There is a special place in my heart for complicated sport watches, whether they bow to the worlds of diving, racing, or flying. In truth, the most complicated feature traditional sport watches needed was a chronograph. That was the past, however, and we live in modern times. Why not fully realize the potential of luxury sport watches by packing them full of minute repeaters, perpetual calendars, and tourbillons? OK, maybe that is a bit on the extreme side, but you really can’t blame Zenith for wanting to include their El Primero annual calendar chronograph caliber 4054 movement into one of their large vintage-styled pilot watches. The result is just… well, cool, right? So after some time on my wrist, allow me to share with you our review of the (deep breath) Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 Annual Calendar reference 87.2430.4054/21.C721 watch.
I am pretty sure that since this Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 Annual Calendar watch was originally released in 2013, Zenith has since shortened the absurdly long name. Later in 2013, we went hands-on with the Pilot Type 20 Annual Calendar. In fact, if you translate all parts of the watch name, the full title is rather redundant.
So what is this watch? Essentially, it is two things. First, you have the vintage styling of the modern Zenith Pilot Type 20 watch collection which exists in a large 48mm-wide case. Second, you have the movement which is an El Primero chronograph produced in-house by Zenith, using a special annual calendar module designed by master watch movement designer Ludwig Oechslin. Together, these two elements make for a very useful, very interesting, and very wearable (for the right wrists) luxury sports watch.
The Zenith El Primero caliber 4054 movement in this timepiece debuted back in 2011 when the company announced the Zenith Captain Winsor Annual Calendar which was a good looking (and still popular) sport watch. aBlogtoWatch later reviewed the Zenith Captain Winsor Annual Calendar here. The El Primero movement operates at a high 5Hz frequency (36,600 bph), which means it can time events with the chronograph down to 1/10th of a second accuracy (compared to 1/8th of a second with a 4Hz movement). Perhaps more important about 5Hz movements is that they are theoretically more accurate over time. This is why we like movements with higher frequencies.
The mechanical automatic caliber 4054 has a maximum of 50 hours of power reserve and is produced from 341 parts – which is admittedly complex for something like this. What is interesting about Ludwig Oechslin is that he is generally obsessed with doing things in the most efficient way possible. That isn’t per se minimalism, but it can often appear to be that way. Consider, for example, the MIH watch (aBlogtoWatch review here) that was also designed by Oechslin. In the 4054 he designed the annual calendar system to be as simple as possible. Annual calendars need to be adjusted only during February, and indicate, at minimum, the month and date. In the 4054 Zenith uses three extra discs in the movement to display the day of the week, month, and date. Overall, this layout is both simple, and very legible. Reading information in windows is almost universally more legible than on dials (even if the latter is “sexier”).
One of the most impressive things about the Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 Annual Calendar is that the dial layout for the 4054 movement doesn’t look odd in what is essentially a much larger case than it was designed for. The large hands and hour markers on the dial allow for the interior information not to look petite. Zenith very cleverly designed the dial to include all the information so that nothing overlaps with anything else. Thus, people can enjoy a 60-minute chronograph, an annual calendar, and the time with out having to have elements which really overlap one another.
Designed with the look of some vintage aviator watches in mind, the best part of the almost cartoonishly large Zenith Pilot watch collection is just how legible they are. Painted in lume and very easy to read, the hands and hour markers are quite simply “bold.” Not only are they physically large in size, but Zenith ensures that they contrast with the face very well. Actually, the hour markers are produced entirely from lume! Other details are extremely important, such as the proper length of the hands as well as their brushed finishing (as opposed to polished) which reduces reflectivity and thus undesirable glare). If there is anything I really liked about the Zenith Pilot Type 20 it was the dial, and this doesn’t end with the Annual Calendar model (currently, there are also GMT and time-only models).
On the wrist, the Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 Annual Calendar is predictably large, but certainly wearable. With that said, you don’t get this watch unless you want a hefty wearing experience. In addition to being 48mm wide, the case is 15.80mm thick (and water resistant to 100 meters). What makes the Pilot case wearable, however, are the shorter lugs and ability for the strap to go straight down. The case is very nicely polished with excellent detailing. I appreciated the lack of sharp edges and extremely comfortable crown.
Operation of the annual calendar is not as straight forward as I’d like, but the minor quirks are an easy to forgive thing when taking into consideration that everything is adjusted via the crown and that the system is rather simple.
This particular version of the Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 Annual Calendar watch is a mixture of 18k rose gold and titanium. There is also a steel model available. On this model, the hands, bezel, lugs, pushers, crown, and case side plaque are in rose gold. The case middle and back are in titanium. This not only reduces the mass of the watch making it more comfortable, but is lessens the amount of gold in the case so that it isn’t as expensive. Zenith nevertheless cleverly designed the case to put gold where you see it most, so that onlookers seeing you wear a Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 Annual Calendar will experience the maximum amount of gold on your wrist.
Style-wise, the Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 Annual Calendar is a diverse mixture of elements. The watch is a little rock & roll, a little horology nerdy, a little vintage champion, and of course, a bit aviation hero. I hate to keep using the word “bold,” but given the size, wearing this watch does require a bit of strong personality. I personally loved it. Note, however, that if you have smaller wrists, the stock strap on the Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 Annual Calendar might need an extra hole. The holes are square and not round, so don’t try to do it yourself.
Speaking of the strap, I do like the large titanium buckle with Zenith star logo. I also like that the strap is lined with rubber but has an alligator top – which adds a pleasant high-end touch to an already high-end watch. Assuming you get a snug fit, the watch is actually remarkably comfortable on the wrist.
Currently, there is no standard 12-hour chronograph version of the Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 collection. So if you want an El Primero chronograph with this cool pilot case, this is the watch for you. That isn’t a bad thing, as this is a unique luxury sports watch with a lot of daily utility and some great style. No one hates this watch even though some dislike its size. That is OK, there are probably more people who prefer the size. Again, why big watches? So that they can be better seen by others. Don’t forget that in addition to all the feel-good intellectual reasons we like to say we wear watches, we like what they look like before all else.
While a bit big for daily wear (for me) I really did enjoy what Zenith was able to offer with the Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 Annual Calendar. Even though it was a simple matter of combining a case with a movement, the result does feel more than the sum of its parts. Hey, the watch might even have been a very successful accident. In any event, I don’t have any major complaints about this watch and feel that if you are drawn to it, I can’t think of any reason to abstain aside from the price which of course is going to be on the higher side. For a much better value, consider the all steel version which is about 45% less. Then again – gold and titanium do have an allure to them. Price for the ref. 87.2430.4054/21.C721 Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 Annual Calendar watch is $19,700. zenith-watches.com
>Model: Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 Annual Calendar ref. 87.2430.4054/21.C721
>Size: 48mm wide
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Guy who can get away with wearing a 48mm-wide gold sports watch and still make it look cool.
>Best characteristic of watch: Excellent detailing and comfort matched with impeccable legibility and style. It is an exotic treat for sure, but a treat nonetheless.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Case size might be too large for some, and the watch is a bit on the pricier side.