The manufacturer Zenith, which has remained in the very same spot for almost a century and half, was an integral part of the early days in the amazing saga of aviation and was one of the first to supply onboard watches and instruments.
Louis Blériot and Léon Morane were acquainted with each other. The two famous pioneering aviators took part in the conquest of the skies in the early 20th century. On July 25th 1909, at the age of 37, Blériot flew across the Channel in a plane he had built: a world-first accomplishment. Less than a year later, 25 year-old Morane flew at more than 100 km/h at an air show in Reins, France – an unbelievable speed for the time. His aircraft was a Blériot XI. The two men shared a passion for aviation as well as a taste for risks – and of course for competition. Not only that, but Louis Blériot and Léon Morane also owned an instrument that was a must-have for pilots, a Zenith watch that they regarded as the most accurate on the market. Witness these few lines penned by each: “I am very satisfied with my Zenith watch that I generally use and I cannot but recommend it to all those with a concern for precision”, wrote Louis Blériot, while Léon Morane exclaimed “Zenith! Isn’t that a predestined name for aviators? Add to that the fact that all these qualities are housed within the attractive case of this watch, and you’ve got a Zenith.”
Zenith thus made a decisive early entrance into the extraordinary adventure of aviation. First partnering some of the greatest pioneers, the manufacture subsequently became one of the first onboard instrument manufacturers. Altimeters and onboard watches (montresd’aéronef) intended for inflight use were supplied both to the military and to civilian airlines. Known among aeronautical industry manufacturers and professionals for its reliability, its sturdiness and its precision, the famous Zenith Type 20 appeared as of 1938 on the instrument panels of a number of planes – including the Caudron Simon C.635 used by the French Air Force as a training aircraft. Today’s Pilot collection is a worthy heir to these years of airborne glory and conquests.
GMT watches are thus direct heirs to the conquest of the skies, which is why Zenith wished to pay homage through a special GMT series to one of the most talented pilots of his era, who became a legend: the Red Baron. Born Albrecht von Richthofen in May 1892 in what is now Poland, he was fascinated by the budding field of aviation and soon became a true aerobatics artist – a flying ace to whom even pilots of the allied forces paid tribute. His celebrity and his nickname are inseparably bound up with that of the bright red-painted Fokker Triplane Dr.1. Famed for his 80 air combat victories, he was one of the last representatives of the nobler values of such combat: honour, fair play and courage.
It is in memory of this gifted pilot whose name is still cited to this day that Zenith has created a 500-piece limited edition: the Pilot Montred’Aéronef Type 20 GMT Red Baron. Made in black DLC-coated steel and fitted with an overstitched black leather strap, this model is also distinguished by its red GMT marking and by the caseback medallion depicting the Fokker Triplane Dr.1 and bearing the inscription: Montred’Aéronef Type 20 – ZENITH Flying Instruments. Definitely a collector’s watch.
Unlike other limited edition watches produced, for example the Hugo Boss Orange watches ‘especial 01’, this is a truly special beast. Limited to a run of 500 numbered pieces, it is reported to have sold out already, not to be sniffed at considering it is reported to cost over $10,000.