Watches: Zenith Pilot Aeronef Type 20 GMT Aviazione Navale

By Thierry Ané on December 9, 2013

At Baselworld 2012, Zenith created a true sensation with the introduction of two limited editions, one in titanium and one in rose gold, named Pilot Aeronef Type 20. Inspired by onboard watches made by the brand in the 1930s for the instrument panels of numerous planes, these enormous 57.50 mm watches were so successful that the demand far exceeded the 250 and 75 pieces produced. Building on the general interest for these pilot watches, Zenith reduced the size to 48 mm (to broaden the audience I believe) and unveiled an entire collection at Baselworld 2013.

This month Zenith honours the Italian Naval Aviation with a 50-piece limited series of the Pilot Aeronef Type 20 GMT that was part of the collection presented at the Swiss watch fair. The Pilot Aeronef Type 20 GMT Aviazione Navale is thus the second limited version of this Type 20 GMT if we count the Pilot Aeronef Type 20 GMT Baron Rouge, also introduced in Basel.

All three models share the same fundamental design cues. It all starts with the beautiful 48 x 15.8 mm stainless steel case with a little plate for the watch number on the case band and a large onion-style crown that a pilot can grasp easily, even wearing gloves. The matte black dial with oversized Arabic numerals made of SuperLuminova and the vintage-style hands also coated with the same luminescent material are two other recognisable traits of this model. So is the slightly domed sapphire crystal that enhances the authentic pilot’s watches look.

Lastly, they are all powered by the mechanical automatic Elite 693 calibre. This movement has “hacking seconds”, i.e., the seconds hand stops when the crown is pulled out to allow the watch to be more easily set to a reference signal, or synchronized with a second timepiece. It also features a second time zone function: indicated by a red-tipped central hand this GMT function can be set directly with the integrated pusher at 10 o’clock.

Three elements distinguish the Pilot Aeronef Type 20 GMT Aviazione Navale from the unlimited Pilot Aeronef Type 20 GMT version. First, the logo chosen for the centenary of the Italian Naval Aviation sits proudly at 3 o’clock. The wings symbolise the modern era of the Aviazione Navale, while the ship’s prow refers to the historical emblem of the nation’s first naval aviation squadron. The second difference regards the engraving on the case back. The Zenith Flying Instruments logo of the original model is now replaced with a medallion engraved with the Aviazione Navale logo and the logo chosen for its centenary, as well as the inscription "Zenith Strumentazione di Volo" and "Orologio da Aviatore Tipo 20". Lastly, unlike the previous two models, this version is not fitted with thick calfskin leather but with a blue fabric strap as a tribute to the uniform of the soldiers in the “Aviazione Navale”.

I must confess that I absolutely love all three versions! I think that they are visually different enough to be relevant and interesting enough to be collectible. If you too see the appeal of this stunning pilot’s watch and are lucky enough to find one somewhere, do not hesitate for a second and buy it immediately.

For a technical description of the timepiece and additional pictures: