Zenith has a credible history of over 100 years with pilot watches, notably with Louis Blériot becoming the first to fly across the English Channel in 1909 with his Zenith pilot watch. Modern Type 20 watches, launched in 2012, take their cues from the Blériot watch with the large case, black dial with large Arabic fonts, cathedral hands, and a large ratcheted crown.
Each year Zenith builds upon the Type 20 pilot series with new dial and case variations. The brand also issues limited releases to support good causes like the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride to fight prostate cancer. The only mis-step Zenith made was in the early days, when Type 20 watches were powered by Sellita movement. In 2015 Zenith re-released the Type 20 Pilot watch by replacing Sellita movement with an in-house Elite movement. Type 20 Pilot chronograph continued to be powered by El Primero movement. This move was well received by watch enthusiasts and retailers.
This week Zenith, which is part of the LVMH group, announced two new watches at their Dubai event. Both Type 20 Rescue and Type 20 Chronograph Rescue are a first in the series with a stainless steel case and sunray dial. Until now, the collection had been using a combination of aged case materials and textured colored dials to emulate an early 20th century look. Combination of steel case and slate grey sunray dial offers a more contemporary aesthetic.
Both pilot watches have a 45mm case diameter in brushed stainless steel, and a domed sapphire crystal with AR coating on both sides. The lugs are narrow; hence the watch wears smaller on the wrist. Both dials have oversized Arabic numerals entirely made of SuperLuminova for ultimate legibility. The focus on the dial remains on time only without date complication. The rhodium-plated hands have a generous coat of SNL C1 SuperLuminova. Another contemporary aspect of Type 20 Rescue watches is the yellow accents on dial, hands, and the strap. According to Zenith, yellow is a recurring color in the world of aircrafts that grabs the attention for vital controls and information.
The three-hand pilot is powered by Elite 679 caliber with a central hour, minutes and seconds hands, and a power reserve of 50 hours. The pilot chronograph is powered by automatic El Primero 4069 column-wheel movement, and has hours and minutes in the center, small seconds at 9 o’clock, central chronograph hand, and 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock. It is a pleasure to wind this butter-smooth movement with the big screw-in crown, possibly the closest experience to winding a pocket watch on wrist. Both pilot watches have a stainless steel case-back engraved with the Zenith flying instruments logo, and they are accompanied with a black vintage calfskin leather strap with rivets.
Both Type 20 Rescue watches make for solid modern pilot watches with credible history and movements. Interesting point to note is the pricing – the three-hand pilot (Ref 03.2434.679/20.I010) is $7,100, and the pilot chronograph (Ref 03.2434.4069/20.I010) is $7,600. For $500 more you are getting the famous El Primero chronograph movement, which makes for a compelling choice, especially since the case size of both the watches are the same.