The incredible Zenith Mark V

Jun 07, 2013,04:11 AM

It was only recently, when I received my Zenith Mark V Cockpit watch from a dealer in Portugal, that I started to delve into the history of this watch. 

It is truly remarkable to know that in 1916 and 1917, close to ten watch houses were commissioned by the British Air Ministry to make these Mark V Cockpit watches for pilots of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Flying Corps. Omega, Invicta, Doxa, Octava, Electa, and Zenith appear to have been the houses that received the largest orders from the Ministry, on average producing perhaps 7,000 Type V's each. There is a lot of speculation as to how many Mark V's were produced in total, with war historians placing the total number anywhere up to around 58,000 pieces (based on studies of serial numbers on the watch dials). 

The British are reported to have built 58,144 aircraft during The Great War, and these included Bristol F2 fighter, the Sopwith Camel, and the Sopwith Snipe. The Mark V Cockpit watches were put in a black painted aluminium holder right in the center of the instrument panel, and these holders had horsehair felt to soften the rattle and act as a sort of suspension. Remember that these single seater warplanes (bi-planes) were made of not much more than wood and fabric !  Almost 36,000 of these planes were lost in the War, and pilots were required to salvage the watch if he was downed since the watches were not standard issue with the planes. 

Now, apparently the reason why the Mark V's, and much of the aircraft instrument panel had black dials was so as not to impair night vision since white numbers on black would have less impact than black on white. 

Luminous Mark V's started to be commission most probably in the latter part of 1917 with the commencement of night bombing raids, but nobody seems to be sure as to why the non-luminous Type V's would need to have the words "NON LUMINOUS" written on the dial ! 

You'll notice "CB 5924" written on the dial, where CB refers to the manufacture, Zenith, and 5924 being the serial number. Each manufacture had their own ID, with BB referring to Doxa and Omega, BD referring to Invicta etc. On the reverse side, the markings "A M" apparently refer to the "Air Ministry", with the "A" possibly referring to Air. 

It is interesting to note that Georges Favre Jacot produced the predecessor Mark IVA watches before registering the Zenith trademark that decade, and thus Zenith appears to be the only manufacture commissioned by the British govt to produce both the Mark IVA and the Mark V.

These Mark V's are not that rare, but they are also not common, since as one can expect, many were lost during the war, and many more since. But they often appear at auctions and vintage watch shops and are highly collectible pieces of history that can be had for an extremely fair price, with price ranges from $200 up to $800 for good condition pieces from the popular Omega and Zenith houses. 

And so it is a fitting tribute that, 95 years later, in 2012, Zenith launches the Type 20 Specials which certainly maintain the DNA of the amazing Mark V 30 Hr "Non-Luminous". 

Please do not take this small tribute as factual as I am far from a historian and expert on WWI military instruments, but do feel free to correct, add, or continue to research these remarkable instruments of history.


Zenith Mark V Ref CB 5924

Zenith Mark V Ref CB 5924

This message has been edited by Spellbound on 2013-06-07 04:16:04 This message has been edited by Spellbound on 2013-06-07 04:35:15

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It's a wonder and ...

 By: nilomis : June 7th, 2013-10:47
Smaller than the gigantic brothers. I never paid attention to pocket watches until yours. Lets see if I bump in one of those Marks. Congratulations, Nilo

The wristwatch was born from the pilots of WW1?

 By: Spellbound : June 8th, 2013-08:04
Apparently after the Great War, the pilots would carry their Mark IV.A's and Mark V's on their wrist in a pouch called a wristlet and this is when the popularity of wristwatches started.

Save the watch!

 By: Spellbound : June 9th, 2013-18:02
From a blogger Dark30 on another forum: "In the book "No Parachute" by Arthur Gould Lee, he once crash landed his Sopwith Pup just behind the allied lines (IIRC he was strafing German trenches and received damage) and had commented in a letter home to his...