Zenith was a prominent manufacturer of specialised timepieces and dashboard instruments for pilots, filing a trademark for the French term “Pilote” in 1888 and for its English translation “Pilot” in 1904; to date, the Le Locle manufacture is still the only brand that has the rights to identify their timepieces with “Pilot” on the dial.
Its credibility is further strengthened by the fact that on 25 July 1909, Louis Blériot flew his monoplane over the English Channel wearing a Zenith on his wrist. This new generation of Zenith Pilot timepieces builds upon the foundation of the new Pilot Automatic.
Featuring a broad, flat bezel sitting atop a rounded case, the large crown is a modern take on those old-school onion crowns that you’d expect from an authentic pilot’s watch. Surfaces in steel are brushed with polished chamfers, while the black ceramic case is completely micro blasted for a matte appearance.
Inspired by the corrugated fuselage of an aircraft, the dial’s characteristic horizontal grove pattern adds depth and is accented by huge, applied Arabic numerals that are filled with Super-LumiNova, as are the hands. In contrast to the serifed fonts of the original bronze pilots, the sans-serif font offers a new, more modern update for today’s aviators.
The luminous hour marker takes the form of a flat white line at six o’clock above the date window, evoking the artificial horizon instrument in plane. In this case, it enables the wearer to rapidly comprehend the orientation of the watch and read the time without hesitation.
The Zenith El Primero 3620 automatic calibre powers the watch. This high frequency time-and-date movement is, as the name implies, a non-chronograph variant of the El Primero 3600 used before in the Defy Skyline, but with a centre seconds display instead of sub-seconds.
Zenith’s new Pilot 42.5 mm Big Date Flyback watch features the same design aesthetics. The stainless steel version is inspired by one of the most prestigious El Primero Flyback chronographs, the appropriately titled Rainbow Flyback. The minutes totaliser on the chronograph is done in alternating colours to make it easier to differentiate between the five-minute markings.
The central chronograph seconds and minutes hands are done in a brilliant orange tone, an homage to the classic El Primero Rainbow from 1997, which was also the first flyback version of the El Primero. The black ceramic model has an achromatic, utilitarian appearance, with luminescent white markers and hands that stand out against the opaline black corrugated dial.
The automatic El Primero 3600 calibre inside the watch is powered by a revolutionary compliant mechanism that ensures a snap jump (0.07 seconds), advancing and stabilising its two wheels in less than 0.03 seconds ‒ this mechanism is so robust you can set the date with such rapidity without damaging the movement of having the date wheels slide over each other.
The fly-back function is common in pilot chronographs to compute directions with maximum precision; the chronograph’s hand can be stopped, reset to zero, and restarted with a single button press, rather than the conventional three-step start stop-reset procedure.
This flyback function, which was originally designed for aviators wearing thick sheepskin gloves, allows the chronograph function to be reset to zero and restarted with a single push of a button, simplifying the pilot’s operations and allowing the pilot to record successive times without halting. The new Zenith Pilots are monochromatic and have a clear modern appeal, in contrast to the typically faux vintage aesthetics of recent pilot watch launches.
PILOT BIG DATE FLYBACK PRICE + SPECS
Case 42.5 mm black microblasted ceramic or stainless steel with 100 metres water resistance
Movement Automatic El Primero 3652 with 60 hours power reserve
Price S$20,000 (ceramic); S$17,000 (steel)