Zenith Introduces The New Pilot Watch Collection

Zenith has re-invented the Pilot range for the 2023 model year, and it's made a winner in our books.


One of the biggest talking points of Watches & Wonders Geneva this year was Zenith’s re-imagining of its famous Pilot model range, which, according to Zenith, is the only watch that can have “Pilot” written on the dial as it’s trademarked. In recent years, the Defy and historical re-interpretation watches have taken precedence over the Pilot, which is a shame, as the old one was very historically inspired with its large diameter, large onion-shaped crown and easy legibility. Having said that, the large proportions probably made it difficult for most people to wear. So, for 2023, Zenith has changed the Pilot from a humungous and quite specific design to a broader, friendlier one. Zenith said their aim is still at the pilots of the world, but this watch has a greater focus on the passengers inside the plane too. I’ll explain more below.

Four models are available right now, with two chronographs and two three-handed watches. While I got to see all four in person, time restrictions in the Zenith booth meant my focus went to the matte black ceramic versions of the new Pilot, but rest assured, the watches are also in stainless steel if the black isn’t your thing.

Pilot Automatic

The most affordable way into the world of new luxury pilot’s watches from Zenith is the Pilot Automatic which comes in a 40mm diameter. The case is a traditional barrel shape with a round bezel over the top, a complete change from the old Pilot Type 20 watch, which had a round case with thin lugs sticking out. The more natural wrist-hugging shape of the new Pilot Automatic, coupled with the fact that it’s 5mm smaller in diameter, makes it a much easier watch to wear, and while some people (like me) will mourn the loss of the huge onion crown, the large one on this new model is still easy to grip. 

It’s also easy to read with the brilliant white hand standing out against the dial, which is textured with neat horizontal lines. At 6 O’clock is a date window which is also nice and easy to read. Visible through the sapphire caseback is the self-winding El Primero 3620 movement, which has a 5Hz beat rate and a 60-hour power reserve. The water resistance of this watch is 100m, and it comes with a “Cordura” effect strap with a quick change system. The price in steel is $7,500 and in ceramic is $9,600.

Pilot Big Date Flyback

The other pilot’s watch released by Zenith, and the one I was the most fascinated by, is the Pilot Big Date Flyback. This watch has been designed from the ground up to be a lot less focused on being simply a pilot’s watch. Zenith’s thinking here is that, by focusing it to a more general audience, it’s much easier to get along with. At 42.5mm across, it’s still smaller than most of the outgoing model range by 2.5mm. Despite that, it wears bigger than its size suggests and sat quite happily on my larger wrists. It was only of my favourite watches to wear from the show.

What impressed me the most with this new Pilot watch was the thought that went into certain details. For example, the flyback chronograph’s pushers have been fine-tuned, requiring only around 500g of pressure to operate. This makes them exceptionally smooth to use, only bested by one watch (not a Zenith) that I can think of right now, and I saw a lot of chronographs this week. Also, the big date on this watch has been engineered to sound similar to the flip-boards that used to display destinations and times in airports and railway stations. These have mostly been replaced by LED screens now, but the watch does sound uncannily like the old tech, and the mechanical feedback when flipping through the date numerals using the quickset date feature is unmatched. If you go for the steel variant, you get a coloured ring around one of the subdials, which is inspired by the old El Primero Rainbow Flyback watch.

The self-winding El Primero 3652 movement is powering this watch, which is also visible through the sapphire crystal caseback. The calibre is well finished with matte blasting, polishing on the wheels and some traditional blueing too. The movement runs at 5Hz for 60 hours, but the signature feature is the flyback function which allows the chronograph to be reset to zero while it’s still running. 

As with the Pilot Automatic, this watch has a quick change fabric strap with “Cordura” effect. In stainless steel, the price is $11,500, and in matte black ceramic, as pictured it’s $13,500.