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A worthy successor to the first Zenith aviator’s watchesBASELWORLD 2013: The new Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 GMT

The French term “montre d’aéronef” (onboard watch) is an apt name for these instruments specially developed for aviation, a field in which the conditions of use were considerably more demanding than elsewhere and severely tested the mechanisms.

The latter had to withstand sudden fluctuations in temperature, magnetic fields given off by the engines and the other flight instruments, occasionally violent vibrations, humidity, as well as changes in atmospheric pressure. Impeccable readability was also a must, and a large matt black dial provided the best possible contrast for the white luminescent-coated hands and other time indications. The latter featured characteristic Arabic numerals and an oversized font. As far as wristwatches were concerned, operating them was considerably facilitated by a distinctive crown enabling gloved handling of the winding and setting functions.

All these requirements were part of the technical specifications developed in the mid-1930s and which have evolved over the years in step with aviation technology. As of 1938, the specifications became known as “Type 20”. These professional watches regarded as survival instruments were regularly checked and maintained. In France, for example, they were supplied to the Air Force, the Naval Aviation and the Test Flight Centre. Today, the Type 20-approved instruments produced at the time by only a handful of stringently selected manufacturers belong to the flight instrument hall of fame.

The new Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 GMT is a worthy successor to the first Zenith aviator’s watches. This generously 48 mm-diameter model echoes all the same distinctive visual features: a wide grooved and screw-locked crown, imposing Arabic numerals entirely made of white Superluminova displaying the time, as well as a large matt black dial – forming a backdrop against which the finely satin-brushed ruthenium black, Superluminova-enhanced hands stand out clearly and visibily. The solid caseback is composed of a medallion struck with the effigy of a Blériot plane and bearing the inscription: “Montre d’Aéronef Type 2 – ZENITH Flying Instruments”. In a nod to the Swiss civil aviation registration system, the letters HB appear on the side of the case, followed by a figure referring to the model’s series number.

Powered by an automatic Zenith Elite 693 movement with a 50-hour power reserve, this steel model with a brown leather strap drives the hours, minutes, small seconds at 9 o’clock and GMT functions. While modern-day travellers smoothly juggle time zones on their wrist, this was not always the case. It was in the 1820s that the decision was taken to adopt a universal time unit based on a solar day comprising 86,400 seconds. In 1833, the United States became the first nation to establish a time-zone system, and it was not until 1844, at the close of the fiercely contested International Meridian Conference in Washington, that the globe was officially divided into 24 time zones and the location of Greenwich, England was adopted as the zero meridian. This would become the universally recognised Greenwich Mean Time or GMT, the sole international time reference for pilots the world over.