Haute Watch of the Week: Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20

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Zenith celebrates its heritage as a maker of pilot’s watches this year, with several introductions in the Montre D’Aéronef (“onboard watch”) Type 20 collection. One of these, the new Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20, is especially appealing for its combination of heritage and modern elements. It contains the El Primero 4054 B movement, distinguished by an annual calendar mechanism that comprises just nine moving parts, whereas most calendars require 30 or 40. This is a positive step forward in chronometry since fewer moving parts means less friction and a more reliable movement.

Zenith created watches for pilots in the 1930s according to certain standards: a crown built for gloved handling, large dial, oversized Arabic numeral font and lots of luminescent coating. They also had to withstand fluctuations in temperature and atmospheric pressure, magnetic fields and violent jolts. This standard became known as “Type 20.”

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The new Type 20 embraces all of these heritage elements, including the gorgeous, over-sized onion crown, as well as another characteristic of early pilot’s watches: stitching on the strap along the line of the lug where it attaches to the case. This was a safety feature, ensuring the watch didn’t detach from the strap mid-flight – before the days of auto pilot when the pilot could leave the controls to search for a dropped watch. Today’s straps are much tougher, but the stitching is an aesthetic feature and a nod to the original.

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Zenith also introduced a smaller version of the Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 this year to better fit a woman’s wrist. Mind you, small for Zenith means 40mm. The GMTs, tourbillon and annual calendar versions are all 48mm.

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