Flying colours: The unusual Pilot watches by Zenith at Baselworld 2019


by John Wallis

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March 22. 2019 - by John Wallis

While the El Primero may have been celebrating its fiftieth birthday this year, it was not the only theme among the Zenith novelties. The LVMH brand zoomed into Baselworld 2019 with a couple of very intriguing Pilot watches with handsome looks and unusual cases...


Gold may be synonymous with first place, but silver and bronze are a close second and third, and for some watch collectors, they may hold more appeal. Gold is a timeless classic, a material that never wears out, never goes out of fashion, and that looks the same today as it does in a hundred years. But this very timelessness can make it somewhat dull. You could certainly make a case (no pun intended) that it is overused in the watch industry - it's an obvious, easy choice of material to give a watch prestige and an automatically higher price.

We're not saying that watchmakers should stop using gold, but it does feel like the time is ripe to explore less common alternatives as well, and that's exactly what Zenith has done this year at Baselworld. Its two new Pilot Type 20 watches are presented in comparatively rare case materials: one in silver, another in bronze. And we think they look mighty fine.

Don't fear the tarnish

Before we get into the details of the watches, let's consider a horological buzzword that seems to be everywhere today: patina. Patina is the discolouring some materials experience as they oxidise - a slow, gradual reaction that serves as a visible marker of ageing. Since luxury watches are supposed to last as long as possible, showing off the individuality and unique "lived experience" of a long-lasting watch seems like a great idea to many, and patina has become extremely trendy across the industry. Some consider it to have a beautiful aesthetic - so much so that some companies are producing watches with fake patinas to look faded and old when they are fresh-bought.

Of course, another camp of watch lovers find patina ugly. After all, it represents the literal deterioration of the watch. But most patina can be managed and cleaned if undesirable, or even artificially rushed with chemical ageing processes to make the watch look older than it is - all the rage among a certain type of collector. The important thing is that you keep in mind the effects of gradual change when you consider the following offerings from Zenith.

Photo: Zenith

Pilot Type 20 Adventure

Zenith likes to boast that its history with pilots watches stretches back to 1909, when Louis Blériot made the historic first crossing of the English Channel wearing a Zenith. The Type 20 was an aircraft cockpit instrument first made in 1939 and discontinued a few decades later. It was revived with much fanfare at Baselworld in 2012, with a bevy of new models introduced since then.

This year's update, the Type 20 Adventure, sticks to the same basic formula: big numerals, big hands, big crown, and of course a big case. It's 45mm in solid bronze, which is cool enough on its own, but it looks especially tough matched with a khaki green dial and a choice of camouflage or "matrix" leather straps. Bronze suits this timepiece well - the military look should only improve as the watch ages and becomes more "rugged".

The Adventure comes in two versions: a chronograph (with the El Primero movement, naturally) or a three-hander called "Extra Special" (with an Elite 679 calibre). The caseback is titanium engraved with the Zenith Flying Instruments logo.

Photo: Zenith

Pilot Type 20 Silver

You may have seen this watch already - it was presented to the public as a pre-Baselworld teaser a month or two before the event. But that doesn't mean it's getting any less attention here at the show. This is Zenith's very first use of silver in a watch case - a material much less common than bronze. Some are even wondering - could we be seeing the start of a new silver trend, just as bronze has enjoyed in recent years? We hope so. Silver patinas (technically silver "tarnishes") can be particularly enchanting if managed well, creating a strangely warm vintage vibe many watch collectors will love.

This model is also called "Extra Special", and is a limited edition of 250 pieces powered by the Elite 679. It's the same 45mm Type 20 design and features the same caseback, but the aesthetic could not be more different to the bronze Adventure pieces. The silver case and dial give the watch a ghostly, ethereal quality, while the unique stylised "rivets" on the dial provide a industrial feeling, perhaps conjuring the fuselage on some historic aircraft. The captivating effect is unlikely to wear off, as the owner watches the watch gradually change over time. Well played, Zenith. 

Photo: Zenith

John Wallis

by John Wallis

Living and working in London, John has been writing about watches since graduating university. He got his start at SalonQP, London's finest watch show, where he was inspired by the breadth and creativity of the modern industry. His fascination with mechanical horology has only grown from there.

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