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The Zenith Pilot Big Date Flyback is the Real Deal

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A flying shoe box, Elon Musk and the sound of a Big Date

Visionary is a word used to describe people a little too much these days.

Is Elon Musk is a visionary? Probably not, he didn’t even start tesla. What about Mark Zuckerberg? Nope, he stole the idea for Facebook from some posh twins.

Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. or Malala Yousafzai? Perhaps we’re getting closer.

I don’t mean to downplay any of these people's achievements. Most of them are noble (well except for the first two) but it’s very rare that someone comes along that can truly see the future, act on it and change the course of history forever. You can argue that most ideas are borrowed and perhaps there’s just isn’t any originality anymore. But if we look back through history, occasionally you find a true innovator that saw something before everyone else did.

Enter Georges Favre-Jacot.

Georges Favre-Jacot, the founder of Zenith
Georges Favre-Jacot, the founder of Zenith

I want to take you back for a moment, all the way to 1888. When a young man did something that could either be described as a masterstroke of foresight or an incredible strike of good luck.

A full 28 years after the founding of his company, Zenith, Georges Favre-Jacot trademarked the word ‘Pilot’. ‘So what’, I hear you mumble under your breath. No big deal, right?
The astounding thing was, this was a full 15 years before Orville Wright left the ground on his inaugural flight with his brother Wilbur running alongside him in.

You read that right… Fifteen years before the Wright Brothers took off in their glorified Kite.

Does this mean Jacot was a visionary? Or just the luckiest bastard of the late 1880s?

Maybe there’s not much difference between the two.

,,Pilot”

Until today, and thanks to its founders' vision/luck, Zenith is the only company that is legally allowed to write Pilot on the dial of its watches. That initial patent, and the second one applied for in English, means no other brand can print the word on their dials.

Sorry, IWC.

Zenith’s pilot credentials don’t stop at there, however. In 1913, Louis Bleriot wore a Zenith as he was the first to fly across the English Channel in what can only be described as a shoebox with wings.
At the end of his flight, presumably in shock that he didn’t fall to a watery death, he spoke fondly of the watch that got him there.

“I am very satisfied with the ZENITH watch which I usually use, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to people who care about accuracy”
Louis Bleriot
Louis Bleriot himself. How did this guy survive!?

The Zenith Pilot Big Date Flyback

After a few years of 46 mm big crown behemoths, Zenith has landed back on earth with a new collection of pilots watches for 2023 that cater to the more human sized aviation enthusiast.

The Zenith Pilot Big Date Flyback
The Zenith Pilot Big Date Flyback

Among the two offerings, comes the Pilot Automatic and the Pilot Big Date Flyback. The Big Date Flyback, being my personal favourite, will be the one I’ll focus on here.

The Case

I’ve been told that as a ‘watch journalist’, I have a bias towards smaller watches and I admit, I would take a 36 mm over a 41 mm Datejust any day of the week. I do, however, take offence to the assumption that I ONLY think smaller is better. I am a complex human, after all.

So to put this journalistic stereotype to rest, I’ve got a shocking opinion for you.

42.5 mm Is the perfect size.

The Zenith Pilot Big Date Flyback
The Zenith Pilot Big Date Flyback

The proportions are good, the lugs are short, the dial is the right size. The pushers also don’t look weird, and the crown is chunky without feeling like an afterthought. See, I can like other things too!

Both watches come in either stainless steel or black ceramic cases. With brushing and polishing for the steel and a micro blasted finish on the ceramic. Offering an entirely different vibe, they could be from two different collections. There’s a Pilot for everyone.

The Dial

It is aviation inspired without screaming, “I’m supposed to look like a cockpit!”

The horizontal lines on the dial are meant to evoke an analogue artificial horizon gauge, and the crisp and clear sub dials are legibility focussed.

It's pure pilot's watch. Big numerals, big hands, big visibility.

The Dial of the Zenith Pilot Big Date Flyback
The Dial of the Zenith Pilot Big Date Flyback

There’s minimal text on the dial to distract you from knowing the time when you’re airborne, and the big date aperture at six o’clock is outlined in white. I’m glad Zenith resisted the urge to put the date at 4 like they did with the Chronomaster Sport. That stereotypical journalist in me just can’t handle an off-centre date window….

Just below the date, the word “PILOT, is printed in white. As we learnt above, it’s a big deal, and I'm sure they are proud. Good on Zenith for not plastering it all over the place. Once on the dial is enough.

In opposition to the monochromatic dial of the ceramic version, the steel has a splash of colour in the form of orange chronograph hands and a blue, green, yellow ring around the 30-minute counter. This is a nod to the iconic El Primero Rainbow flyback from 1997. It’s a nice touch of fun on an otherwise serious watch.

The nod to the iconic El Primero Rainbow flyback from 1997
The nod to the iconic El Primero Rainbow flyback from 1997

The Movement

The story of the El’Primero is a fascinating, albeit long one, and deserves its own article. To recap, here are the highlights.

1969 – The El Primero is launched as the first ever fully integrated, in-house, high-frequency chronograph movement.
1975 – Zenith management decides to cease production of the El Primero (quartz crisis) so a legend named Charles Vermont hid the technical plans and tools in the basement. His wife actually thought he was having an affair because he was being so secretive. No infidelity from my man, Charlie!
1980 – Management realises they made a mistake and brought it back thanks to the hidden plans.

All caught up? On to today.

The El’Primero Calibre 3652 that powers the new Pilot is a beast. It’s a fully integrated, column wheel flyback chronograph with a big date.
The decoration is industrial, but they have gone to lengths to give it it's own identity. This isn’t just another El Primero.

The El’Primero Calibre 3652
The El’Primero Calibre 3652

The skeletonised rotor shows off the handsome finishing while looking like the indicator on a horizon gauge. A fun little detail is that the rotor will actually work as a false horizon, just hold the watch up vertically and it will show you how you’re tracking. An impractical and nerdy (but cool) feature that I probably just made up. Anyway….

What really impresses me with this movement is how it pleases the senses. When activating the pushers, you get a soft but reassuringly precise click, and the noise it makes when those big date discs click into place is just wonderful. It’s mechanical and organic feeling at the same time. A strange way to describe a watch, I know, you’ll just have to go and check it out for yourself.

The El’Primero Calibre 3652
The El’Primero Calibre 3652

In terms of specs, the 3652, has approx. 60 hours of power reserve, beats at 36,000 vph (5 HZ) and features hours, minutes, small seconds at 9 an instantaneous big date at 6, 30 minute chromo counter at 3 and a central chronograph seconds hand with flyback function. Ok, take a breath…

It’s one hell of a movement!

In a world where the watches we love seem to be moving further away from humility and closer to pomposity, It’s refreshing to see a brand doing something different. It’s what we need more of if we are to survive in a time when flashing your cash is becoming more and more unacceptable.

Zenith's new Pilots collection doesn’t follow a trend, or try to convince you it’s something it’s not. They are as close to modern-day tool watches as you can get while still being elegant and wearable.

The Zenith Pilot Big Date Flyback in Black Ceramic
The Zenith Pilot Big Date Flyback in Black Ceramic


The Pilot Big Date Flyback is a watch that I could absolutely see on the wrist of a fighter pilot, but it wouldn’t look out of place in a boardroom either.

It’s real, unpretentious, and just fucking cool.

Find more at zentih-watches.com

Cya in the next one.

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