The History of Zenith’s Mark on the Aviation Industry
Zenith has had deep ties with the world of aviation for over 100 years. Their contribution to the field began with developing timekeeping devices for pilots during the golden age of aviation and supplying timekeeping devices to military forces. Today, the brand continues to be a premier producer of pilot’s watches. One of the most interesting and popular collections in their catalog is the Zenith Type 20. Though the introduction of the model was just a few years ago in 2012, it’s a culmination of Zenith’s rich history in the field of aviation.
Zenith began making a name for themselves as manufacturers of pilot’s instruments in the early 1900’s. In 1909, French aviator Louis Blériot succeeded at becoming the first to fly across the English Channel, notably wearing a Zenith. Soon, the brand’s popularity in France rose exponentially. By the onset of WWII in 1939, the French Air Force had enlisted Zenith to create an aircraft clock for the Armée de l’Air, and the original Type 20 Montre d’Aéronef was born. This hand-wound timekeeping device fit into the instrument panel in the cockpit. It featured large, luminous numerals, which have since become a signature for the brand and a standard feature of pilot’s watches. In addition, it showcased a distinct knurled bezel for winding and setting.
Introduction of the Zenith Type 20 Collection
Over seventy years later, this particular aircraft clock inspired an all-new collection for the brand: the Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20. It debuted as an exclusive, limited edition model produced in only 250 pieces. The design perfectly integrated vintage and modern elements. It featured the trademark, large, luminous numerals and an oversized knurled onion crown that pays homage to the original bezel. Yet, it measured a hefty 57.5mm, which was offset by a lightweight, contemporary titanium case. The reimagined Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 housed a mechanical, hand-wound Caliber 5011K movement, which was visible through the caseback.
Following the initial limited edition reissue of the Montre d’Aéronef Type 20, Zenith has continued to introduce variations of the model. A year later in 2013, they launched the Pilot Type 20 Annual Calendar Chronograph. As the name indicates, this version features a few additional complications. However, the case size recieved a downgrade to a more manageable yet still modern 48mm.
Modern Updates to the Traditional Type 20
The brand debuted another iteration of the model in 2014: the Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 GMT 1903. This particular version pays tribute to the Wright Brothers and their legendary first flight on Kitty Hawk beach in 1903. Similar to the Annual Calendar Chronograph variation, the 1903 measures 48mm. However, it also boasts some aesthetic updates. This time, Zenith treated the titanium case with a DLC coating and added a sandblasted dial for an ultra-modern appearance. As a commemorative piece, this model was also released as a limited edition of 1,903 pieces.
Finally, in 2015, Zenith unveiled three new references in the Type 20 collection. The first is the Pilot Type 20 Extra Special, which features a unique bronze case. The other two are the Pilot Type 20 Louis Blériot Homage and the Pilot Type 20 Skeleton. Each of these incredibly unique designs were only produced in a limited edition of just five pieces and measure a whopping 60mm. The Louis Blériot Homage showcases a striking meteorite dial that’s actually from an asteroid. And, as the name indicates, the Skeleton iteration boasts a skeleton dial that highlights the Caliber 5001K movement.