From its origins, Bell & Ross has been passionate about the history of aviation and its heroes. Loyal to its values, the firm is commemorating the Centenary of the Great War by paying tribute to a legendary pilot: Georges Guynemer. Directly inspired by the first wristwatches worn aboard aircraft at that time, the Vintage WW1 celebrates a top gun of early aviation.
Guynemer – Pilot, Pioneer And Knight Of The Sky
In 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War, aviation was in its infancy. The first attempt at take-off was in 1890 with Clément Ader and the first real flight dated back to only 1903 with the Wright brothers. Louis Blériot may have crossed the channel in 1909, but when the balloon went up in Europe, flying remained a feat reserved for a handful of pioneers. Georges Guynemer was among them. Born in 1894 with a weak constitution, he was declared unfit when he asked to enlist in the army. He made his first entry into the nascent air force as a trainee mechanic. Having become passionate about flying, he qualified as a military pilot in April 1915.
Assigned to the Cigognes (stork) squadron, he made a name for himself at the controls of a Morane-Saulnier Type L, which he christened “Vieux Charles”. Fighter Group 12’s N3 squadron, which was formed in Reims in 1912, adopted the stork as its emblem when the unit was assigned to Alsace at the outbreak of hostilities, the bird being very common it that region. Some pilots even told of having been followed in flight by storks, to which they swore an unbreakable bond. Initially assigned to simple observation tasks, Georges Guynemer became a fighter pilot in his own right by shooting down his first enemy aircraft on July 19, 1915. Now flying a more powerful Nieuport 10, he soon established himself as one of the best French aviators and was awarded the Legion of Honor on his 21st birthday. His talent and skill allowed him to influence the design of combat aircrafts built for the army, including the SPAD, which became a formidable plane thanks to his contributions. He took part in the battles of Verdun and the Somme and was injured several times. He took to the air on September 17, 1917, at the head of the Cigognes squadron, having been promoted to captain, with a total of 53 confirmed and 35 probable victories. It was to be his last flight. He was aged just 22. Legendary hero, fallen at the height of his glory after three years of incessant combat. It was with this ultimate citation that the French Air Force would induct Georges Guynemer into the pantheon of flying aces…The École de l’Air, created in 1935, adopted Georges Guynemer’s own motto «Faire Face» (Overcoming). His example continues to inspire trainee pilots today, through a quotation engraved on a plaque on the edge of the runway at Air Base 701 in Salon-de-Provence:
“Until you have given everything, you have given nothing”
WW1 Collection: The Present Inspired By Times Past
In 2011, Bell & Ross chose to pay tribute to the pocket watches worn on the battlefield during the 1914-1918 War. With its imposing 49mm diameter and elegant polished case, the Pocket Watch 1 encapsulated the style of timepieces from the period. Pocket watches were gradually replaced by wristwatches aboard aircrafts, so that pilots could read the time more easily. Bell & Ross respected this history lesson by following the PW1 with its WW1 models. With its soldered wire handles and large open dial, reducing the bezel to its simplest form, the WW1 (Wrist Watch 1) has asserted its place as the direct descendant of the first wristwatches worn by pilots in the 1910s.
A Watch That Guynemer Could Have Worn
In creating the Vintage WW1 Guynemer, Bell & Ross authentically transcribes the finish and spirit of watches of the period. A case with a distressed gunmetal grey steel finish; opaline dial; sand-colored numerals and hands as on antique dials; wire handles; narrow, natural leather bracelet with the patina of time and over-size grooved crown (a souvenir of the time when aviation pioneers had to handle their watches wearing thick flying gloves) all give the Vintage WW1 Guynemer a truly authentic look. Its retro look is perfectly in keeping with the character of this watch, lent additional bathos by the silhouette of a stork at 6 o’clock. As well as this emblem, which pilots considered a good-luck charm, a portrait of Georges Guynemer is engraved on the rear of the case. The figures on the dial also pay tribute to him since their design matches the “2” appearing on the legendary pilot’s planes. While the second hand contains a blue color according to watchmaking tradition, the domes crystal evoking antique watches has been cut using modern techniques from hard-wearing sapphire. A mechanical movement with automatic winding operates this watch, produced in a limited edition of 500 pieces.
The Long Flight Of The Storks
In 1916, his squadron commander told Georges Guynemer that he was the most brilliant of his storks. This was a great complement, since the unit – which had displayed the silhouette of the bird on the side of its planes since 1914 – had already secured its place in legend through the courage and exploits of its pilots. When the armistice came on November 11, 1918, the squadron, now officially known as SPA 3, had become one of the most famous in all French military aviation for its 178 confirmed victories (and 204 probable).
The Cigognes squadron returned to do battle in the sky in 1940, when its pilots made up the 329th Squadron of the Royal Air Force. Equipped with Spitfires, then P47 Thunderbolts, the 1/2 Cigognes fighter squadron was formed in 1945 and deployed a year later in Indochina. Now flying from 116 Air Base in Luxeuil-Saint Sauveur and equipped with Mirage 2000-5Fs, the unit celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012 with an event sponsored by Bell & Ross. In 2014, the stork, which accompanied Georges Guynemer during his daring exploits, adorns the dial of the watch dedicated to this knight of the skies…
With the Vintage WW1 Guynemer, Bell & Ross pays a spirited tribute to an exceptional man, as well as to all the Cigognes squadron pilots who covered themselves in glory. By unveiling this watch on the Centenary of the Great War, Bell & Ross also intends to honor all pioneers of aviation.