Photo Report: Zenith Pilot Aeronef Type 20 Grand Feu Enamel (live pics)

By Thierry Ané on May 16, 2014

If you are interested in watches, there is no doubt you remember the Pilot Aeronef Type 20 introduced by Zenith in 2012. Presented in titanium (250 pieces) or rose gold (75 pieces), the watch boasted a case of jaw-dropping dimensions: 57.50 mm in diameter for a thickness of 18.35 mm!

Despite these unusual characteristics, the watch went down in horological history and helped Zenith reassert its legitimacy in the pilot’s watch segment. Multiple scaled-down interpretations soon followed: a GMT model, a Chronograph Annual Calendar, a Chronograph Tourbillon and even some great-looking ladies’ versions, all somehow owing part of their tremendous success to the strong identity established by the huge initial model.

Not only is the case back transparent, but the sides as well!

The reason for this model’s outstanding accomplishments is very simple: it was perfectly true to the original pilot’s watches Zenith used to produce during the glorious hours of the aviation history. The size was correct and so was the extreme legibility of its black dial with hand painted white Arabic numerals. Covered with so much SuperLuminova, very much like the hours and minutes hands, they made the watch as easy to read in the dark as it was during the day.

But the most brilliant nod to historic accuracy was the presence inside the watch of Zenith’s original calibre 5011 from circa 1960. Part of a series that was made for chronometer competitions it achieved the highest score ever at the Neuchâtel Observatory. About 5,000 units of this manually-wound movement were made and Zenith refurbished the few hundreds that were still on the shelves somewhere at the Manufacture.

This year, Zenith revisited the 2012 model with the introduction of the Pilot Aeronef Type 20 Grand Feu Enamel that I briefly brief presentedFlash News: Zenith Pilot Aeronef Type 20 Grand Feu Enamel before Baselworld. Limited to only 10 pieces, the new interpretation still houses the famous 5011 movement and in a case that even gained in size to reach 60 mm in diameter.

The distinctive features of this new model, however, lie elsewhere. The first important difference is the presence of a splendid white Grand Feu enamel dial with hand-painted black Arabic numerals and refined blued steel skeleton hours and minutes hands. The bezel, lugs and onion-shaped crown of the new timepiece are now made of white gold that has been carefully hand-engraved with extremely sophisticated floral motifs. The case itself is entirely made of sapphire making it the largest watch ever to be manufactured in sapphire crystal. The pilot-inspired thick brown natural leather strap has been replaced by a more luxurious black alligator strap and the titanium pin buckle is now in white gold hand-engraved like the rest of the watch.

The engraving is very precise even under a magnifying glass and the floral motif is exquisite. The enamel is perfectly white and brings an astonishing depth to the dial, subtly enhanced by the blued hands. The sapphire case is an extraordinary technical achievement and brings and incredible light into the movement. The historical movement has been carefully restored and tastefully decorated. Altogether, this timepiece is a statement of Zenith’s overall expertise.

However, the sum of all these exceptional achievements does not add up. Brought together, these elements do not make sense. What is the coherence of this timepiece? Its link with Zenith’s heritage? I honestly don’t know and I can tell you that you won’t find it in the price: CHF 150,000! The Pilot Aeronef Type 20 Grand Feu Enamel surely showcases many facets of Zenith’s know-how but not in a truly convincing combination. It remains interesting as what it is: a manifesto of the brand’s expertise.

For a technical description of the timepiece and additional pictures: