For 2014, Zenith will release a most unusual timepiece under their “new” pilot watch range known as the Pilot Type 20 Grand Feu. In a nutshell, this is a highly ornate version of the Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 watch that was released in 2012. Using a historic Zenith movement known as the caliber 5011, Zenith produced a massive pilot-style watch with a cool movement, and as experimental as it was– the watch proved to be a big hit.
Over the last two years, Zenith has been pouring a lot of effort into their Pilot Type 20 watches and that continues into 2014. Easily the most unique model is this Pilot Type 20 Grand Feu. Often times, line extension models are more or less predictable. That means when we see a new or updated model, the changes or additions make sense, or were something we saw coming. In the case of the Grand Feu, with its enamel dial or engraved white gold bezel and lugs, I can easily say that I had no idea this was on its way to our inbox.
First, some semantic changes over the original 2012 watch that this new model is based on: Zenith seems to have finally ditched the difficult-for-Americans-to-pronounce “Montre d’Aeronef” element of the title. That applied not only to this first Pilot Type 20 watch, but also to other versions that we saw in 2013. For 2014, this new model does away from the extra verbiage in the title – much to our satisfaction. Second, the movement goes from being the caliber 5011 to the caliber 5011K. Not sure of the change exactly, but knowing Zenith, it means something. I am not enough of a Zenith follower to know what that “K” implies.
The movement is said to have been located as part of a stockpile of vintage movements at the Zenith manufacture (how many nooks and crannies does this place have?). The movement is about 50mm wide (yes) and was designed for competition use, not really to be in wrist watches. When it was developed in the 1960s no one was making 50mm plus watches, anyways. To learn more about the movement, I suggest you reference the article linked to above where I discuss it more. In a nutshell, it is manually wound, operates at 18,000 bph, is designed to be very stable, and comes with a subsidiary seconds dial and a power reserve indicator (about 48 hours of power reserve total).
You have to remember that when Zenith introduced the Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 watch in 2012, it was received with mixed opinion because it was almost 60mm wide. The case was 57.5mm wide, and with the crown it was about 60mm in diameter. For the Type 20 Grand Feu, Zenith sticks with a round number at 60mm wide for the size of the watch. So in a sense their own materials are making it out to be as big as possible. In this instance the size was a plus factor for many buyers. 60mm wide is rather massive, and while it is wearable, it makes the smaller 45mm wide Zenith Pilot Type 20 watches look downright sensible.
That 60mm wide case is very interesting. The middle section of the case is a sapphire crystal ring – which allows for a view into the watch allowing the user to see the movement operating. The bezel and lugs are in 18k white gold, and richly engraved with a series of swirly patterns. That goes for the large crown as well. Honestly, I think the overall composition is stunning, but I am surprised and really unsure as to how this combination of elements was dreamed up.
Literally topping off the Pilot Type 20 Grand Feu is the enamel dial. What type of enamel? Grand Feu of course. The lovely dial is enamel painted and then baked. If my suspicions are true then this dial is going to look very lovely with high-contrast hour markers and crisp details. The blued hands are nice, though they are skeletonized versus lume filled which reduces some of the timepiece’s utility. Then again, you didn’t go ahead and get a 60mm wide watch in sapphire crystal and white gold to be practical and utilitarian did you?
I am curious as to how impressive the Zenith Pilot Type 20 Grand Feu watch is in person. Zenith hasn’t communicated much about it and surprisingly it is not said to be part of a limited edition. Then again, I can’t see how a timepiece like this would make for a good permanent collection piece. I have a feeling it will be produced for a few years by Zenith on order only, and it does its best by showing how avant garde the brand can be. As strange as it is, I can’t help but like it. Look out for some hands-on time with the Pilot Type 20 Grand Feu watch soon. zenithwatches.com