Hands-On with All the New Zenith Releases at Watches & Wonders

Zenith relaunched their Pilot this year, in one of the most closely watched releases of Watches & Wonders. It’s one of those watches that was just hard to know what to make of it until seeing it in the metal (or ceramic), but both Zach Kazan and Blake Buettner were surprised by it in different ways. Here are their thoughts on the new Pilot watches, as well as a pair of genuine sleepers: a Defy Revival Shadow in bead blasted titanium, and an all new Defy Skyline in full ceramic (including the bracelet). 


Zach: What I found when I finally went hands-on with the Pilot watches at Watches & Wonders last week was a collection of aviation inspired watches that didn’t feel the need to hew too close to tradition, either Zenith’s or the genre of pilot watches more generally. These watches, actually, reminded me of my favorite vintage Defy references in a surprising way, in that they were weird and unexpected, but still worked and were fun to wear. This isn’t a typical pilot watch in the same way a Defy from the mid-70s isn’t a typical sports watch. Their sensibility is tweaked just a little, to the point where there are few direct comparisons you can make to other watches. I guess what I’m trying to say is that they’re original in a way that few watches in this category are anymore. 


The chronograph is the standout, in my opinion, and if I had to choose, I’d take the one in steel. There are two things about this watch that I really love. First, the way the accent colors are executed. It’s a great inside-baseball tribute to the “Rainbow,” a collector’s favorite El Primero that is finally starting to get some recognition from the collector community. The giant red fly-back seconds hand is especially cool. Second, I’m a huge fan of the big date display at 6:00. Zenith is very proud of the multiple patents they have on the mechanism for this display, and after playing with it a bit, I can see why. It changes instantaneously at midnight, as advertised, and the click. Oh man, the click. Cycling the date forward is immediately up there as one of my favorite tactile experiences with a watch. I think if the room you’re in is quiet enough, you could probably hear the sound of the date advancing from across it. 

The ceramic watches are very nicely executed as well, but they aren’t as distinctive as the steel. For me, these watches are at their best when the contrast between case finishes is more noticeable, which is what you get with the steel versions. I do enjoy, however, the high contrast effect you get of the white numerals against the black dials and cases. The sans-serif numerals go a long way toward tying the look of these pieces together, and I think they look very nice. The fuselage inspired motif on the dials continues to grow on me as well.

Blake: I’ll confess, I’m not a huge pilot watch guy. The examples I find myself connecting with the most generally don’t lean too heavily into typical pilot watch themes with stuff like big onion crowns and oversized minute numerals around the dial. When I heard Zenith would be returning to their historic Pilot watch collection, I was skeptical about how they might approach it. The last batch of pilot watches released by the brand nearly 10 years ago didn’t exactly hit the right notes, and I’ve been particularly fond of what the brand has been doing elsewhere in their portfolio. Why get away from a good thing? After seeing the watches, I’m glad they did. 

The new Zenith Pilot watch collection presents a unique take on the genre, and offers the brand more leeway to experiment with their modern design language as a whole. And I’ll admit they are quite handsome as far as these things go. A particular stand out is the steel flyback chronograph, which brings a welcome splash of color to the situation around the minute totalizer, a nod to the brand’s past rainbow flyback watches. The lume is also incredibly well executed, adding to the fun. The action on the chronograph feels amazing, and the big date brings a lot of charm as well. I could likely do without the word “Pilot” on the dial, but that’s kind of Zenith’s thing and they’ve earned it. 

Defy Revival Shadow

Zach: The watches in the Defy line that Zenith unveiled at Watches & Wonders might be among my favorites of the entire show. First is the Defy Revival Shadow, another “shadow” release in the same vein as the Chronomaster Revival Shadow. This titanium version of the first Defy, with a bead blasted and nearly blacked out case (can we call it “grayed out”?) is insanely comfortable on the matching ladder bracelet. It also fully captures the spirit of the Defy, at least as I’ve come to know it over the years, as a sports watch that can take any form except a boring one, and is at its best when it’s unexpected. 

Blake: This was a surprising release for me. The last thing I would have said was that this already small, quaint watch needed was a fully titanium case and bracelet. But that’s exactly what it got and it’s pretty awesome. Yes, it weighs next to nothing, and yes, it looks way better than it has any business doing. Who’d have thought a pure throwback design would work so well in dark, chic blasted titanium? Not I. 

Defy Skyline Ceramic 

Zach: My favorite Zenith release of them all was the latest Defy Skyline, a version in a black ceramic case with a skeletonized dial and full ceramic bracelet. Picking this up, I immediately missed my old Defy Classic, and realized that the new ceramic Skyline is picking up where that one left off. The bracelet has a silky and satisfying drape that balances the still somewhat oversized case incredibly well. The size, a point of criticism for many on the Skyline, is much better managed in lightweight ceramic, and the black color actually makes it wear smaller still. At $17,000, this is the top of the Defy range at the moment (not including the Defy Extreme), and it definitely feels like you’re wearing the ultimate version of the Skyline when you put it on, as if they’ve been building toward this all along. 

Blake: The Skyline is still a watch I’m warming up to, but the new variants we saw at Watches & Wonders this year really helped move that process along. A pair of black ceramic examples join the collection, including a closed textured dial, and an open skeleton dial which works particularly well with this design. I’m still upset this is replacing the totally excellent Defy Classic range, which has not yet been properly replaced, but for what it is, I see a lot to like here. 

The manic running seconds hand, which is situated at 6 o’clock on the Skeleton, somehow feels more at home in the context of an open view of the movement’s guts. The purple escape wheel visible around 9 o’clock through the dial really pops in this configuration. Additionally, the finish and color of this black ceramic is quite brilliant, and doesn’t fall into “total blackout” territory by any stretch. This may be my favorite release from Zenith at the show. Zenith

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