The Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 was launched at Baselworld 2012 as part of a collection of aeronautical timepieces. The nomenclature of the watch is as extensive as the timepiece from Le Locle.
It is January and half the population have New Year’s resolutions, many of which undoubtedly relate to body image. It seems vast numbers of people are unhappy with their physique. This is no revelation. There is a huge industry which has evolved out of the public’s disquiet over their body mass. Indeed, I am one of those dissatisfied people. I would like to regain the slender torso of my youth.
Coincidently, I have just seen a former colleague and he is merrily consuming whey protein powder. He wants to add bulk to his body. He craves the bodybuilder torso which is a pre-requisite for any self-respecting night club bouncer.
I have also listened to friends’ wives covet the anorexic form of a fellow gym member. Yet, to me the focus of their envy resembles a broom handle with all the sexual allure this would bestow.
It would seem that a significant percentage of society is composed of individuals unhappy with their personal dimensions.
This preamble leads me to a behemoth of a watch, which is bold and proud and seems perfectly at ease with its ample girth. The Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 was launched at Baselworld 2012 as part of a collection of aeronautical timepieces. The nomenclature of the watch is as extensive as the timepiece from Le Locle.
Zenith has always had a justified reputation for making honest, reliable, quality watches. In particular, the El-Primero movement is still held in, justifiably, high regard by the watch collecting cognoscenti. There are few chronographs which can better its robust and dependable nature and its faithful timekeeping. The 5 (Hz) movement is legendary and worthy of the term, icon.
A few years ago, Zenith launched a large watch named Defy, rekindling a brand name from its past. It was not to my taste and like many fans of the brand, I did not succumb to its challenging aesthetics or its ambitious pricing.
However, in 2012, Zenith dazzled me with their Pilot range of watches. They were back on form and I have already waxed-lyrical about the Zenith Pilot Big Date Special. The Type 20 on first acquaintance may seem a little extreme, but, I must confess, I love it and never cease to admire its handsome lines.
The dial and case
A matt black dial, is sympathetic to pilot’s watches of the 1930s and 40s. This genre of watch was sometimes referred to as a deck or observation watch. Typically, worn on the sleeve of the flying suit, their dimensions were often large, aiding operation with glove clad hands.
Early 20th century aviator wristwatch that belonged to Louis Ble?riot
Today, we think of larger watches as 48mm in diameter, but pilots in the 1940s often wore timepieces of 52 mm and greater. This watch measures a substantial 57.5 mm and yet looks perfectly at ease with its gargantuan statistics.
Last November, at SalonQP, I met a couple of collectors who were both wearing the Type 20. A quick fondle of its formidable form and I was once again smitten.
The watch sits comfortably on the wrist despite its bulk. Remarkably, the crown, unlike some pilot’s watches, does not gouge the wrist, but quietly resides on the caseband until called upon. Its knurled detail is light, profering good tactility without any sharp edges to scrape the skin.
One reason for the elevated comfort on the wrist is the low mass of the watch. This is as a result of using grade 5 titanium for the case. It judiciously blends satin and polished surfaces with a pleasing, harmonious outcome.
Arabic numerals indicate the hours. The font is large and even with my age related myopia, I do not struggle to read the time displayed. The hours and minutes are conveyed with strong, luminous hands.
At 3 o’clock, a power reserve indicator displays the stored energy within the spring barrel, expressed in hours.
Opposite the power reserve indicator, located at 9 o’clock, a subsidiary seconds display is located. Symmetry is afforded by the judicious positioning of both subdials.
A chapter ring, featuring luminous markings, frames the dial using bolder strokes every five minutes, thus enhancing readability.
On the caseband, opposite the crown, is a plaque specifying that this is a limited edition of 250 and I suspect many of these personable timepieces have been snapped up by astute collectors.
The caseback features a sapphire crystal contrary to traditional pilot’s watches which often would have a solid caseback and soft-iron core. Yet, I must confess, I am delighted Zenith have not followed tradition but indulged the wearer with a wonderful view of the movement.
Zenith are a Manufacture who make their own movements and proudly draw on a vast expertise in creating mechanical calibres. This predates many of their competitors who began designing their own in-house offerings once there was a risk of possible reduced supplies from ETA.
The 5011 calibre originally featured in Zenith pocket watches and harks back to the 1960s. Yet, in this watch, Zenith have indulged the fortunate owner with a horological vista which would usurp many picturesque, Swiss mountain views.
I adore the Côtes de Genève motif on the bridges. The beating heart of the balance spring is visible to the wearer and is not masked by a troublesome rotor getting in the way. The double-arrow index regulator is congruent with the pure character of the movement.
The relaxed frequency of the movement, 18,000 vph (2.5Hz) is half the rate of the aforementioned El-Primero but somehow is befitting the nostalgic persona of the watch.
The watch is a chronometer, accompanied with COSC certification.
I accept, that for some, the large diameter of this watch may prove too much, especially for a diminutive wrist. However, it felt incredibly comfortable on my pre-diet arm and looked perfectly at home.
It is seldom that a watch is perfect, albeit many come close. Yet, I am struggling to see anything which could merit criticism.
As I alluded to earlier, I doubt many of the 250 watches are unsold and would not be surprised if this watch becomes increasingly collectable in years to come with values remaining strong.
The inquisitive may question my rationale for reviewing a watch which is so difficult to obtain, but there is just cause. In a few months, many journalists, trade buyers and enthusiasts will make the annual pilgrimage to Baselworld. Based on this performance, it would be foolhardy of any visitor to the fair, not to allocate time to see the latest novelties bearing the Zenith name.
Model: Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20
Case: Polished and satin-brushed grade 5 titanium; diameter 57.50 mm; water resistant to 3 bar (30 metres); sapphire crystal to front and caseback.
Functions: Hours; minutes; small seconds; power-reserve indicator.
Movement: Calibre 5011K, hand-wound; frequency 18,000vph (2.5Hz); 19 jewels; power reserve 48 hours; 134 parts.
Strap: Brown calfskin leather with hand-sewn topstitching on titanium pin buckle
Angus is a self-confessed watch addict and is frequently asked to contribute to various printed magazines and websites around the globe. He also writes for individual watch companies on matters of horology and has appeared on television and radio as an industry expert.