Zenith Pilot Type 20 Silver Chronograph

The Zenith Pilot Type 20 Silver Chronograph upholds the Swiss company’s reputation for making pilots’ watches. This latest model shares some design elements with the Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 released in 2012, however, it is equipped with a chronograph, silver case and is delivered in a more manageable size.

Zenith Pilot Type 20 Silver Chronograph

Zenith, the Swiss Manufacture founded in 1865, is often associated with the self-winding chronograph movement, the El Primero. This movement, unveiled in 1969, is often cited as one of the finest chronograph movements of all time. When it was released, the fully integrated chronograph, with its column wheel and lateral coupling, stood out from the crowd, primarily because the balance operated at a dizzying 36,000 vph (5Hz). This exceptionally high frequency conferred superior precision. Interestingly, although 50 years have elapsed since the El Primero was first released, few other firms have been able to match the movement’s remarkable 5Hz frequency.

However, the problem with the El Primero is that it seems to overshadow the brand’s many other achievements. Zenith has always had a proud history of making pilots’ watches. Georges Favre-Jacot, registered the trademark ‘Pilot’ in 1888 and again in 1904. The name would add a degree of legitimacy when the firm chose to compete in the sector years later. On the 25th July 1909, French aviator Louis Blériot crossed the English Channel in 37 minutes and won a £1000 prize offered by the British newspaper, the Daily Mail. Most notably for horophiles, Blériot had a Zenith watch affixed to his wrist as he completed the aforementioned challenge.

Zenith went on to supply the Royal Flying Corps, then part of the British Army, with altimeters and stopwatches. In 1939, Zenith made hand-wound aircraft clocks, the Type 20 montre d’aéronef which were extensively used in French aircraft.

All examples of Zenith’s pilots’ watches and aircraft clocks were equipped with ‘cathedral’ hands and plump Arabic numerals, depicting the hours. However, this tradition changed in the 1960s when the Swiss firm supplied pilots’ chronographs to an Italian retailer, A. Cairelli who in turn supplied the Italian military.

Zenith Pilot Type 20 Silver Chronograph

At Baselworld 2012, Zenith revealed a behemoth watch, the Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20. The model measured 57.5mm in diameter and replicated many of the design elements found on the firm’s early pilots’ watches, including Blériot’s cherished timepiece. The plump numerals, Cathedral hands and onion-shaped crown infused the model with a charming dose of nostalgia.

Over subsequent years, cases shrank in size, new complications were released and alternative case materials, including bronze, were unveiled.

Zenith Pilot Type 20 Silver Chronograph

Recently, the Swiss firm unveiled a new pilots’ watch, the Zenith Pilot Type 20 Silver Chronograph. Housed in a 45mm case, made from sterling silver, the watch is more wearable than its 2012 antecedent. The bi-compax dial features a brushed riveted design, similar in appearance to the fuselage of planes from yesteryear. The model is limited to 250 pieces and sports a Zenith flying instruments logo. Oh and what about the movement you may ask? Well, its the El Primero 4069 Automatic, a movement that always craves the limelight.

Price: CHF 9,900 (RRP as at 20.2.2021)

The brand’s press release

Revisiting its iconic and historical Pilot aesthetic while drawing inspiration from vintage aircraft design, Zenith unveils the Pilot Type 20 Chronograph Silver, a compelling and richly detailed aviation-themed chronograph crafted in precious sterling silver – a first for a Zenith Pilot chronograph.

Zenith Pilot Type 20 Silver Chronograph

A limited-edition of 250 pieces, the Pilot Type 20 Chronograph Silver recalls Zenith’s unique pedigree in the world of aviation timepieces spanning over a century, having accompanied the pioneers of flight in the early 20th century, most notably with Louis Bleriot and his history-making voyage across the English Channel in 1909. With a more direct visual inspiration from historical aircrafts, the 45mm case is made from sterling silver. Like the fuselage of an aircraft, the silver dial features riveted details resembling metal panels, with an erratic satin-brushed surface to bring out the raw beauty of the metal. For maximum legibility at all times, the signature Pilot oversized Arabic hour-markers and “cathedral” hands feature white luminescent paint. Completing the aviator look is the brown calfskin leather strap with a rivet and silver pin buckle with a distinctive tab, recalling vintage pilot helmets.

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