By Kien Lee
To comprehend ZENITH's place in the world of aviation watches, we have to go as far back as the late 19th century, when the Manufacture’s founder Georges Favre-Jacot recognized the possibility of man taking flight. In 1888, ZENITH would file a trademark for the French term “Pilote” - the Wright brothers would make their first successful flight on 17 December 1903 - then followed by the English version “Pilot” in 1904.
True to the vision of its founder, ZENITH would focus on specialised watches and dashboard instruments for pilots. The Pilot collection from ZENITH would take on various forms and design over the subsequent century and more, balancing heritage and modernism. The collection remains the Manufacture’s most long-standing line, capturing the fascination from those of watch aficianados to aviation enthusiasts.
In 2023, ZENITH launches the latest chapter for the Pilot, rebooting it for the contemporary times. Entirely redesigned from scratch, the all-new Pilot collection foregoes the vintage aesthetic for something that draws inspiration from the entire span of aviation – past and present.
The new pieces retain all of the essential features of durability, legibility and intuitiveness, promulgating the codes of the Pilot watches that ZENITH largely defined over a century ago with some of the earliest recorded aviator clocks and dashboard instruments. These pieces however, now wield some added ZENITH flair, and understated nods to the world of aviation.
The first to be introduced is the Pilot Automatic, which sets the foundation for the new collection. Crafted in a 40mm case in either stainless steel or black ceramic, the
The new ZENITH Pilot Automatic features an entirely new case design with a distinct flattop round bezel fixed on top of the rounded case.
In the steel version, the surfaces are vertically satin-brushed with polished chamfers, while the black ceramic version is entirely micro-blasted for a stealthy matte finish. The oversized crown which has been the one defining feature of Pilot watches, takes on a more modern, angular form, while remaining easy to operate – even with gloves on.
The watch boasts a black opaline dial, with horizontal grooves, mimicking the look of corrugated metal sheets that make up the fuselage of many older aircrafts. The oversized luminescent Arabic numerals, a signature feature of ZENITH Pilot watches and dashboard instruments since the early 1900s, take on a more modern font and are applied as metal markers filled with white Super-LumiNova.
At 6 o’clock above the date window, the luminescent hour marker takes the form of a flat white line, recalling the artificial horizon instrument in plane - this allows the wearer to quickly grasp the orientation of the watch and read the time.
The dial is signed “Pilot”, as ZENITH remains the first and only brand to hold the rights to mark its dials with the term.
Visible through the sapphire display back, the Pilot Automatic is powered by the El Primero 3620 high-frequency manufacture movement, which delivers a power reserve of 60 hours when fully wound. The winding mechanism’s open and blackened oscillating weight recalling the archetypal and essential “artificial horizon” dashboard instrument.
The black ceramic version is delivered on a stealthy black cordura-effect rubber strap with a newly designed folding clasp developed specifically for the Pilot, as well as a more utilitarian khaki cordura-effect rubber strap. The steel model is also fitted on the same black cordura-effect rubber strap, but its second strap is crafted in brown calfskin leather, a nod to vintage aviator’s paraphernalia like the flight jacket, gloves and hat.
These straps are easily interchangeable with an integrated quick-release mechanism, requiring no tools to detach from the spring bars holding them in place.
Pilot Big Date Flyback
The ZENITH Pilot collection also comes with a chronograph version, with a new new version of its El Primero 3600 calibre, with a host of new functions that have been specifically conceived for the Pilot.
The ZENITH Pilot Big Date Flyback comes in two distinct versions, both in a 42.5mm case.
The stainless steel version takes a page from one of the most distinguished El Primero Flyback chronographs, the aptly named “Rainbow Flyback”. The chronograph’s minutes totalizer is done in alternating colours to more easily distinguish between the five-minute marks. The central chronograph seconds as well as the chronograph minutes hands are done in a bright orange tone, another nod to the iconic El Primero Rainbow from 1997.
The black ceramic version extends the look from the Pilot Automatic version, with an opaline black dial with corrugated lines, and luminescent white markers.
Beyond its easy readability, the oversized date display in the Pilot Big Date Flyback features a next-gen patented compliant mechanism that advances and stabilizes both of the big date’s wheels in less than 0.03 seconds.
Originally conceived for aviators who wore thick sheepskin gloves, the flyback function allows the chronograph function to be reset to zero and restarted by a single push of a button, simplifying the pilot’s operations and offering the possibility to record consecutive times without stopping.
The Pilot Big Date Flyback in ceramic is delivered with black and khaki cordura-effect rubber, while the steel version comes with a black cordura-effect rubber strap and a brown leather strap.
As with the Pilot Automatic, the straps are easily interchangeable.
With the all-new Pilot collection, ZENITH sets the tone for aviation watches once more, one hundred and twenty five years from whence its founder wanted to capture man's desire to soar to the sky, It is a call to chase your dreams – no matter how far or how high. It is the moment to reach your star.