This Zenith timepiece isn't normally the type of thing you'd guess a watch collector would wear, but that is exactly who this new limited edition Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 watch was produced for. 2012 has Zenith focusing on their heritage as a pilot watch maker. The grandest example of that is this rather huge 57.5mm wide Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 timepiece, which I will just call the "Type 20" for now.
So what is this watch all about and why did Zenith feel the need to produce a watch that is almost 60mm wide? I thought the massively huge era of timepieces was on its way out, leaving room for just "nice big watches." Well it really has to do with the movement. I am typically immune from getting excited about brands that use rather ordinary vintage movements in new watches and try to make them seem exotic. Let me assure you that there is nothing exotic about most vintage NOS (new old stock) watch movements. Only a select few brands like Grieb & Bezinger for instance can really get me excited about old movements. However, in this case the movement Zenith used is an old-timer, but is actually something special.
Inside the Type 20 is the Zenith caliber 5011. I don't believe the movements themselves are old, but the design is from the 1960s, and hasn't really been changed since. According to Zenith, the famous caliber 5011 is still produced today for some special pocket watch, competition pieces, and for some watch making schools. The 5011 was designed to be a highly accurate "observatory" or marine chronometer pocket watch movement. it is 50mm wide, and has a lot of the fancier features you'd like to see in movements like this that were designed to be accurate and durable. Honestly, Zenith explains it best when discussing the caliber 5011:
"Oscillating at 18,000 vibrations per hour, the 5011 calibre has a separate mechanism for stopping the seconds hand and synchronising the hour. It features shock-absorbers on the balance-wheel and escapement arbors, fine adjustment, and a self-compensating anti-magnetic Breguet overcoil balance spring, mobile stud-holder, double-arrow index regulator, and the Zenith winding-crown stem attachment system. All these assets combine to ensure that the watch gives a first-rate performance without losing its vintage feel."
With such a large size, the 50mm wide 5011 movement needed a large case if it was to be in a wristwatch. Hence the size of the Type 20 timepieces. Functionally the movement has the time, subsidiary seconds dial, and a power reserve indicator. Without that last feature I would not have taken it as seriously. The movement also has double balance springs. This is an important accuracy feature, but is difficult to notice from images. You can see that the escapement mechanism has double fine adjusters on the movement. With 48 hours of power reserve, the caliber 5011 (which Zenith actually called the 5011K in the Type 20) is also COSC Chronometer certified. A very cool movement to have in a watch like this, and according to Zenith it is among the most accurate production movements ever made in a wrist watch.
The timepiece itself has a titanium case and beautiful dial. I mean I really like the vintage, functional design of the dial. Zenith was clever and a bit sly about just putting the word "special" on the dial in gold type. While it might look a bit too large on the wrist, it is a beautifully rendered design that most people can easily enjoy. This is of course much in part due to the large visible hands, easy to read hour markers, and wonderful dial contrast. Plus, being in titanium makes the Type 20 light enough to not weigh you down.
Zenith places a polished plaque on the side of the case that shows the limited edition number. This is a nice touch, and for years I have loved Ulysse Nardin's use of this feature on their watches. The crown is large and easy to use. If you can't operate this crown with ease, then watches with crowns just simply aren't for you. Zenith matches the Type 20 with a hand-stitched calfskin strap with titanium buckle. Rather than being a proud reminder of Zenith's aviator watch history, I think that the Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 is a good reminder of their watch movement making history. There will be just 250 pieces in the limited edition collection. Price is $10,300.