Hands-on with the Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Bronze 45mm (specs price)
Bronze… Not your typical material for a watch – and especially when it comes to a pilot watch. Bronze had been used several times in watchmaking but it makes more sense on a dive watch (even if, to be true, bronze remains quite an odd choice for a timepiece. We’ll get back on the reasons why later in this article). When you think bronze, you immediately think Panerai but other brands used it (like IWC with the Aquatimer). Now it’s Zenith’s turn to introduce a watch made in this green metal. It’s a pilot watch, it’s big but it looks really cool. Here is the Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Bronze 45mm.
The Zenith Pilot Type 20 became, among all the pilot-oriented watches, quite an icon and an easily recognizable timepiece. Even if it shares many of the classical pilot-style attributes, the Type 20 (nothing to do with the Breguet Type XX but it’s rather link to a specific serial number of an instrument dedicated to the French Navy) has its own design, its own style, its own feelings and something special that makes it remarkable. Of course, the collection is composed of big to extremely big pieces. You’d probably have in mind the already massive Montre D’Aéronef Type 20 GMT Pilot with its 48mm case. You might also think about the gigantic 60mm (yes, 6 centimeters) Zenith Pilot Type 20 with Grand Feu Enamel dial. However, keep in mind that the collection also comprises a small (compare to the rest) 40mm edition dedicated to women or to men with discreet intentions and a middle-sized Extra-Special model that measures 45mm and that is now available with a bronze case.
45mm might sound large as first but keep in mind that an important part of the pleasure provided by a pilot watch comes from its massive size. What is now a design attribute was, at the golden ages of pilot instruments, a need for legibility. Large cases are both the norm and a respect to historical pieces. Thus, with its 45mm case, the Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special feels standard – next to the 46mm IWC Big Pilot or the 47mm Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter. The shape is the same as its larger sisters, with these specific lugs and strap attachments. The crown is also typical to the collection, with its round and large onion shape (this shape is a good point as classical and sharp onion crowns tends to hurt). Main novelty: the material used for the case. The Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Bronze 45mm is made of… Bronze. What a strange choice for a pilot watch! Whatever the reasons of this choice, the result is just superb. It’s warm, it’s rough, it brings a proper antique note to an already vintage-oriented watch. The case is finished with rough satin surfaces which again emphasize the antique look.
Now you should ask why we found bronze to be an odd choice for a watch – and whatever the watch, diver or not. In fact, bronze is not stable and tends to age very quickly when exposed to water, acids, high temperatures or simply sweating. It means that your nice goldish Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special will see its case covered by a green oxide after a few weeks/months of wear. Nothing bad as it will give it a special and unique patina but that’s something you have to be aware of (and you can quite easily clean it and remove this oxide).
The mix between this bronze case and the look of the dial and the hands is really successful. Everything in the Type 20 (whatever the edition) is reminiscent of (very) early pilot watches – not the ones from the 1940s/1950s that we usually see in vintage re-issues but rather the ones from the 1910s/1920s (like this one created by Zenith in the 1910s for Louis Bleriot), as you can see from the shape of the large Arabic numerals (here painted with luminous material) and the typical cathedral hands. The golden hands and the slightly cream numerals perfectly contrast on the matt black dial and especially well match the bronze case. The overall result is really pleasant.
Inside the Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Bronze sits an in-house movement, the Elite 679, a nice self-winding calibre with 3-hands (and not the Sellita movements anymore. It’s a good sign that Zenit comes back with its own movements that are known to be reliable, precise and nice to look at). This movement comprises 126 components and boasts a minimum power reserve of 50h. Measuring only 3.85mm in height but also only 25.6mm in diameter, this movement is hopefully hidden behind a solid caseback – the view of this movement through a sapphire caseback in a 45mm case would have been strange. The same would have applied to the date but fortunately, this complication is not featured here. The caseback, which is made in titanium (bronze can create allergies if directly in contact with the skin), is engraved with Zenith’s flying instruments logo and Bleriot’s plane.
The Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Bronze 45mm is now available in a non-limited edition and it is priced at $7.600. More on the dedicated page on Zenith-Watches.com.