If you’ve not heard of them before, Zero West are an independent, British watch brand from Hampshire. Their limited-edition watches seamlessly marry the concept of time and place, matching iconic moments in history with modern style. The success of this pairing comes from a dynamic collaboration between Andrew Brabyn, a designer, and Graham Collins, a military engineer. Their watches are Inspired by history and led by innovation, with many featuring rare material from their chosen subject.
There is massive competition in the pilot watch market but also a great demand for this type of watch. Zero West take the pilot watch to the next level, with each design being a living memento of history. Zero West creations really stand out with their distinctive cases and incorporation of a salvaged piece of material which links to the story and history of each watch. This is where the motto ‘recovered, recast, reinvented’ comes in and none so special as the Dambuster DB-1 watch, featuring a rare piece of ED825 Lancaster in the back of the watch.
The DB-1 embodies a Time and Place, through the recognition of Operation Chastise, the most audacious bombing raid of all time. Of the 19 Lancaster crews that flew that night only 11 returned, having completed what many thought was an impossible mission.
The back story
When the 19 Lancasters of 617 Squadron took off from Scampton on the night of 16/17 May 1943, nobody could have imagined that history was being made. Secrecy was such that very few people outside the squadron knew where they were going or what they were about to do.
The bare facts are that this was one of the most daring and skilled precision bombing raids in history. Two dams, (the Möhne and Eder), were to be attacked from a height of just 60ft at a designated speed, with the Upkeep being dropped at a precise distance from the target… at night. The fact that four out of the eight aircraft that attacked these dams are believed to have achieved this accuracy, is astonishing, especially as they were under heavy fire at the Möhne.
With both the Möhne and Eder breached, the third main target, the Sorpe Dam was attacked by two crews, both of whom achieved direct hits using a different method that didn’t require the Upkeep to bounce but the Sorpe dam held firm with Barnes Wallis believing that it would take at least five direct hits to break it.
Those extra attacks would never be forthcoming as four Lancasters were shot down or crashed on their way to the targets. Another two had to return after being damaged crossing the Dutch coast.
617 Squadron therefore lost eight Lancasters and 54 men, (with two POWs), on its first operation. It is this tragedy alongside the heroism and skill displayed that night, that makes the Dambuster’s one of the most incredible stories of WW2.
Following Operation Chastise, ED825 was flown by a variety of crews on training sorties up and down the UK, and in October 1943 converted back to a standard configuration and allocated the new codes KC-E.
On 10th December 1943, ED825 was flown from RAF Tempsford on a mission to drop supplies to the French resistance near Doullens. As F/O Gordon Weeden and his crew approached the town, a mobile Flak gun hit the aircraft in the fuel tanks setting it on fire. As Weeden steered away from the town, a large hill loomed out of the darkness and ED825 struck the ground just short of the summit. Tragically there were no survivors and ED825 was destroyed.
It was rumoured that ED825 had come down 30 kilometres north of Amiens. This location had been pointed out several years before by author and researcher Jean- Pierre Ducellier, who had interviewed a farmer in the Doullens and taken meticulous notes and even had a wartime RAF reconnaissance photograph of the farm showing a disturbed area of ground where the Lancaster could have fallen. Unfortunately, after an extensive search of the area nothing was found.
Only one final clue remained, a second-hand account that the aircraft had in fact crashed high on the hill a kilometre away. The research team walked from the farm up the hill towards the area, swinging metal detectors wearily to-and-fro in the desperate hope of picking up the trail of wreckage. As the sun set over the village of Doullens, the first small piece of aluminium appeared from the earth.
The team quickly began to find parts scattered far and wide, but the most identifiable object made from Perspex and aluminium revealed that they had found something unique to the Type 464 Lancasters – the lower gun mounting. It was this finding that confirmed they had indeed found ED825 which had not dived steeply into the ground as first thought but had flown into the rising ground before bursting into flames.
Zero West were privileged to obtain some precious pieces of ED825 aluminium that would be able to be smelt and recast to create a unique and rare watch for this once in a lifetime project. The significance of the ED825 material cannot be overstated and Zero West were honoured to have the opportunity to keep the story alive.
THE DB-1 LANCASTER – RECOVERED – RECAST – REINVENTED
The well machined case is brushed polished stainless-steel and has been produced in a limited run. The 316L cases have a 44mm diameter with eight polished vertically cut ball-nose flutes and brushed polished DSL lugs. The polished crown is secured with triple seal technology.
Zero West are renowned for designing dials from planes, cars and motorbikes and the DB-1 is no different with much of the inspiration taken from the altimeter dial with reference to the crucial 60ft height at which the dam had to be attacked.. Manufactured in enamel the DB-1 dial is a stunning instrument dial with vintage overprinted numerals highlighted in SuperLuminova X1 luminous pigment. Like very Zero West this dial features a Latitude and longitude coordinate and date code that reference time and place. In this instance it’s the Sorpe dam that ED825 flew to on the 17th May 1943.
Designed in-house, the Zero West branded strap is made locally to them with military and aerospace grade rubber. These straps, which come in a range of colours, are highly durable and comfortable on the wrist and are complemented with the stainless-steel buckle with engraved ZW logo. Zero West also make all their own leather straps inhouse, and are incredible quality, some featuring recycled WW2 canvas inserts.
Inside the DB-1 Lancaster watch is the Sellita SW200-1 ‘Top Premium Grade’ movement with 41 hours power reserve. The automatic movement historically provides reliable and robust performance, most suitable for a military aviation styled timepiece.
The Bottom line
There is much to admire about what Zero West are doing with the design and production of their watches, and the DB-1 is no exception. Living up to the motto of recovering, recasting and reinventing historic material, Zero West are keeping important British stories alive. If you are a fan of aviation or are just on the lookout for something unique, then the Zero West DB-1 Lancaster watch should be on your radar.
DB-1 £3,500 (200 builds)
For further info check out: https://zerowest.watch
Zero West will be attending the WatchIt Fair south of Birmingham on Saturday February 18th 2023, 11:00-17:00
WatchIt! page: https://12and60.com/watchit/
Also maybe one of the best watch reviews ever by Oisin O’malley on the DB-1
Also in the Dambuster range…
DB-1 Blackout £3,500 (100 builds)
DB-2 Chronograph £4,200 (100 builds)