Interview: Tong Chee Wei on the Appeal of Round Watches by Bell And Ross
World of Watches exclusive interview with Bell & Ross Asia General Manager Tong Chee Wei about the products, the watch shapes and the brand’s success in Asia.
There is no arguing that Bell & Ross is known first and foremost for their square watches in the BR-01 collection, legitimately inspired by the shape and design cues of cockpit instruments. The same holds true for its variants in the Instruments range such as the smaller BR-03 and the more extreme BR-X1. Their success has been so overpowering that newcomers to the watch scene may not be aware of Bell & Ross’s round varieties.
We talk to Bell & Ross Asia General Manager Tong Chee Wei about the products, the watch shapes, the market and more. Providing the visual narratives, the newest watches in the Vintage collection take on the round shape while drawing inspiration from worlds other than aviation directly.
Bell & Ross Asia was established last year. Can we assume that Bell & Ross is growing in the time when many watch brands find to be challenging?
In the past 12 months, we did better in all Asian markets than the year before, except for Hong Kong which was much affected due to the China factor.
Is it possible to define the individual who wears a Bell & Ross?
We make highly readable and functional watches for professionals. So I would suppose men who wear our watches are mostly young, active people who live their life on the edge. For them, time is of the essence. Let’s say, if you are a bomb disposal unit, you are asked to defuse a bomb they find somewhere, every second is important because that’s your job. These are the men of Bell & Ross.
Does the explosive success of your square watches make it more difficult to sell your round ones? Why is that so?
Not at all. We developed the Vintage collection 20 years ago and since day one, we’ve always respected and has been consistent with our brand’s DNA, which largely draws its inspiration from military codes. Have you seen our round collection this year? If you have not, I would like to invite you to discover them together with me.
From your experience, who is your target age group of customers for the round watches in the Vintage range?
Our watches, be it Vintage or The Instruments, appeal to a wide audience due to our consistency in keeping to our brand philosophy and persistence in adhering to the brand’s DNA. If I have to put an age to it, I would say we appeal largely to men between early twenties to the late forties.
You have great images always for your new models. How can you manage that?
All images are in-house. And, I think what’s really, really important is that we have stayed true from day one to today. We have a consistent message. We are clear about the direction, the design and who we are making these watches for. Therefore, these images come pretty easy. It is not made up. It is natural.
Bell & Ross does not use brand ambassadors or celebrities.
We don’t. The stars are the product itself. We use humans in lifestyle images, but we don’t focus on the image of a certain person.
As a company of private ownership, what do you think is your greatest disadvantage against the larger conglomerates?
I think it’s challenging sometimes. But I take it in my stride. Bell & Ross has a real story and product on its own. It’s unique in its design. Come on, at the end of the day, the market is for everyone. Do I feel the pressure of the big groups coming after me? No, because as long as I have the market there for me, I will have my fair share. That’s how I look at it.
What is your goal for Bell & Ross in 2018?
We have achieved our goal in stabilising the market in the first year of Bell & Ross Asia, since July 2016. Now we are into the second year which is to develop, to tell the market that we are here. And 2018 will be an explosive year for us!
From: World of Watches #40.