[Year 2077, 2133HRS, Ampang City 1:- Ampang, Malaysia]
“Sirens can be heard from a few blocks away, along with gunshots.
Chaotic was an understatement. Civilians could be seen fleeing from the scene, and cyber troopers and cyber terrorists were engaged in a firefight amidst the chaos.
[Come in Hotel-6, we are en route to the rendezvous point with the Commando strike team 1, we need to regroup at the back of the overpass and – – – ]
Vincent was abruptly interrupted by a nearby explosion which blasted shreds of vehicle metal into Vincent’s direction, he managed to get away unscathed and quickly scurried behind a turtled civilian vehicle beneath the overpass for cover.
He then engaged his HUD built-in thermal scanner.
“4 tangos to the left, 2 right ahead…”
Before Vincent could finish the monologue in his head, an enemy with concealing ability caught a glimpse of Vincent’s position and bullets started firing towards his direction. Unfortunately, Vincent’s pre-programmed bionic reflexes overheated and malfunctioned, he barely got away in time and sustained several gunshots to his metal-casted knee.
Vincent had no choice but to activate a signal scrambler to nullify the enemy’s communications at the expense of his own HUD’s functionality in order to create an opening for an escape. As he made a run for the nearest evacuated building for cover, he briefly activated cooldown mode so he could ready his malfunctioning boosters to get him to higher ground for safety.
Panicking, Vincent was.
As he glanced down on his wrist in despair while waiting for the cooldown sequence to initiate, an angular mechanical object was peeking out of his left-hand glove, sitting on his wrist was the Bell & Ross Cyber Skull, with a sturdy silicone strap wrapped around his wrist.
Vincent rolled over his wrist, all he could see before his own eyes was a skull, and there, with an hour and minute hand.”
“If there was ever an advertisement idea for the Cyber Skull, it should go a little something like that.” Marshall muttered to me the other day over a Zoom call while we were having a debrief on the Bell & Ross BR 01 Cyber Skull.
For context, a couple weeks ago we met up with Mr. Tong, the General Manager of Bell & Ross Asia the other day at his office in downtown Kuala Lumpur and we were given the opportunity to view and experience B&R’s latest addition to the Skull family. We were also given the opportunity to take home the Cyber Skull for a week so that we could have an in-depth review and a conversation about the watch.
During my Zoom conversation with Marshall, we brought up hints of the newly released Cyberpunk 2077 game. For some odd reason, we both mutually felt like the watch could be connected to a futuristic world similar to what you would experience in that game.
That said, here is a quick recap of our discussion.
“Hello, hello hello?”
Marshall: You know what, Vincent? I still cannot believe that Mr Tong willingly let us have the Cyber big boi for a week for this review. (laughs)
Vincent: Exactly mate, that was also my very first experience with Team Matick to meet our friends over at Bell & Ross. With that, what’s your first impression of Cyber Skull?
Marshall: Well, I love it. As you can see, it is much sleeker and stealthier looking in comparison to its predecessors, which is a trait that I am absolutely in love with. I’ve always admired the B&R Skulls from afar but when this came out last year, I knew that we had to take a closer look. It was really nice of Mr Tong to have us in his office to view the watch and he even gave us a detailed briefing about it.
Vincent: Indeed! Honestly, I’ve never tried any of the Skulls, nor did I have any knowledge about them before we covered the Cyber Skull. For me, seeing and holding it in person gives a different kind of thrill compared to any other watches due to its aggressive yet subtle looks, and that all sapphire surface on the top and bottom of the case.
Marshall: Indeed, it is unlike anything I have ever seen so far from B&R. I’ve tried the older Skulls but the edgy and angular personality of the Cyber Skull just speaks to me on some level. According to Mr Tong, it was based on the angular shapes of the fuselage of the Lockheed F117 Nighthawk fighter aircraft, which was one of my favourite fighter jets when i was a young boy. It’s aggressive but quite subdued at the same time, the facets on the side of the case makes the watch feel like it is a 3 dimensional origami. The exterior beauty is quite something and I found it really difficult to put into words, really.
Vincent: Yes, it has some of the details that we don’t usually see on a watch of this caliber. For instance, the inspiration and also paying tribute to the brand’s military-esque direction with pretty much the majority of their products. For many watches at this price bracket especially, it crept into the territory of what I would categorise as the “haute luxury” space where many of the brands tries to do their own “thing”, and very much disconnects with what other price/market segment does at paying homage to a certain cause or following.
Marshall: Absolutely. For that I think we have to give B&R some credit on the execution of the Cyber Skull. I thought they did an outstanding job in conceptualizing the spirit of the Lockheed F117 Nighthawk so very well within the Cyber Skull. That being said, let’s briefly get into the technical specifications, shall we?
Vincent: We shall. First up with the case diameter, it measures at 46.5mm across, and a close to 14mm of thickness. It comes available on only a rubber strap, and the dial is literally a floating skull in the middle of the case that houses the BR-CAL.206/ With such case dimensions, it definitely sits on the larger side of things for my skinny wrist. Surprisingly though, compared to the previous generation – the Laughing Skull and the Burning Skull, the Cyber Skull looks and feels smaller than its predecessors. This is mainly because of the lack of case-estate as the Cyber Skull has only two pieces of 2mm thick sapphire crystals sandwiching the case, whilst the case itself has a somewhat minimal presence.
Marshall: Yes, unfortunately at 46mm with a case like that, it just didn’t sit too well on my 6.75inch wrist. BUT, I could probably wear it on my forearm, yeah, that’s a good look. I digress. But yes, although the Cyber Skull is just simply too large for my wrists, my appreciation for the watch would still remain the same. The new movement BR-CAL.206 and the floating skull in the centre of the watch is also particularly impressive, quite significant and symbolic to the ‘death from above’ theme, if I do say so myself.
Vincent: Yes, 100%. Mr Tong did mention that the BR-CAL.206 was developed by Concepto specifically and only for the BR 01 Skull series. It is a movement that is encased in the Skull structure like the Laughing Skull, which is impressive to begin with. The Skull here as the name suggests, Cyber Skull, has a reworked look of the skull that adopts the same design language as the case that is angular, stealthy yet aggressive. You’ll find the balance wheel trying to balance itself (lol) at 12 o’clock, and the barrel hidden behind the jaw, which can be seen when you’re winding this manual wind movement. Essentially a Laughing Cyber Skull, if you will. And Marsh, I wanna know, how would you introduce the Cyber Skull to other consumers?
Marshall: I think the starting point for watches of this particular category should be, as you said, “novelty”. Obviously, it isn’t something I would foresee people wearing on a daily basis, as it is more like the Métiers d’art for B&R. Now before you say anything, I am fully aware that some people might say that my comparison was questionable, but as a matter of fact, B&R is not known to be a brand that creates Métiers d’art pieces, but neither is Blancpain, Ulysse Nardin, etc. Therefore, the novelty aspect of B&R’s Skull watches are definitely in some ways comparable to the Métiers d’art category. The way I look at it, this is just how B&R interprets it.
Vincent: I totally agree with you. It definitely isn’t a category expected to come out of B&R, but with this cyber-futuristic design, I can imagine it’s gonna go out faster than the predecessors.
Marshall: Yes, I do think that the Cyber Skull has a much more palatable aesthetic for the modern watch enthusiasts.
Vincent: On that note, I would also want to recap the origin of the Skull. During the presentation with Mr Tong, he mentioned that the skulls had been a symbol of luck for the military, or even for pirates as a provocative insignia. In the context of B&R’s watches, it pays homage to the historical warfare that took place in June 1944, the infamous D-Day where American troops with skull symbols etched onto their uniform, parachuted down onto the French shore of Normandy to retake the territory from the Axis (Germans). Like you have mentioned earlier, this earned them the “Death From Above” moniker. Quite interesting, right?
Marshall: I absolutely love the story behind B&R’s Skull watches. As you said, the skull symbol is one that is widely used for the sake of intimating the enemy during those times, and I personally think the adaptation and the spirit of that concept really shines through in the Cyber Skull. Now only if we were in 2077… Anyway, Vincent, you’re the one who took home the Cyber Skull, tell me a little bit about your experience.
Vincent: While my time with the Cyber Skull is short, it was still an exciting experience for me. Imagine having a RM58,000 watch on loan, man. My hands got all sweaty thinking about it all over again (laughs). With just a week’s time to just stare and fiddle with the watch, I found myself pretty impressed with the watch’s aesthetics and build quality. I’ll say it again, while it is not a watch for me to time my late night’s Indomie craving, or my coffee brewing process, I simply enjoy its presence around my wrist in the office or at home. It’s like a piece of art.
Marshall: Did you discover any gripes with the watch during your time of having custody of it? Although I can appreciate the fact that this design cue was intentional to give the watch a “floating” sensation, which expresses the “Death From Above” concept very well, I, for one, am not a huge fan of transparent or skeletonised cases, but solely because I have ugly wrists for watches belonging to that category.
Vincent: Not really. But since you mentioned the transparent case, I don’t particularly hate it. I think it goes well with the novelty behind it, and who knows if I have a hairy wrist, it’ll be an added complexity isn’t it? (lol) But anyway, for obvious reasons, the Cyber Skull is also reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk-ish theme. As someone who obviously is not in the military, I can only relate this to a few AAA title games such as the Borderlands series, Call of Duty, and also the most recent title Cyberpunk 2077. I think the watch came out at the right time for the younger audience to develop a sense of familiarity towards post-apocalyptic concepts being popularised and conceptualised in everyday objects such as watches. Not that boomers like our in-house doctor KC aren’t gonna understand it, but I’m just speaking in a much general context. If I recall, you are a fan of the post-apocalypse cyberpunk theme yourself?
Marshall: Well, I wouldn’t go as far as calling myself a huge fan, but I will say that I can definitely appreciate the cues and nuances of any design, including digital art, inspired by the synthwave, post-apocalyptic cyberpunk-ish theme. It is just simply a fascinating fantasy world, and to see elements of that world being translated into a lot of the designs of artful, ornate objects around us has been quite an interesting experience on my part. Although, obviously there were no official design associations being established between the said theme and the Cyber Skull, I just can’t help but to associate the two elements together. It almost seemed like they were supposed to go hand in hand.
Vincent: The symbiosis of two of these themes into one definitely worked in my opinion, too. With the cyberpunk theme, it saves me quite some time as it created a fun opportunity for a photoshoot. I tried replicating the streets of what you would see in Cyberpunk 2077 with different bright neon lighting in my own bedroom and man, the watch looked bad-ass. The multi-dimensional look of the case, although in matte ceramic finish, bounced light off each corner and created a layered look with a lot of depth. It is almost as if the watch was finished with brushed and polished surfaces instead. That would be something that I would love to see during the product refresh if B&R is planning one for the Cyber Skull, is to make it in white ceramic. That I think would be an absolute looker.
Marshall: Now that you’ve mentioned it, I think that would be an absolute match made in heaven, however, I personally think that the Cyber Skull is already expensive as it is (lol). Still, a good material proposition in my humble opinion is to create a Yin-Yang conceptual contrast. According to Mr Tong, the Cyber Skull is limited to 500 pieces and retails for USD 10,900, or RM50,900 here in Malaysia. That said, although this is a watch that is undeniably up there in terms of pricing, I still think that the Cyber Skull is a compelling package consisting of technical and design finesse, it is definitely one of the headliners for the Skull family in my book. What do you think?
Vincent: I guess we’re both on the same page. From the way I look at today’s market landscape, there are two polar opposites, let’s call them two bandwagons: Bandwagon #1 – those who champion classic looks and vintage design cues; Bandwagon #2 – those who are adventurous and are constantly trying to break the boundaries of traditional watchmaking. While I can tell many on the Bandwagon #1 can’t justify the price for something that’s totally not up their alley, I think the Cyber Skull has a lot more potential for those belonging to Bandwagon #2. Although one concern that I have is that skulls generally are deemed as bad omens in Asian cultures and are often associated with death and barbarism, but as long as it’s for the forward thinking audience, why not?
Marshall: All I can say is, whether or not you are in the market for something that is a little off the beaten path, the Cyber Skull is a watch that we should not sleep on. Looking at the Cyber Skull in its entirety, I also hope that the design language of the Cyber Skull would find its way into its other range of watches, that would really add a lot of synergy to the entire brand collection as a whole.
Vincent: Agreed. With that, I think it all comes to the right note to conclude this, thank you for joining me in this conversation Marshall, hope to see you real soon for some coffee or beer at Pete’s!
Marshall: Likewise mate, I’ll see you soon.
Once again, we would like to extend our gratitude to Mr Tong, General Manager for Bell & Ross Asia for lending us the Cyber Skull for this episode of #LookCloser.
For more information on the BR 01 Cyber Skull, click here.
For Team Matick,