Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 Annual Calendar

Contributing author Carl Eady reviews the Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 Annual Calendar.

This detailed review of the Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 Annual Calendar includes live images, specification details and pricing.

Image of Zenith Pilot Annual Calendar with chronograph

Introduction

Since 1865, the Swiss manufacture, Zenith, has been producing noteworthy timepieces of quality and distinction. Indeed, its founder George Favre-Jacot was a man who wholeheartedly embraced the notion of a ‘manufacture’ when he brought together watch artisans and craftsmen under one roof. Within the Swiss municipality of Le Locle, he provided all the necessary facilities to harness their collective efforts into producing quality timepieces. Some 150 years later, this ‘star’ brand still calls Le Locle home and produces iconic collections powered by innovative and supremely accurate movements.

The case

The case of the Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 Annual Calendar is, ‘on paper’, scaled near the extreme of today’s wrist tastes. Happily, any sense of intimidation will likely turn to delight upon sporting this stunning pilot’s watch. With a 48mm diameter and 15.8mm depth of housing, it clearly sits proud, almost dominating the wrist. The quality of the finish instills a feeling of confidence and even invincibility. A highly polished stainless steel bezel presents a glistening contrast to the beautifully brushed finish of the case body. The large crown, evident in many high end pilots’ watches, is a rounded ‘onion’ shape and, with its deep notches, is decorative in comparison to the masculine features found elsewhere on this timepiece. The water tight, screw-in crown is flanked by large rectangular pushers, with perfectly milled edges, providing a distinctly tactile feel to assist accurate operation of the chronograph.

Image of Zenith Pilot Annual Calendar with chronograph

The aviation theme is enhanced further by the addition of an identification plate riveted to the left case edge, bearing the HB initials for the Swiss Civil Aviation register and the series number for the piece. Zenith designers have opted for a solid case back, employing the ‘Flying Instruments’ design, which pays homage to Philip Blériot with an elaborate engraving of his 1909 Type X1 mono-plane flying across the Zenith shield. The steel lugs are also cleverly presented. Screwed into the case, they are sufficiently angled to enable the strap to envelope the wrist, an important detail which should not be overlooked when creating a watch of this circumference.

Image of Zenith Pilot Annual Calendar with chronograph

Image of Zenith Pilot Annual Calendar with chronograph

Naturally, being a pilot’s watch, the Type 20’s domed sapphire crystal has an anti-reflective coating on both sides thus reducing glare, enhancing legibility and providing a perfect window into a truly arresting dial.

Image of Zenith Pilot Annual Calendar with chronograph

The dial

The dusky matt black finish of the Type 20’s dial provides a perfect backdrop, ensuring all the elements are optimised for supreme legibility. Railroad track markings adorn the perimeter of the dial and encircle the larger than life Arabic numerals, which are finished in Super Luminova SLN C1. By day they have a crisp white appearance, however, in low light conditions this transforms into an incredible vivid green luminescence with a lasting glow, truly fit for purpose.

Image of Zenith Pilot Annual Calendar with chronograph

To display a ‘day, date, month’ annual calendar alongside a 60-minute chronograph requires clever dial design, and Zenith has certainly risen to the challenge. The calendar is presented via two apertures. The day of the week and the month are indicated in a horizontal ‘split’ window at three o’clock. Many manufacturers overlook the importance of a legible date window. Given that the key complication in this watch is the Annual Calendar, it is pleasing to see that Zenith has accorded significant space at the six o’clock position, recognising that every day deserves to be celebrated.

The sub-dials sit upon deep jet black circles. The 60-minute chronograph counter is poised above the six o’clock date window, with a small seconds dial at 9 o’clock. The Zenith name, trademark star and the watch’s nomen, positioned below 12 o’clock, complete the dial estate and provide a wonderful sense of balance.

The strap

The strap of the Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 Annual Calendar is also noteworthy. The deep brown leather is alligator, with a semi-gloss sheen and beige hand stitching. Despite its thickness, there is a pleasing softness and agility to the strap, helping to accord a comfortable fit. The inner leather on the strap is protected by the application of a tactile rubberised coating which also prevents the watch from slipping on the wrist. A massive pin and buckle (adorned with a large Zenith star) add the classic finishing touch, reinforcing the sense of nostalgia omnipresent with this piece.

Image of Zenith Pilot Annual Calendar with chronograph

Image of Zenith Pilot Annual Calendar with chronograph

The movement

In the watch world there are very few movements which have captured the imagination like the Zenith El Primero. It has undergone over 1000 improvement programmes since its groundbreaking introduction in 1969. In this Type 20 movement, Zenith has used the 4054 variant, adding the annual calendar complication. Developed in conjunction with Ludwig Oechslin in 2011, the calendar in this in-house movement is ingeniously controlled by just nine parts. Three concentric discs cleverly interlink, ensuring that for months with 31 days, the date disc moves the month forward, whereas in 30 day months, the month disc causes the 31st day to ‘skip’. As a result, only one manual adjustment per year is required during the transition from February to March.

Operating at 5Hz or 36000VpH, the 341 components of this 4054 El Primero deliver supreme accuracy and a very respectable 50-hours power reserve. Côtes de Genève finishing graces the movement’s oscillating weight; fine detail indeed considering it will only be seen by Zenith’s servicing engineers owing to its concealment by the ‘Flying Instruments’ case back.

The hands

Legibility is an important quality necessary in a pilot’s watch, and the matt black dial of the Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 Annual Calendar provides the ideal canvas upon which the stunning ruthenium coated ‘cathedral hands’ float above. Brushed to a satin finish and also painted with Super Luminova their legibility have few equals.

Image of Zenith Pilot Annual Calendar with chronograph

The ‘small second’ and 60-minute chronograph hands are, in contrast, simple yet elegant and do not intrude on the overall aesthetics. A white tip on each is the only obvious detailing.

Image of Zenith Pilot Annual Calendar with chronograph

The long elegant chronograph seconds hand, while idle and residing in the 12 o’clock position, aligns its tiny window perfectly over the Zenith star – a simple detail which fans of the brand will adore.

Closing remarks

The high levels of build quality and craftsmanship on display in the Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 collection have deservedly won many plaudits. The steel Annual Calendar iteration is, for me, the standout model in the series. The hands and Arabic numerals are sympathetic to a bygone era, yet effortlessly combine to convey the time with the briefest of glances, even in low light.

Image of Zenith Pilot Annual Calendar with chronograph

Three years on from its introduction, it is one of the most iconic pilots’ watches in today’s market; steeped in heritage, high on credentials and incorporating an exceptional El Primero movement from one of the greatest living master craftsmen.

Image of Zenith Pilot Annual Calendar with chronograph

The size of the Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 Annual Calendar may be somewhat intimidating yet, for those who dare, this vintage inspired piece offers a captivating charm, transporting the wearer to an age when the pioneers of aviation defied gravity to become lords of the skies.

Technical specification

  • Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 Annual Calendar
  • Calibre: 4054 Zenith El Primero Automatic Annual Calendar, 36,000 vibrations per hour (10 beats per second or 5Hz)
  • Chronograph: 60 minute chronograph register + central chronograph seconds hand
  • Power reserve: approximately 50 hours
  • Case:  stainless steel
  • Case size: Width 48mm / Thickness 15.8mm
  • Dial: matt black
  • Glass: anti-reflective coated sapphire crystal
  • Water resistance: 100m / 10 bar
  • Band: Brown Alligator strap with rubber lining presented on a steel pin buckle
  • Price: £7,700 (RRP as at 2.9.2016)

Acknowledgement

We wish to thank Watches of Switzerland, Manchester for kindly providing access to this timepiece

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