I always thought 44mm cases were the absolute maximum my wrist could handle. However, these sorts of generalizations do invite rare exceptions. I tried the IWC Big Pilot, and it’s worth every compliment and aspiration it receives, so the day I can afford to pick up one of those will be the first time I own a 46mm watch without a second thought. But 48mm? This year at TimeCrafters, I spent some time with the Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 Annual Calendar, even wore it on the wrist for a few minutes, and fell in love with this 48mm pilot watch.
Zenith added the Type 20 to their Pilot collection in 2013. This is a truly large watch and not for the faint of heart. In much the same manner as IWC’s Big Pilot, the Type 20 Annual Calendar exudes a masculine legibility in such a useful and cool retro design that it’s believable as an aviation watch. You look at it, feel its extraordinary weight in your hands and it’s easy to see this strapped to a pilot’s wrist just outside the cuff of his bomber jacket. Thanks to the bold and luminous numerals and hands, a quick glance at the wrist is all you need to read the time. That beautifully oversized onion-shaped crown and chronograph pushers can be operated easily with gloves on or off. The case back has a rich engraving that depicts Louis Blériot crossing the English Channel by aircraft for the first time in history in 1909. Inside the plane, of course, Blériot was wearing a Zenith timepiece.
Under the dial is Zenith’s El Primero 4054, the brand’s renowned high-beat movement operating at 5hz (36,600 bph) with 50 hours of power reserve. It features a 60-minutes chronograph and an annual calendar module designed by Ludwig Oechslin, co-founder of Ochs & Junionr and former watchmaker for Ulysse Nardin where he created watches such as The Freak. I particularly enjoy annual calendars because they’re priced more accessibly than perpetual calendars for ultimately the same convenience. Although it sounds nice to basically never have to change the date on your watch, it’s an unlikely outcome if you rotate watches regularly. Personally, I don’t wear every watch all the time, and often I have to wind them up before wearing them days (maybe even weeks) after they stopped running. So whether or not a watch has a perpetual calendar likely has little bearing on how often I would need to adjust the date on it. This is effectively an argument against both annual and perpetual calendars, but if you see yourself taking advantage of this convenience, then consider opting for the less expensive one.
The particular model I checked out featured a stainless steel case but there are 18K rose gold and titanium alternatives, the latter of which would dramatically reduce the weight on the wrist likely make you forget you’re wearing a 48mm piece. The Type 20 Annual Calendar comes on a thick alligator strap with contrast stitching and a substantial buckle. This watch is big, historically styled, expertly crafted and a lot of fun to wear. At $11,300, it’s expensive, but also an unusual bargain as most Zenith watches are. I make the comparison to the classic IWC Big Pilot because they share some characteristics with one another, but obviously the Type 20 hasn’t achieved such iconic status as the Big Pilot. Although, it is the only 48mm watch that I’ve enjoyed. It surprised the hell out of me.