When Zenith first introduced the Montre D’Aéronef Type 20 at Basel 2012, the resulting demand far exceeded expectations. For Basel 2013, Zenith reduced the size of the watch from 57.5mm to 48mm, produced enough variations for an entire Pilot collection, and equipped each watch with an automatic in-house movement. Given that Zenith owns the trademark for “pilot,” you will only see “pilot” on a Zenith dial, lending serious stature to their pilot collection. The GMT model, which I wore for a month, reproduces the Type 20 instrumentation that Zenith made at the turn of the century (see here), but acquires a modern sensibility.
Montre D’Aéronef is French for “onboard watch,” identifying the watch’s navigator style, which is a precursor to the B-Uhren, and is instantly recognizable. The big onion crown to accommodate the pilot’s gloved hand, white Arabic numerals contrasted against a black dial in a rotund case for instantaneous readability, and the ability to “hack” or stop the movement for synchronization when pulling the crown are all design indications of a navigator watch, or pilot watch. This genre, which Zenith pioneered, is unmistakable here.
The GMT Type 20 could double as a small clock, and if you compare it with a size 20 pocket watch, the pocket watch legacy of early pilot watches becomes apparent. Those early watches (as well as last year’s larger Montre D’Aéronef Type 20) used hand wound movements, but for the smaller GMT model, a special incarnation of the automatic Elite movement, calibre 693, resides inside. The GMT Type 20 nicely balances the oversized pilot watch expectation with a very wearable wrist presence. Yes, the watch is big, but it wears nicely without being cumbersome, and no one would mistake it for a pocket watch on a strap. Its polished case, minimalist aesthetic on the black dial, beautiful large onion crown, rugged contrast-stitched brown leather strap, and red GMT arrow create a fusion between a sport and a dress watch with an across-the-room visibility. Its appeal is undeniable, and given consumer demand, if you are lucky enough to find one, buy it.
The primary feature of this watch is its GMT complication, which is of the so-called office GMT variety, making it a superb choice for frequent travelers if not the best choice for commercial pilots. GMTs can be divided between the office GMT variety and the true GMT variety. Rolex invented the true GMT when Pan Am airlines asked them to design a watch for their pilots that would accommodate flying through various time zones. GMT stands for Greenwich Mean Time, aviation’s standard measure of time, and on a Rolex GMT, you can set the GMT hand to Greenwich Mean Time and leave it alone. As a pilot flies through various time zones, one stop on the crown allows changing the hour hand without hacking the seconds or moving the minute hand, so a pilot can adjust for a new time zone and have a constant comparison to Greenwich Mean.
With an office GMT, the kind used here, the GMT hand represents a second time zone and is set independent of the hours and minutes. The Zenith’s GMT hand could be set for Greenwich Mean Time like the Rolex, but, when crossing time zones, changing the time on the watch would require advancing the minute hand a full revolution to update the hour. Such a change is not as simple or as accurate as just advancing the hour hand on a Rolex. If you are a pilot using your watch for trans-global flights, the true type GMT function may be an important consideration. If, however, you are but a traveler who wants to keep up with the time differential back home, then the Zenith’s office type GMT, the traveler type used by the majority of watches out there, may be more useful.
Zenith has a large ten o’clock pusher to advance the GMT one hour with each push along a 24 hour railroad chapter ring. Changing the GMT without using the crown makes updating the secondary time zone a breeze. Maybe you are traveling overseas, or doing business at home with partners on the other side of the globe, or have family in an adjacent time zone; the independent pusher allows you to adjust the watch for your needs quickly and easily.
In typical pilot style the dial is black with contrasting white batons or numerals. The roomy dial has plenty of space to house a large subsidiary seconds dial without cutting off the 9 o’clock numeral and allows for a clear reading of seconds. The Zenith logo, complete with the watch model’s full name and Zenith’s emblematic star, polished to perfection, fits nicely at the top, and the aforementioned trademark “Pilot” resides below. The space to the right at 3 o’clock is blank, but balanced by the onion crown. The Arabic numerals are made of solid SuperLuminova, and these coupled with the lumed hands, give the watch flashlight power in the dark.
The satin-brushed ruthenium black hands in an elongated Mercedes style reach well across the dial. The minute hand fits nicely into the railroad style chapter ring, and the GMT stops just before the chapter ring. Though the GMT hand lacks the SuperLuminova punch of the other hands, it does have a sizable red skeletonized arrow to mark the second time zone.
The chapter ring serves a dual purpose for telling the time in a primary and secondary time zone. The Mercedes hands tell time in a conventional way, but the GMT tells time on a 24 hour scale. For conventional time telling, there are solid white blocks along the chapter ring to correspond to Arabic numbered hours and four small indicators between each white block to indicate the minutes in five minute intervals (including the blocks). For GMT time telling, each white block doubles for an even hour in the 24 hour scale (military time), and between the blocks are the odd hours. Depressing the GMT pusher on the side of the case advances the GMT hand one hour without having to unscrew and pull out the crown.
The case is highly polished for the vertical downward viewing angle and brushed for the horizontal sideways viewing angle. In lieu of a see-through caseback, there is a matt etching titled, “Zenith Flying Instruments,” with the Zenith crest and Bleriot’s airplane. Eight screws fasten the caseback, and a screw holds each of the geometrically curved lugs. The slightly domed crystal has anti-reflective treatment on both sides; instead of lying flush with the bezel, the crystal’s edge lies just barely above it, creating a raised lip detail. Though the screw-down crown is grooved, it is smooth to the touch, and when the crown does find its way to the wrist, it is never uncomfortable. One of the great pleasures of this watch is winding the crown and hearing it purr like a kitten. Finally, in a nod to the Swiss civil aviation registration format, which you would see on the side of an aircraft, there is a badge with blued screws bearing the letters HB, followed by the model’s series number.
Some might want a see-through caseback, which came with the first, larger Montre D’Aéronef Type 20. Why are we unable to see the movement you ask? Because the Elite movement is considerably smaller than the case. The diameter of the movement is 25.6mm and its thickness is 3.94mm. Compare those measurements with the case diameter of 48mm and a thickness of 15.8mm. Though Zenith developed this Elite calibre 693 for this current series of pilot watches, including the GMT, the Elite movement is used elsewhere, most notably in their thinnest watches. Having an etching on the caseback was preferable to seeing a small movement in a large case.
Commensurate with the case, crown and GMT pusher size is the rugged brown strap with white contrast stitching, and matching this watch’s economy of scale is a giant buckle with the Zenith star. As an added luxury, the strap has a rubber inner lining, which adds comfort and helps reduce sweat stains.
The Elite movement is a workhorse for the Zenith company, and represents the accuracy for which the brand is famous. The Elite was one of the first movements designed using Computer Assisted Design (CAD), and when unveiled in 1994, it won “movement of the year” from the press. In its latest adaptation for the Type 20 GMT, the calibre 693 boasts a 50 hour power reserve with a full 4 Hz frequency. And though the owner is unable to see the movement, he can enjoy the stealth luxury of knowing that the unseen rotor is copiously decorated with the Côtes de Genève pattern.
The Verdict: Pro and Con
The Montre D’Aéronef Type 20 GMT is a huge win for Zenith, and we are hard pressed to find fault anywhere. For Zenith to move from last year’s limited edition watch to creating an entire Pilot series, including the GMT we have reviewed here, as well as a Red Baron GMT, Perpetual Calendar, Tourbillon and 40mm model, means they must see the Type 20 incarnation as shaping their future identity.
The Zenith Type 20 GMT is available for a retail price of $ 7,900 USD / € 6,000 Euro.
- Well, just about everything!
- Large, but not too large, case.
- Numerals made of SuperLuminova blocks
- Rubber lining to the leather strap.
- The corresponding oversized buckle to match the case’s size.
- The purr of winding the crown.
- A 24 hour scale for the GMT
Con: Lack of a see-through caseback to admire the movement. The alternative of Zenith’s matt “flying instruments” etching is stunning, so owners are more than compensated.
Some specifications – Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 GMT
- Case: Stainless steel case, 48mm in diameter, 15.80mm in height, dial opening is 40mm, box-shaped sapphire crystal with anti-reflective treatment on both sides, case-back with Zenith Flying Instruments logo, water-resistant to 10 ATM
- Movement: Elite 693, automatic winding, diameter is 25.6 mm, thickness is 3.94 mm, 186 components, 26 jewels, frequency is 28,800 VpH (4 Hz), power-reserve is min. 50 hours
- Functions: Hours and minutes in the center, small seconds at 9 o’clock, 24-hour second time-zone indicator
- Dial & Hands: Matt black dial with SuperLuminova SLN C1 Arabic hour numerals, black ruthenium coated hands with satin-brush finish
Visit the Zenith website for information about the availability.