04:41:00

Blériot crosses the English Channel by air on July 25, 1909

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Westime Stories
Hand Holding a Watch

At 4:41, on Sunday, July 25, 1909, the French aviator Louis Blériot made history by completing the first airplane flight across the Channel. He wore a Zenith watch on his wrist.

In 1908, the “Daily Mail” newspaper offered a reward of £ 1,000 to the first man to cross the Channel by plane. Three competitors claimed they could accomplish this. First in line was Hubert Lathman, a sporty and daring playboy, and a test pilot for the aviation company “Antoinette”. He had already crossed the Channel in a balloon and had won several trophies. The second, Louis Blériot, was an engineer, an airplane builder and an aviator. He had invested all the money from his car headlight factory to develop a monoplane, of which he had made 11 prototypes. And finally, Count Charles de Lambert, a Russian aristocrat of French origin, adventurer and pilot with a passion for hydrofoils.

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Alongside these consummate flyers who dazzled the public, Swiss watchmaker Zenith played a pioneering role in designing the first flight instruments. Louis Blériot was not mistaken, his Zenith wristwatch, a faithful “co-pilot”, was riveted to his wrist.

“I’m very happy with the Zenith watch I use regularly and I cannot recommend it enough to people who care about accuracy,” Blériot said about his treasured timepiece.

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The summer of possibilities

The competition was raging in July 1909 to win the sum promised to the pilot who would open an airway between the two banks of the “Channel”. The first to start was Hubert Latham. He took off on July 19, at the helm of a technically-advanced monoplane, the “Antoinette IV”. But because of an engine breakdown, he failed a few minutes after takeoff! The airway was clear for Louis Blériot, who immediately enrolled in the race. Time was running out and his rivals were at the starting blocks! For the French engineer, the stakes were high: he had spent a fortune on the construction of airplanes, risking his life and at the cost of a series of crashes, hence his nickname “the king of breakage”. After conclusive tests, Blériot was ready to start the adventure on his “Blériot XI”.

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The dawn of glory

Shortly before launch, Blériot burnt his foot while experimenting with a device. It is thus hurt that he undertook the crossing of the Channel. Believing the weather to be favorable, he took off on July 25, 1909, at 4:35, near Calais in France. The 43 km of the Channel represented an immense challenge, with no reference point to guide the aviator. Flying at an altitude of 80 to 100 meters, at an average speed of 60 km / h, Blériot reached the English coast in 30 minutes. He bypassed the cliffs to land in a meadow in Dover (UK). A hard landing: the chassis of the plane fell away and a propeller blade came off. This feat earned Blériot worldwide renown and orders poured in. The “father of aeronautics” devoted himself to the industrialization of his airplanes.

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The Zenith Manufacture, which accompanied the pioneer in his exploits, has continued its many developments. In addition to onboard instruments, the brand created the first “Pilot” aviator watches, whose current collection contains the Zenith DNA, as well as precision mechanics and style.

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About Zenith

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Advertising of the period

“Zenith” is the translation of an Arabic word meaning “path over the head,” the very definition of adventure, discovery and innovation, values that have characterized this watchmaking brand from its inception, and which took on new meaning at the dawn of the 20th century. With a long history dating back to the middle of the 19th century, Zenith has remained true to its visionary founder, the Swiss watchmaker Georges Favre- Jacot, who named the brand after one of its patented movements.

As the world moved into the 20th century, the Zenith caliber won many important prizes at the world’s biggest fairs, and conquered new territories. The company also implemented strategies that paid off in the end, among which were the emphasis on advertising, and dispersing distribution points to remote corners of the world. The goal was to become stronger, and to protect the company from crises and wars that rarely affected multiple geographic areas at the same time. The zest for innovation also led the brand to pursue unique collaborations.

Around the beginning of the First World War, Zenith enlisted Lalique to design some of its pocket watch cases, resulting in some of the watchmaker’s most beautiful historic pieces. Zenith also recruited well-known Swiss architect Alphonse Laverrière, who was also very active in the decorative arts, to design its factories, boutiques, packaging and even some products. Its timepieces were also favored by distinguished female wearers: countess Anna de Noailles, the first woman commander of the Legion of Honour, and the Académie Française’s 1921 Grand Prix laureate, praised her exquisite yet practical agate Zenith model in her writings.

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Historic view of the Manufacture

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Georges Favre-Jacot wins the gold medal at the Paris Universal Exhibition.

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El Primero Historique, 1969

The company’s constant search for modernization led to its switch to wristwatches and subsequent diversification to survive the crisis between the two world wars, when Zenith started to produce alarm clocks, pendulums, electricity meters, speedometers for automobiles, and marine chronometers.

The post-World War era was a prosperous one for Zenith, with the success brought in the early ’50s by 133 caliber, the brand’s first movement to have an automatic winding system, and, in the ’60s, by the popularity that the bejeweled 100-year-anniversary collection enjoyed at royal weddings.

The decade ended on a high note with the introduction of El Primero, a revolutionary automatic chronograph movement beating at 36,000 vibrations per hour. The Elite, envisioned as El Primero’s ultrathin, reliable, sturdy complement and introduced in the ’90s, was the company’s first movement designed with the help of CAD (computer-aided design) software, which replaced the drawing board.

At the same time, the brand repositioned itself in the high-end segment with the Rainbow collection, later joined by another collection called Class, and finally by the Chronomaster, a luxury line. Zenith stepped into the third millennium with increased support and a focus on the very high-end market with a new open dial called Open and an improved El Primero movement, followed by the introduction of the 8800 Zero G caliber in 2008, thus making the dreams of ten generations of watchmakers come true.

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Academy Christophe Colomb Hurricane