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Zenith Heritage Pilot Ton-Up Watch Hands-On

Zenith Heritage Pilot Ton-Up Watch Hands-On Hands-On

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 Heritage Pilot Ton-Up Watch Hands-On Hands-On

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.

Zenith Heritage Pilot Ton-Up Watch Hands-On Hands-On

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 Heritage Pilot Ton-Up Watch Hands-On Hands-On

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.

Zenith Heritage Pilot Ton-Up Watch Hands-On Hands-On

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.



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  • When you go to Zenith’s website the watch is called Zenith Pilot Ton-Up ( If you download the model description then it is called Café Racer (they haven’t updated the Baselworld pdf I guess). That is a sign of a marketing strategy still finding its own way.

    Apart from that the watch does look good, especially the textured dial. A better anti-reflective treatment wouldn’t hurt, mind you.

  • David Williams

    Great looking numerals, hands and crown – and the case ageing is very effective too. The strap will look good when it’s “worn in but not worn out”. This watch could perhaps be seen as an extension of the steampunk philosophy to machines of our time. It’s well suited to the aesthetic (or anti-aesthetic?) of a beaten-up leather or waxed-cotton jacket – maybe Barbour or Belstaff, for authentic motorcycling heritage.

  • laup nomis

    I like the plain unaged stainless steel, without chronograph, version of the type 20. First time I saw the watch I was immediately attracted to the numerals.
    This version has to much ‘aging’ going on in the dial and case. And the numerals don’t look as nice as the p!ain white ones in the same font on the older type 20’s. I love the type 20, but I wouldn’t wear this one. And 45mm is my maximum size limit, I dont like my watch shouting its presence.
    I ride a bike, but a watch with a picture of a bike yet with no actual connection to bikes, meh.

  • Marius

    This is one of the best watches that I have recently seen. It has a very cool and legible dial, an interesting case, and an iconic El Primero movement. The only potential problem could be the 45mm size; however, you would need to try this watch in person because there are quite a few 45mm watches that wear smaller than they appear.

    Nevertheless, the biggest advantage of this watch is that for $7,100 you are getting a cool watch from a prestigious brand, equipped with an iconic caliber. Most of the competing models are almost twice as expensive: the IWC Pilot Chronos cost around $11,000; the Breguet Type XXI around $15,000; and even a lousy Brewmont Chrono will set you back at least $6,200. In fact, even a standard no-date Submariner costs $7,500. What`s more, don`t forget that when buying a Zenith getting a discount is not terribly hard, so the actual purchase price could be well below $7,100. Even with no discount, this is still a great watch and finding a similarly cool timepiece for this price will be very difficult.

  • Michael Kinney

    Now, that’s pretty sharp-looking. I know, faux aging is a “thing,’ but I think it works here. The numerals, dial layout, crown and the ridged pushers are all in very nice balance.

  • word-merchant

    I’m not a huge fan of the faux-aged aesthetics, nor the odd name (planes! bikes! coffee! we’ve got it all!), but if you are, then, as ever with Zenith, you’re getting a lot of good watch for the money.

    I rather like the El Primero movement, so I wish the watch had a display back rather than the etched dude on a bike.

    Finally, to whoever at Zenith who decided that the presence of a (probably poorly positioned) date window would’ve detracted: I thank you.

  • Omegaboy

    Nice! Can’t do a strap that’s lined with rubber, though, and the case back is cheesy.

  • DanW94

    The absurd, non-existent cafe racer motorcycle/pilot connection aside, this is a handsome watch. They’ve done a nice job with the faux vintage style and color scheme and I especially like the large rectangular, notched pushers. Bold but not totally over the top at 45mm also.

  • This design is growing on me

    • Chaz

      Because it’s been pounded into you in endless variations of the theme. Your mental willpower is surrendering…

      • That is absolutely correct. Actually the designs I hate most at first are the ones I love most later.

        • laup nomis

          I’ve found if I’m very slightly disappointed in a watch when it arrives in the post, I usually end up loving it. I’ve usually taken three months of staring at/thinking about it, before buying it anyway.
          But, if I love it straight away, that’s never a good sign. This sounds like ballo*ks, but honestly, this happened with the last watch I bought. (Although I’ve switched up the strap, and like it again).

  • This thing looks great. I dig the antique metal + the faux aged dial together. Loads of people won’t but that won’t hinder my desire. It’s on my (ever changing) “list”. Its sort of astonishing that this is the same company that did all those Thierry Nataf era monstrosities and things like the christophe colomb, rolling stones eyesores.

  • TrevorXM

    I actually like the term “Cafe Racer Spirit” on the back of the watch along with the image. These modern Cafe Racers are pretty much exactly in the spirit of this watch if you think about it. They take a vintage but cool and powerful engine, tweak it, and create a faux-vintage race bike around it that’s got that unique combination of “low key” yet “look at me!” which is hard to pull off. This watch is just like that. In fact, unlike so many of these makers trying for association with a specific car brand and failing badly, or trying to associate themselves with specific sporting event for credibility when they have none, or even using fragments from a famous car (???), this watch is just about the “spirit” of something and is created using that same spirit. This watch is a success in concept because of that. If I owned this watch I would have to get a Cafe Racer bike. If I owned a Cafe Racer bike, I would have to get this watch.

  • mtnsicl


    This is a great looking watch! But, what does this watch have to do with Cafe racing? And, if I’m going to pay for an in house movement, it better be pretty and I better be able to see it through high quality sapphire. Zenith, get to work!


  • MA

    Nice looking dial and hands, but the crown is too big.


    Too big but cool looking. The 6 is weird looking kind of looks like the 5 but good thing I know 6 is after 5

  • hasty hughie

    Nice enough, but overdone, tries to hard, maybe ok for someone who has a 9t in their garage along with everything else, I think something like a stowa flieger fits the cafe racer concept better.

  • Larry Holmack

    Nice looking, nice size that would wear larger, but out of my price range!!

  • Shawn Lavigne

    even though i could never wear one of these, i like the look a lot.

  • Ulysses31

    I’m not into the faux aged stuff. This looks like costume jewellery, a movie prop. This range tries to be all things to all people with seemingly endless variations and ends up having no real identity. Some versions can be really beautiful, but not this one.

  • I love these things, but if I pick one up it will be a non-chrono and more of a pilot pilot than a motorbike pilot.

    • john coleman

      agree 100%

  • NGAF

    In biker circles particularly the more hardcore ones there’s a common saying ‘don’t try to be someone or something you are not’. This Zenith…

    To be honest, the first words coming across my mind after looking at the images was ‘anorexic bomberg’.

  • SuperStrapper

    I like it, just not the forced tie-in with cafe racing. Scrap that, and either change the caseback or ass a sapphire windw for a gander at th el primero and this watch is a winner.

  • egznyc

    The hands are just a little short. Just kidding! I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for a Zenith “Pilot” pilot watch, and with the funky old-fashioned numeral font and distinctive hands, this is a real winner. The nearly monochromatic dial is attractive, and the small red minute markers every 5-10-etc. really work nicely.

  • Martin Cerny

    The first Pilot watches with the nos calibre were brillant (love it). The second generation…ok.
    But this one looks a bit like a “Fossil” watch. A watch created by the marketing department. The counters need to places also more outside, but I guess the marketing department did not sign off for this investment.

  • Martin Cerny

    ahh forget to say… a watch for wannabe bikers..! Sorry.