“Zenith! Isn’t that a name just destined for aviators? Add to that all the quality contained in this watch’s beautiful case, and you will have a Zenith”.
Crossing the English Channel
Watching the ribbon of Sangatte Beach fall away below. Thinking that breaking away from the confines of the earth’s surface is the greatest feat of all. Turning one’s back on the landmarks that delineate the coast. Soaring upwards to where water gives way to more water, or where perhaps mist will veil the sky. Battling the elements while at the same time working with them. Winning out against wind, noise, fear, gravity. Making oneself small... to become great. Braving, as a cloth dragonfly, the turbulence that plays about Cape Blanc Nez. Becoming a tiny dot in the sky – seen from afar, no bigger than a seagull.
Spotting the cliffs of Dover. Heading for the eagerly-awaited green meadows of the English coast. Re-creating that half-hour that became a moment for all time. Remembering that the Channel is an ocean, a world unto itself. Paying tribute to the incredible original conquest by the “heavier-than-air” craft.
Zenith and Blériot
Calais, July 25, 1909, 4:15 a.m. Louis Blériot is aboard his plane, the Blériot XI. The wind has died during the night and it seems the right moment has arrived to take up the challenge issued by the British newspaper, the Daily Mail: cross the Channel – 40 kilometres of ocean – in a flying machine. What some would consider a utopian dream was accomplished in 37 minutes by Blériot, formerly nicknamed the “Crash King” but afterwards the undisputed “Father of Aviation”. He was wearing a Zenith.
Historical Montre d’Aéronef Zenith Type 20
“I am very satisfied with the Zenith watch, which I usually use, and I cannot recommend it too highly to people who are looking for precision”, said Louis Blériot on March 19, 1912. His Zenith watch sported a luminous dial and hands for optimal readability, and also had a crown that was easy to manipulate while wearing gloves. A seconds counter at 6 o’clock provided additional temporal information.
From 1939 onwards, the Zenith Montre d’Aéronef Type 20, with its 36-hour power reserve, was standard equipment on most French planes. Lauded by aviation builders and professionals for its reliability, sturdiness and accuracy, it appeared on the instrument panels of many airplanes, in particular the Caudron Simoun C.635 models used by the French Army for training and by the Air Bleu postal company for international and transatlantic routes.
Its case, made of a light alloy, could be attached to the instrument panel and included an easy-to-handle knurled bezel for winding and setting the watch. The dark dial was ringed with heavily-coated luminous numerals, giving the important criterion of visibility its due. The small seconds dial was at 6 o’clock, while the equally luminous hour and minute hands left no doubt as to the time displayed.
The mechanical movement had a bimetallic balance wheel coupled with a self- compensating, anti-magnetic hairspring and a Swiss lever escapement – all solutions that met aviation’s need for reliability and accuracy.
The original Aviator Watch
Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 - 2012
his watch dabbles in excess. Like the skies that beg to be conquered, it chooses to anchor time in a large space, confidently letting the hours tick away. The 57.5 mm-diameter case, made of titanium to offset the weight of the movement it contains, has the qualities of an instrument that was born to fly.
Montre d’Aéronef Zenith Type 20, 1939
The notched crown is reminiscent of those on antique aviator watches, which allowed pilots to set the watch without taking off their gloves. The 27 mm space between the lugs accentuates the shape of the extremely refined lugs that attach an antiqued leather strap sewn and topstitched entirely by hand. Adding to the vintage feel is the black dial, which is easily readable thanks to luminous elements. Beneath the impressive sapphire crystal (glareproofed on both sides), the raised numerals of the chapter ring are made of entire blocks of Superluminova. The time is indicated by hands that are also enhanced with luminescent material.
The visually balanced counters display the small seconds at 9 o’clock and the power reserve at 3 o’clock. The aesthetics serve mainly to make reading the time easier, recalling the functional approach taken in traditional aviator watches.
The transparent caseback reveals the mechanical hand-wound 5011K movement. Its 50 mm diameter leaves room for exceptional finishes, such as 19 jewels and the broad linear Côtes de Genève that grace the rhodium-plated bridges. This COSC-certified chronometer comes with a pedigree to match its beauty: it contains the famous 5011 pocket calibre that was so successful for Zenith in the 1960s – and in 1967 was named the most accurate chronometer ever tested by the Neuchatel Observatory. The calibre has been in continuous production since then and has been used in competition timepieces, marine chronometers, pocket watches, and watchmaking school watches.
Oscillating at 18,000 vibrations per hour, the 5011 calibre has a separate mechanism for stopping the seconds hand and synchronising the hour. It features shock-absorbers on the balance-wheel and escapement arbors, fine adjustment, and a self-compensating anti-magnetic Breguet overcoil balance spring, as well as a mobile stud-holder, double-arrow index regulator, and the Zenith winding-crown stem attachment system. All these assets combine to ensure that the watch gives a first-rate performance without losing its vintage feel.
Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20
Calibre 5011K, hand-wound
Cadence of the balance
by the COSC
Central hours and minutes Small seconds at 9 o’clock Power-reserve indication at 3 o’clock
Polished and satin-brushed grade 5 titanium
Matt black with Superluminova-enhanced hands and numerals
Calfskin with hand-sewn topstitching, titanium pin buckle
Passionate about aviation
“Zenith! Isn’t that a name just destined for aviators? Add to that all the quality contained in this watch’s beautiful case, and you will have a Zenith.” These few words of Léon Morane, who in 1910 became the first pilot in the world to exceed a speed of 100 km/hour, firmly anchor Zenith in the world of aviation and aeronautical feats.
As the 20th century began, the development of air travel created specific needs for precision instruments for use onboard the airplanes and dirigibles that were crossing oceans and flying over the poles. Zenith was among the first to build aviation instruments. Its watches embody the ambition that motivated these “knights of the sky”: their desire to conquer, master great distances and surpass themselves was reflected in the precision of the timers and watches that accompanied them on their journeys. These instruments met the technical requirements imposed by aviation. They had to stand up to temperature variations, magnetic flux, and the vibrations of the aircraft while remaining reliable, accurate, sturdy, and readable. A Zenith aviator watch was more than just an instrument; it became a faithful co-pilot that backed up the pilot and kept him safe. In that capacity, in the 1930-40s, the Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 by Zenith was carried aloft in many machines, including the famous Caudron planes.
Today’s Pilot collection is a worthy legacy from those glory days of aerial conquest. Its mechanical elements are a distillation of the manufacture’s historic expertise and the beauty that the freedom of flying leaves behind like a contrail. The Pilot collection is made especially for lovers of aviation and its history, mechanical enthusiasts, and those enamoured with wide-open spaces. It symbolises discovery and exploration, the love of adventure and the development it brings.
Three watches, three expressions of the pleasure one feels at rising into the air. Three well-broken-in machines that become the best companions for a trip through time. Three instruments that bear within them the euphoria that comes with freedom and the feeling of having lived one’s dream of exploring new skies and letting the altitude go to one’s head...
Within every Zenith pilot slumbers an Icarus, a Blériot, a Morane or a da Vinci. And on his wrist, today, is a Zenith Pilot.