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Zenith - Zenith engages automatic Pilot

Zenith Zenith engages automatic Pilot

The Le Locle watchmaker has high hopes for its four new Pilots watches.

It will perhaps be the only pilot watch in Basel destined to remain on terra firma. The Pilot Type 20 Chronograph Ton-Up is intended not for aircraft pilots but for motorcycle racers. The watch has quite an interesting story. First, despite appearances, this is not a historic reissue: the Ton Up is a 2016 creation. It reflects the racing spirit of 70 years ago, but it is a child of the 21st century.

Designed to pay tribute to the café racers and Ton-Up Boys of the 1950s, this Rebel Without a Cause has already changed its name once. The watch was originally called the Heritage Pilot Café Racer Spirit, and has now been renamed the Heritage Pilot Ton-Up.

Street racer

“Ton-Up” refers to the minimum speed of 100 miles per hour (around 160 km/h) that bikers attempted to reach as they raced between transport cafés. Like the racing machines of today, a café racer motorbike was built light and lean for speed. This resulted in a minimalist, stripped-down design that is perfectly suited to the restricted area of a watch dial.

The black dial, without date or calendar, shows just the bare essential information – the time. The oversized luminescent hands (typical of pilot watches) provide optimal legibility as they glide over the huge stylised Arabic numerals in white SuperLumiNova. A two-register chronograph shows small seconds at 9 o’clock and minutes at 3 o’clock. This 45 mm watch in aged steel is driven by the automatic El Primero 4069 calibre, beating at 5 Hz (36,000 vph), with a 50-hour power reserve.

Zenith passe en Pilot automatique

Pilot Type 20 Extra Special black dial © Zenith

Bronze age

The other Pilot news from Zenith concerns two models in bronze. The first is another 45 mm El Primero chronograph, also with a generous fluted crown for easy adjustment, and oversized luminescent numerals. The aesthetic is similar to that of the Ton-Up, but this time the watch is a proper pilot’s watch intended for... pilots. Marketing moves in mysterious ways.

The bronze case and blue dial of the Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Chronograph look amazing together, and a Nubuck strap completes the vintage aesthetic. Like the bronze case, the leather will acquire a patina with time. It is still quite rare to find a watch that combines blue with bronze, a powerful yet harmonious pairing. The only potential downside of the new watch is its oversized diameter of 45 mm, although this objection is quickly neutralised by Zenith’s announcement in Basel that there would be an Extra Special in 40 mm.

The smaller watch has no chronograph, which keeps it judiciously light. It follows the same aesthetic codes as its big brother, but in a neater 40 mm diameter. This watch may well prove to be a major success for Zenith at Baselworld, an event that the manufacture continues to support strongly. A version with a black dial and khaki strap will also be of interest to military enthusiasts.

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