For 2014 Zenith have taken their Pilot Type 20, a strapping watch of immense proportions and have given it a dial made from one of the most delicate materials used in watchmaking – this shouldn’t work but it just does – and the Zenith Pilot Type 20 Grand Feu has caught the admiring eye of many while it lounged beneath the bright lights of the Zenith booth at BaselWorld.
In 2012 Zenith began their re-discovery of the “Pilot” watch genre with the Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20, complete with a case which at 57.5mm across was quite frankly huge. Face-on its subdials appeared to be out of proportion, the small seconds positioned at the dial edge on the left gobbled up almost all of the number “9” whereas the power reserve counter on the right was a little bit askew. It looked unusual because its generous case was built around an equally unusual calibre, the Zenith 5011, an original vintage movement of pocketwatch proportions which had award-winning precision credentials to boot. Since then Zenith have continued their commitment to the Type 20 proving that despite a dearth of “Pilot” watches in their portfolio up until 2012, they still have the knack for producing fine and dapper examples. The Zenith Pilot Type 20 Grand Feu which was unveiled at Baselworld 2014 is an extraordinary showcase piece, and in order to create it Zenith’s skilled craftsmen had to overcome a number of challenges.
Firstly, it has a case which is made almost entirely from sapphire despite measuring in at 60mm across, which makes it the largest case to be made from this material in watchmaking history. To say that such a fabrication is tricky to construct is an understatement, but its translucent nature does give a splendid look-see through to the movement through the back and also the sides. Next, the metal – the lugs, bezel and crown which are made from white gold have been hand-decorated and given the same fancy finish as the sides and back of the movement. Then of course, there’s the Grand Feu dial – to create such a huge portion of this frangible material must surely have demanded experience and patience in equal measure and the end result is loupe-worthy perfection and purity on a massive scale. Skeletonised blued-hands and hand painted numerals, minute track and branding complete this very traditional watch dial, which is almost entirely monochrome except for the subtle vivacity of the 0 and 6 hour power reserve indications.
In creating the Zenith Pilot Type 20 Grand Feu, Zenith have demonstrated more than a little audacity and I can only image the sharp intakes of breath, and the quizzical expressions of those present when the brief for a sapphire-cased, enamel-dialled watch of such immense proportions was first suggested. It is such a standout piece, that I am surprised that Jean-Frédéric Dufour did not want to keep it under wraps until next year when his company will celebrate its 150th anniversary for it would have been a fine celebratory watch – perhaps there is even more in store for this collection, or – perhaps, having followed the development of this piece from sketchpad to showcase, he simply could not wait to show it off.
The Zenith Pilot Type 20 Grand Feu will be limited to 10 pieces.