Zenith Type 20 Extra Special 40mm
Watch reviewed was kindly loaned by Zenith Australia
Although many other brands are commonly associated with flight, Zenith was one of the manufactures that had a connection with aviation since the early days of flight itself. Without going into a long history lesson on the aviation, it should be noted that in 1909 a Frenchman by the name of Louis Bleriot crossed 31 miles of open water by air over and across the English Channel. And on his wrist? A Zenith.
The watch itself was standard for that early 1900s period and bore all the hallmarks that competing brands, such as Omega and Longines, also had on their aviation pieces. A large onion crown with extended stem was included to aid with winding and adjustment while wearing gloves. Black enamel dials featuring oversized Arabic numerals filled with luminescent material. Elongated cathedral hands were also a frequent trait amongst watches of that era.
Throughout the war period, Zenith’s Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 (a military serial number and the namesake of this watch) was seen in French cockpits. This design was re-released in 2012 as part of a 250 piece limited edition. That watch, at 57.5mm in diameter, was not only an homage to pilot’s watches of that era but also contained a 50mm Calibre 5011K - the exact calibre used in many cockpit clocks. The Montre d’Aeronef kicked off a series of variants of a similar appearance, but of differing case materials, complications, and sizing.
Much to Zenith’s credit, it has managed to reissue a classic without trying too hard. Most elements are designed in a non-serious and fun manner. The cathedral hands retain the same overall shape as the original, but the proportions are slightly more stubby and comical. Similarly, the typeface used on the numerals is chunky and playful, while still being true to its namesake. As such, the Type 20 is a remarkably flexible and adaptable piece in handling day-to-day casual wear. The size of elements carries over to the full-onion crown as well, aiding the watch in its operation and adjustment. If we had one gripe with this watch, it would be that such a crown deserves to be matched with a manually wound movement.
By combining such elements with an excellent anti-reflective coating and an uncluttered dial, Zenith has managed to create a watch of ultimate legibility in all conditions. The readability is assisted by the bright green Super Luminova which glows brightly and manages to hold at a constant level for extended periods of darkness. The ‘aged steel’ case of the watch is a gunmetal coated steel that is sanded irregularly, giving the watch a very matte appearance. The colour of the case continues onto the ‘grain finished’ dial which has a resemblance to fume type dials used on other watches. The central section especially has a mineral metallic glow under bright direct sunlight adding to the lustre of the watch.
The problem with it is...
The automatic rotor is rather loud when moved perpendicular to the axis of rotation. This appears to be a trait common with the other Pilot offerings that we had a chance to play with. Moreover, the closed case back's engraving could feature more depth, and perhaps a more interesting motif could be used.
Would we own one?
Not for me. While I appreciate the lovely details of this newly sized 40mm Zenith pilot watch, the use case for me (being something I'd wear on the weekend), I can't help but miss the heft and even more legible dial of its bigger siblings. The aesthetic and proportions are there but this will appeal to a specific crowd wanting that pilot watch look but want something more comfortable to wear daily.
Yes. It is comfortable. Like I mean comfortable; and unexpectedly so, considering the chunky design of the watch. The watch itself comes with a rubber-backed, nubuck leather strap in a range of bright colours to match the various dial options. It may appear less than appropriate for warmer climates, but having worn it for a couple of weeks, the watch and the strap just disappear as it adjusts well to expanding and contracting wrists in changeable weather. It also sits on that delicate balance of mass, so it is not a burden or overly light that you don’t feel like you’re missing something on your wrist. Ultimately, the Zenith Type 20 Extra Special 40mm is an excellent day-to-day watch that fits well with casual clothing, and offers all enthusiasts with a preference for smaller pieces to enjoy a worthy homage to last century classic. If you’re someone who is after something playful, comfortable and has an impressive heritage, then this might be the piece for you.
Yes and no. Don’t let the size of 40mm fool you. Despite its on-paper large diameter, it actually wears smaller on the wrist, due to its turned-down short lugs. The noisy rotor doesn’t bother me, but I’m not a fan of the aged steel treatment as I prefer my watches to be aged by me, rather than someone else. Having said that, it does give the watch a distinctive look, and makes it very much a modern piece (in that retro is so...now...). The lume! Oh wow the lume!!! Must be seen to be appreciated!!
So would I own one? I would say no to the 40mm but I will take the 45mm version which, again, wears smaller than the size suggests. It’s a watch that one must try on, because it will surprise you; a fantastic casual wear companion from one of the great watch Manufactures.