By Gordon Henderson
In the world of horology and watch sizes, there is big and then there is the pilot watch. Typically pilot watches are built with a large face — meant to be easily legible at a glance while flying — and a large crown, meant to be accessible while wearing pilot gloves unfit for manipulating smaller objects. Pilot watches have become increasingly popular over the years as they represent an opportunity for aviation buffs, vintage watch enthusiasts and lovers of horology to own a piece of history.
With the release of the Type 20 Grand Feu, Zenith honors its rich past by using an historic movement, the 5011k, and hits a home run with a hand-chased, avant guard design. First and foremost, though — let’s get this out of the way — the Type 20 is big: 60mm big. Zenith really takes advantage of the size and has used it as a sandbox to create. The case is carved out of a single piece of sapphire, which allows for a view of the historic movement through both the middle and back of the watch. This is the first time such a design element has been accomplished in a case size that large.
The Type 20 Grand Feu is the first to feature the use of Grand Feu enamel for a dial of this size. To create Grand Feu an enamelist needs to fire molten enamel powder in a kiln at temperatures between 800 and 900 C. Several firings are necessary to get the desired color out of the product. Knowing how long the piece of enamel should be exposed is a matter of timing and experience, as too long will ruin the enamel and too short won’t create the desired effect. The enamel powder is comprised of silica, feldspath, kaolin and metallic oxides. The powder is mixed with special oils to comprise a substance with which to paint. The dial on this watch is superb. Rounding out the dial are Arabic numerals, a power reserve indicator and a small seconds hand.
The Zenith Type 20 Grand Feu also features a bezel, lugs and crown in white gold that are all finished in a hand-chased pattern of scrolls and garland like motifs. The process of chasing the Grand Feu requires north of 200 man hours!
The historic hand-wound El Primero 5011k movement was originally created in 1960. At the time the movement was renowned for accuracy and was awarded the title of the most accurate chronometer ever produced by the Neuchatel Observatory. The movement went on to be used in marine chronometers and pocket watches. A small number of the original calibers were found in the manufacturer’s archives and have been updated for current use in limited runs.
Oscillating at 18,000 vibrations per hour, the movement has been updated to include shock absorbers on the balance-staff as well as the escapement, and a self-compensating anti-magnetic Breguet over coil balance spring. The watch comes on a black leather strap with a white gold pin buckle. Only 10 pieces will be produced, and this rare watch will retail for 150,000 CHF.