In theme, the new Zenith Pilot Type 20 watch for 2016 isn’t truly a pilot watch at all (though it does still say “Pilot” on the dial), but it is now intended to celebrate the cafe racer biker community, also known as Ton-up boys. Thus, we have gone from hipster aviators to hipster motorcycle owners. To be honest, the cafe racer connection is the least interesting part of this watch for me, which instead should be celebrated as a fashionable high-end watch from Zenith that adds a nice flavor to their popular Pilot watch collection. So let’s take a closer look at the Zenith Heritage Pilot Ton-Up (formerly known as the Zenith Heritage Pilot Cafe Racer Spirit) timepiece and what is new about it.[Note 8/25/2016: The name of the Zenith Heritage Pilot Ton-Up watch was changed from Zenith Heritage Pilot Cafe Racer Spirit and we have updated the article to reflect that.]
Zenith is working hard to find appeal in new enthusiast markets, and at the moment they seem to be focused on communities that celebrate vintage machines, be they planes, cars, or motorcycles. This might be a good tactic, but I would hope at least part of the brand’s current marketing efforts focus on their position as a true producer of in-house-made movements. The Zenith Heritage Pilot Ton-Up watch contains one of Zenith’s lauded El Primero mechanisms which, here, is the in-house caliber 4069. The dial layout has been simplified to offer no date or calendar information, and merely the time with subsidiary seconds dial and a 30-minute chronograph. The movement otherwise is an automatic and, like all El Primero movements, it operates at 5Hz (36,000bph) with 50 hours of power reserve.
Last year’s aviator watch from Zenith was the lovely Type 20 Extra Special in bronze (hands-on here). The piece marked a return to using an in-house movement as well as a clever and trendy method of focusing on a vintage appeal to match the overall design of the watch. Large yet comfortable on the wrist, the Zenith Pilot collection continues here with the 45mm-wide case that is 14.25mm thick. While last year’s model was presented in a bronze case that will develop an aged “patina” over time, the 2016 Zenith Heritage Pilot Ton-Up comes “pre-worn” in an “aged stainless steel” case. The resulting look has a gunmetal finish to it, and despite being an arguably gimmicky means of looking old, is highly refined and attractive as a result. Zenith makes excellent use of dial textures and colors to match the aged-theme, as well as an appropriate “green oily nubuck” leather strap (with a rubber lining) that matches the overall theme of the Zenith Heritage Pilot Ton-Up watch remarkably well.
Zenith was able to easily incorporate the two register chronograph into the design of the dial given the healthy availability of space on the face. This, of course, isn’t the first 45mm-wide version of the Zenith Pilot Type 20 to have a chronograph. Followers of the brand will recall the Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 Annual Calendar watch that aBlogtoWatch reviewed here. The Zenith Heritage Pilot Ton-Up is a bit less expensive than the more complicated previous chronograph model, and also adds a new look to the collection.
With 100 meters of water resistance and a chunky wearing demeanor, this is a real sports watch to go with the masculine look. Legibility with the large hands is excellent, and for those who like the “designer vintage” look, this could be an ideal timepiece. Some watch fans dislike the fashion-angle from the otherwise serious watchmaker – and it goes to show that you really can’t please everyone at the same time.
On the rear of the Zenith Heritage Pilot Ton-Up watch is a deep etching of a cafe racer on his motorcycle. This is similar to previous Pilot watch models that had images of vintage biplanes, etc. on the rear of the case. In fact, this caseback element is the only “cafe racer” part of the watch in terms of anything related to the visual composition of the watch. Again, my personal preference is to merely ignore the attempted connection between this pilot-style watch and enthusiast vintage motorcycle racing, as it feels a bit arbitrary – but it doesn’t really take away from my appreciation of the watch in general. I am actually curious to know what people who do consider themselves to be modern cafe racers think about the Zenith Heritage Pilot Ton-Up watch, and if they feel that Zenith has effectively reached their target demographic with this model.
With its military feel and gunmetal-style case, I would have personally thought to theme this watch a bit differently. Though, despite its theme, the watch should look killer with the right leather jacket. Available soon, the Zenith Heritage Pilot Ton-Up (again, formerly called Zenith Heritage Pilot Cafe Racer Spirit) watch has a retail price of $7,100 USD. zenith-watches.com