. So that’s the difference and we were lucky to have that freedom. There are so many things that are only possible when you’re a new brand.
What can you tell us about the novelties you have coming up in 2020?
We’ve had different chapters in our story. The first was building the brand, the second was creating our factories and production. Then came the launching of the Square 1 which was the iconic watch, then the X1 which was the high complication watch. Now we move into the city. Previously we created watches for the heroes – divers, aviators, racers – now we are moving into the city with an urban watch – the V05. With this watch, we have kept the DNA of the brand but we are moving into a different sector. These watches are for urban explorers. The challenge now will be bringing the watch to key cities around the world.
How will you spread the word?
The most important thing for us is the product. Then comes the distribution. When you have these two in place, things move naturally. You can establish a boutique – but there’s no need to rush. I think the biggest mistake you can make in business is to make a decision because of your ego. There is no point in opening a boutique before you can sustain it. You need to take your time. When you have a good product, you know that one day or another it will be a success.
How is Bell & Ross dealing with the increasing demand for e-commerce?
E-commerce is something that is great for us. We were the first watch brand to have an online boutique. We have been in the digital world since 1997. In that year no one else was doing it. I remember some brands at that time having a black screen with the text “this is not appropriate for a luxury brand.” We were the first ones to believe it could work and it did – we were the pioneers. In 2007 we launched an e-boutique and we were the first watch brand to have one. So we have a lot of experience and it is paying off. People think that through digital you can only sell cheap products but that is not the case. We created a blue sapphire watch that retailed exclusively on Mr Porter for half a million dollars and it sold almost instantly. When people want something they will but it no matter where it is selling.
What is one thing you would like to do that you haven’t had the chance to do yet?
Many things! I would like to do many more collaborations. I think the art of watchmaking is endless. We have been working with master watchmakers who are great, but I like collaborations as they make sense and I like to create something that is mind-blowing.
What is the professional motto that you live by?
Life is about a journey, not a destination.
Do you remember the first watch you owned and what was it?
Yes, it was a pocket watch I inherited from my great grandfather and it is still working today. This is the beauty of mechanical watches – they will work forever. There is no worry of running out of battery with a watch!
How would you describe Bell & Ross in one sentence?
Strong and unique.
How do you stay unique?
By being consistent and different.