Zenith has introduced an updated take on its long-standing Pilot watches, announcing its new Zenith Pilot collection of four models: the Pilot Automatic and the Zenith Pilot Big Date Flyback, both in a stainless steel case or black ceramic. The Pilot Automatic measures 40mm, while the Zenith Pilot Big Date Pilot Flyback measures 42.5mm. All four have black dials with horizontal grooves, large Arabic numerals, and a new case and bezel design. The new Pilot Automatic serves as the foundation for this new generation of Zenith Pilot watches. The case design is new, with a large, flat bezel that sits atop the rounded case. The crown is oversized and looks like a modern take on those old-school onion crowns, exactly what you’d expect for a pilot watch. In steel, the surfaces are brushed with polished chamfers; the black ceramic case is entirely microblasted for a matte finish.
The dial has large, applied Arabic numerals that are filled with Super-LumiNova, as are the hands. The font is sans-serif and modern, something brands as varied as Daniel Roth and IWC (and its long-running Mark Series) have opted for, sometimes to great consternation.
For a modern take on a pilot watch, it’s hard to argue for anything but a font like this. The numerals are big and bold, but as with most things pilot’s watch, this is explained by one word: legibility. A date sits at 6 o’clock, just beneath a horizontal line which is meant to recall the artificial horizon instruments on a plane’s dashboard, designed to help the pilot understand their orientation relative to the Earth’s horizon. If you love aviation timepieces, you’ll likely know that Zenith is the only brand that can use the word “Pilot” on a watch dial. In 1904, Zenith trademarked the English term, and the Le Locle brand certainly has not let it go to waste. In 1909, a Zenith watch cemented the brand’s place in history, accompanying Louis Blériot on humankind’s first flight across the English Channel. And with a nearly ever-present lineup of pilot’s watches in its catalog, Zenith has upheld its reputation in the genre ever since. That does not mean, however, that the watches always looked alike. The Zenith Pilot Big Date Pilot Flyback line has seen many variations through the years, and most recently, it had a distinct early-1900s aesthetic. Today, Zenith bids farewell to cathedral hands, skinny lugs, and onion crowns, turning its eyes to the horizon. These are the new Zenith Pilot Automatic and Pilot Big Date Flyback.
Before we discover these new watches, I must admit that I’m sad to see the vintage styling go. The previous Pilot line spoke to me in a way that few watches do, even if I never found a model that fit me perfectly. In the last few years, we haven’t seen much emphasis on the Pilot collection, and I gave my thoughts on how Zenith could improve it in 2021. But as an industry rookie naively speaking from the heart, I concede that I wasn’t qualified to make that call. Clearly, the Pilot line needed more drastic changes than a different case size and materials to make it hot again. And while I don’t love these new models as much, I’m extremely interested to see how the market will react. Now, let’s discover the Zenith Pilot Automatic and Pilot Big Date Flyback and see if Zenith has nailed the formula! One of the more understated yet interesting releases of Watches & Wonders 2023 has to be from Zenith. The LVMH brand released two versions of their new pilot watch, the Pilot Automatic and Pilot Big Date Flyback (both available in steel and microblasted ceramic). With these releases, Zenith has introduced a more modern pilot watch to their arsenal, as opposed to the more retro pilot watches the brand is known for. Zenith is flying into Watches & Wonders with a complete redesign of the Pilot series, marking a dramatic aesthetic shift from vintage to modern as its biggest story. The Pilot’s revamp is a stylistic jump akin to the evolution of a WWI biplane to a modern stealth fighter. The new Pilot is available in four flavours, with an automatic three-hander and a big date flyback chrono, both available in steel or black ceramic cases.