Among the human adventure that have punctuated its history, there is one particular conquest that the brand accompanied right from its beginnings in the early 20th century: that of air. Driven by the same enterprising spirit as these pioneers who gave life to Icarus' dream of flight, Zenith pays tribute to the Wright brothers through a watch issued in a 1,903-piece limited edition: the Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 GMT 1903.
In their bicycle shop in Dayton Ohio, Wilbur and Orville Wright dreamed of wide-open spaces and freedom. These natural-born inventors conceived a ﬁrst glider that they launched on the Kitty Hawk dunes in North Carolina. At the same time, they built a wind tunnel to study various technical aspects such as the proﬁle of the wings. Constantly perfecting their prototypes, they installed a stabiliser at the front of a second glider, and then a steering rudder at the back of a third that could thus be controlled: a world ﬁrst in the ﬁeld of aeronautics! After hundreds of trials, the two brothers decided to move a step forwards by equipping their glider with an engine. Lying face down on the lower wing of the twin-propeller aircraft named “Flyer”, Orville Wright achieved the ﬁrst powered, heavier-than-air controlled ﬂight in history, on Kitty Hawk beach. The young man covered a distance of 40 metres at a height of 60 centimetres off the ground. The date was December 17th 1903. Representing a major milestone in aviation history the year 1903 now gives its name to a timepiece created by Zenith as a tribute to the Wright brothers: Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 GMT 1903.
Partnering skyborne heroes since the early 20th century
Zenith was one of the ﬁrst watch manufacturers to create ﬂight instruments to equip various aircraft and spaceships manned by the aviation pioneers. Known for their precision and exceptional ability to withstand vibrations, magnetic ﬁelds and variations in temperature, the Zenith altimeters, watches, onboard and wristworn chronographs became extremely popular with pilots, who were thus accompanied in their feats by the brand with the guiding star. In just over a century, Louis Blériot, Léon Morane, or more recently Felix Baumgartner, accomplished their destiny and put their name in the history books with a Zenith instrument on their wrist or on their cockpit controls.
Pilot Montre d’Aéronef type 20: a legendary model
A cult watch among collectors, the Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 played a key role in the burgeoning airmail business, and was ﬁtted as of 1939 into the instrument panels of a number of aircraft, such as the Caudron trainer planes used by the French airforce.
What could be better than this aeronautical legend to inspire a timepiece paying homage to the Wright brothers? Drawing upon these historical roots, the Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 GMT 1903 features a case made of black DLC-coated titanium that is therefore ultra-light despite its 48 mm diameter. The ratcheted crown typical of historical aviator watches ensures a perfect grip even with pilot’s gloves. The ﬁve-times sandblasted black dial reproduces the generous original Arabic numerals ensuring perfect readability by day or night. The luminous glow of these delightfully vintage ﬁgures stems from a ﬁrst “old radium” treatment covered with a more classic Superluminova treatment. The effect is fascinating and the resulting appearance truly unique, since this ingenious combination creates a creamy shade enlivened by tiny retro accents that cannot be identically reproduced from one watch to the next. Each dial thus becomes unique and further heightens the exclusive character of the 1903-piece limited edition, of which the individual number appears on a special plate screwed to the side of the case middle, like an aircraft rivet.
Part and parcel of all dreams and all adventures, the Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 GMT 1903 is also an invitation to travel thanks to a second time-zone indicator powered by an accurate and reliable automatic movement: Elite Calibre 693. Finely adorned with a Côtes de Genève motif even though it remains hidden from sight, it ticks off time at the rate of 28,800 vibrations per hour and has a 50-hour power reserve. Beneath this elegant mechanical heart, the case-back, is adorned with a stamped insignia depicting Orville Wright about the “Flyer”, with his brother Wilbur running along Kitty Hawk beach to follow the feat being accomplished on December 17th 1903.
A sturdy wristband crafted in beige suede leather sets the ﬁnishing touch to this model. Its lining features a heat-embossed motif in which connoisseurs will note the inscription “Zenith Flying Instruments” as well as the brand’s historical logo, thus underlining the spirit of an era in which the skies were still waiting to be conquered.
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