Silver is a rare material in modern watchmaking, and that’s a pity. The warm hue of aged silver is a beautiful thing. Of all materials, it is my favorite for jewelry (rings and chains and the like) because of the way it oxidizes over time. The fact that I usually wear a steel watch with fingers full of silver rings occasionally annoys me, but opportunities to add a .925 beater to my collection are few and far between. Step forward the Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Silver watch, and take a bow. With my penchant for silver and this, my favorite Zenith model, the purchase should be a formality, right? Well, let’s find out…
Why is the Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special series my favorite from Zenith? It’s all down to the dial — specifically, the luminous Arabic numerals. I do believe in all my years of fawning over watches, this font is my favorite. Several years ago, I was loaned a Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Watch Gallery Special Edition for a week or so. It was one of my most cherished loaners ever. I was amazed to find that the numerals were cut from solid blocks of luminous compound, and I’m pleased to see that the same (SLN C1) markers have been used here. They stand up tall from the dial, with sharp edges and a flawlessly homogenous glow (which also matched the glow intensity of the hands, something I always look for). Aside from peerless luminosity at night, these numerals add a pleasing depth to the dial.
The most divisive aspect of this piece, in particular, is the background upon which all these elements rest. If you like the brushed-and-riveted effect, then there are few rivals in this field. The bare metal approach is very cool, but I would worry that it would bore me after a while. I would have to see it on the wrist to see how the finishing reacts to natural and artificial light to be sure, so I’d suggest trying this one on before purchasing.
The presence of the word “pilot” is significant, and an honor Zenith is not likely to let you forget about any time soon. Zenith is, remarkably, the only brand in the world legally permitted to use the word “pilot” on the dial of a watch. And so they do. Often. As often as they can, to be honest. And who can blame them? It is a pretty nice accolade, after all.
This is the first time ever that Zenith has produced a silver-cased wristwatch. The 45mm housing wears surprisingly well on the wrist, thanks to the short and sharply angled lugs. An enormous onion crown (over a centimeter in diameter) defines the case silhouette. Its proportions are borderline-ridiculous, but it is so nicely machined and so goofily bold, I actually ended up liking it. The case is water resistant to 100 meters and comes fitted on a brown calfskin leather strap.
The Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Silver watch is powered by the Zenith Elite 679 automatic caliber. Hidden behind the nicely engraved silver caseback displaying the Zenith Flying Instruments logo is a rotor weight decorated with a Geneva wave pattern. The movement has an operating speed of 28,800vph (4Hz), 126 components, 27 jewels, and a 50-hour power reserve.
I approached this model already biased toward the family its release enhances. I was, however, instantly skeptical about the dial patterning and whether I could live with it long-term. There is nothing about this watch that would dissuade me from seeking it out and trying it on the wrist. I have the greatest respect for Zenith’s output and, whether or not that dial plays out as a success in the real world, it is excellent to see the brand trying new things after all these years. The Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Silver watch is limited to just 250 pieces and will retail for $7,700. To learn more, visit zenith-watches.com.