At Watches and Wonders 2023, being held in Geneva, Zenith has just unveiled the Pilot collection with two novelties — the Pilot Automatic and the Pilot Big Date Flyback. This follows Zenith’s addition of an intriguing quartet to the DEFY collection early this year. Here’s what GMT India found enchanting about the latest timepieces.
But, first, let’s look at Zenith’s close association with the world of aviation since the late 19th century. Founder Georges-Favre Jacot believed that mankind was on the verge of finally conquering the skies and Zenith should be there when this vision was realised. This prompted the Manufacture to file trademarks for the French and English terms, ‘Pilote’ and ‘Pilot’, respectively and become a leading producer of watches and dashboard instruments for pilots. Today, Zenith's Pilot collection remains a testament to the Swiss manufacturer's long aviation heritage, balancing tradition and modernity to enthral watch enthusiasts and aviation aficionados alike.
The collection has now been entirely reimagined, drawing inspiration from aviation's history to create a contemporary yet timeless design. The new watches in the collection retain the durability, legibility and intuitiveness that defined Zenith's earliest aviator instruments, now updated with the brand's distinctive flair and subtle references to aviation.
Zenith Pilot Automatic
The design of the Zenith pilot automatic watch offers a modern take on the vintage aesthetic codes of the collection, featuring 40mm cases in stainless steel (Ref: 03.4000.3620/21.I001) and black ceramic (Ref:49.4000.3620/21.I001).
The flat-top round bezel on top of the rounded case is a distinct feature of the new case design. The oversized crown, also a key feature of Pilot watches, has been given a more modern, angular form. The steel version has polished chamfers with vertically satin-brushed surfaces while the black ceramic version has been entirely microblasted for a matte finish. Each of the two variations features a black opaline dial with horizontal grooves, mimicking the look of corrugated metal sheets on older aircraft. In sharp contrast to the dial, the luminescent Arabic numerals and markers are filled with white Super-LumiNova. The watch has black and white hands and the dial carries the ‘Pilot’ signature. Right above the date window at 6 o’clock, the luminescent hour marker forms a flat white line, recalling the artificial horizon instrument in a plane. This allows the wearer to instantly understand the watch’s orientation.
The watch is powered by the El Primero 3620 high-frequency manufacture movement, visible through the sapphire display back. It delivers a power reserve of 60 hours when fully wound. The oscillating weight of the open winding mechanism is blackened, recalling the ‘artificial horizon’ dashboard instrument, which informs a pilot about the aircraft’s orientation relative to the Earth's horizon.
The Zenith Pilot Automatic watchcomes with a black cordura-effect rubber strap with a newly designed triple-folding clasp in black PVD coating. The black ceramic version is delivered with a more utilitarian khaki cordura-effect rubber strap while the steel model comes with an additional brown calfskin leather strap, reminiscent of vintage aviator’s paraphernalia (like the flight jacket, gloves and hat). The straps can be easily swapped, using the quick-release mechanism, integrated into the back of the straps.
Zenith Pilot Big Date Flyback
No Zenith Pilot collection would be complete without a chronograph model. In the latest version, Zenith has innovated by designing a new variant of the El Primero 3600 movement that offers an impressive range of fresh functions, explicitly tailored to the Pilot. It comes in two 42.5mm case versions, again in stainless steel and black ceramic.
The steel version is inspired by the ‘Rainbow Flyback’ with a colourful minutes totaliser in alternating colours (to distinguish between the five-minute marks easily), orange-toned hands and central chronograph seconds, taking inspiration from the iconic El Primero Rainbow of 1997. On the other hand, the black ceramic version boasts a utilitarian look and features white luminescent markers and hands in stark contrast to an opaline black corrugated dial.
As far as the Pilot Big Date Flyback’s performance is concerned, the new El Primero 3652 automatic high-frequency chronograph caliber integrates two functions — big date and flyback — suited for pilots. The oversized date display features a patented compliant mechanism that advances and stabilises both wheels in under 0.03 seconds. The flyback function simplifies operations and allows recording consecutive times without stopping. Both versions feature ‘artificial horizon’ rotors visible through the display backs.
Zenith Pilot Big Date Flyback watches in ceramic are delivered with black and khaki cordura-effect rubber straps. The steel version comes with a black cordura-effect rubber strap and a brown leather strap. All straps come with an integrated quick-release mechanism in steel with black PVD coating for easy swapping.
All in all, the latest Pilot variants do embody the spirit of aviation pioneers, inspiring us to soar high.