Zenith Pilot Type 20 chronograph review

Published on 24 December 2021 at 16:21

Even though Zenith released Pilot Type 20 chronograph almost three years ago, I was not able to find fully independent review of the watch when deciding about the purchase of this watch. There are of course a lot of introduction's articles and videos, but a lot of them have very a very commercial tone. I have purchased the watch anyway and now it's time to give you my impressions about the watch.

Pilot Type 20 line of watches are done as a heritage to the Zenith Montre d'Aeronef watch, which was issued sometime before the second world war. First a non chronograph versions were released (surprisingly with the Selitta 300 movement inside), which were soon followed by chronograph versions. Since chronograph versions have inhouse El Primero 4069 movement, my decision to go for a chronograph version was easy. 

Different dial colors are available in chrono and non chrono versions, different case materials, for me the most intriguing ones were blue and green dial and a bronze case. At the end this green/bronze combination won against blue/bronze combination for me. So my review will focus on my choice of watch.

So, let's start with the basic facts. As said, watch has a bronze case, dimension of the watch is 45mm without crown and pushers. I am sure that this information together with the picture of  the watch showing enormous crown would suggest that watch is huge and almost unwearable. The truth is quite opposite! Ok, ok, I am biased since I like big watches, but design of this watch with it's round shaped and a great placement of the lugs really makes this watch much smaller on the wrist. Anything smaller just would not work properly. 

For the bronze case itself I have read two totally different facts - in one article it is stated that Zenith has prevented the case against getting the patina, on the other one it was stated, that each watch will develop it's own patina (what is the main point of the bronze watches, isn't it..). I hope that watch will develop patina over time....

Crown is big, however it is rounded on such an elegant way that it's size is not disturbing at all. Chronograph pushers are very elegant, they are almost invisible. So pushers do not optically increase watch at all but together with the crown makes nice package as a whole.

Pushers are ribbed, which allows a better grip. I have a small complaint though. Upper pusher which starts chronograph is very stiff and has a "false first click". When gently pushing it, click is heard but nothing happens. At this phase you really have to push hard again to the end, and only then chronograph hand starts. Same happens when stopping the chrono. Ok, this prevents chrono to be started accidently - what is good - but on the other hand you easily miss the right moment to start or stop chrono since first click gives you impression that chrono has been started/stopped.

Dial is just beautiful. Green background seems to be fading from the outer edges towards the middle. Big white numbers seems to be applied on the dial. Central hands are rose gold gilded which imitates bronze case, but small hands are not, they are silver with white endings. Maybe it would be just to aggressive if those two small hands would also be gilded, I can't judge. To be honest, at the beginning I haven't even noticed that they are of different color, but more than I look more disturbing is the inconsistency of the small hands color. Just being white for example would at least be consistent with the general look of the watch.

Dial is marked with the "MONTRE D'AERONEF" below the ZENITH sign, above 6 o'clock is an orange "PILOT" sign. Yet another different color on the dial. But this orange at least again imitates in a way the rose gold hands or bronze case otherwise there would just be too many colors on the dial all together.

What really impressed me is the lume which is placed on all dial numbers, on the hour hand and the minute hand and also on the pointer of the chronograph second hand. As you can see from the picture, lume is shining very bright and what is the most important, it keeps strong shine over the whole night. I am sure it can last at least 8 hours - that is the longest period I was able to test it.

I am a bit confused about the purpose of the lume on the chrono second hand having in mind that the chrono minute hand is not lumed. You have to finish whatever you are timing during the night within one minute :). 

What is interesting to me is, that even though El Primero movement in general has also a date complication, Zenith decided that on this watch date is abandoned. And for my taste this was a good decision. Dial has it's big hour numbers which give a very distinctive pilot character to the watch, chrono itself gives very symmetric look, putting date anywhere on the dial would ruin that general impression. 

Watch by default comes with two calfskin leather straps, one for more dress look in green and one for a more sports look in camouflage. Both straps have rubber lining and are at least at the beginning VERY stiff. And - quite short! For my 19,4cm wrist I have to use the second hole, so this straps are not for a wrist more than 20cm. What is a bit unusual since 45mm size of the watch shouts for a larger wrists.

Both straps have it's own titanium pin buckle, what is good so you don't have to change buckle from strap to strap when changing the strap on the watch. What I don't like is that bronze watch does not have bronze buckle! That is at least for me a mistake. I already have or better say have had some microbrands with bronze cases and in general they have always matched the buckle with the case, so bronze buckle on the strap. So I would expect some Zenith to do the same. 

But what I have to congratulate Zenith is how easily straps can be changed. You don't need any tool for that. Both straps have a quick click release button by which you unlock the strap from the lug. Putting strap on the lug is even easier, you just push the strap over the lug. Brilliant idea, I must admit that I have not seen it before. Those kind of straps would be more than useful on the old fixed lugs watches.

Lugs size is 23mm, which is a less common dimension, so potential replacement straps are a bit more complicated to get. What is pity since watch allows a lot of different straps to be combined with the watch. 

Backplate is also titanium (so maybe this approves titanium buckles :) ). I would prefer having a glass bottom which would show a nice El Primero movement, but this nice picture of the old airplane is also interesting. It is declared that watch is 100m waterproof. I did not test it...

As said, watch allows different color straps and by changing the strap color (and type of the strap) the character of the watch is changed. Together with the strap I already received one rubber sand camouflage strap, I bought also one olive Nato strap and I also played with different brown straps. Here are a few examples:

I should write a lot about a movement but I will not. It simply is perfect, very precise. During the first week of using the watch without taking the watch from the wrist it has lost 1 sec against phone watch. Power reserve is 50h, winding is very smoothly and quiet.  

Watch comes in a huge box, way too big for my taste. I understand prestige approach but such a big box simply is not practical for the end customer. 

The price of the new watch at the official retail shop in EU is somewhere between 7500-8000 EUR. But it can be bought on Chrono24 for much less, the cheapest new watch in EU can be found for around 5500 EUR. Since Zenith does not keep the value very well, even the better solution is to get the used watch for even better price. I have opted this solution and I bought a 

watch in pristine condition just half year old from Watchfinder. 

For 5000-5500 price range I can only say that watch has a very good price/quality range. You receive a very attractive watch, with high quality movement inside.


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