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Don’t you just love when a new watch arrives at your door?
I know I do.
Even with my growing collection, it seems like I get more and more excited whenever a new timepiece pops up in my mailbox.
My latest snag is the new Original Grain Pilot Zulu. When I heard Original Grain was stepping up their game, I wanted to be first in line to see if they were for real. Well, I’ve had some time to think on it. Keep reading to see my final verdict.
How Does the Pilot Zulu Fit in With Other Original Grain Watches?
You may have seen our review of the Original Grain Barrel collection already. Until now, that was my favorite OG timepiece, and I still wear it often. For uniqueness, it’s tough to beat that wood and stainless steel look.
If you want to learn more about the brand’s mission and history, I invite you to check out that Original Grain Barrel review now.
But in this review, we’re going to cut straight to the chase and discuss whether this new pilot watch soars or sucks.
The Original Grain Pilot Zulu is a big departure from the brand’s other watches. There’s far less wood in this piece when compared to their other collections.
And instead of the usual Japanese quartz and mineral crystal, they’ve stepped it up with a Swiss Ronda movement and a domed sapphire crystal.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Pilot Watch
Pilot watches are decidedly casual, and the Pilot Zulu is no exception. Most office environments these days don’t require too strict a dress code, so a dress watch isn’t necessary.
If your job allows for casual-wear, this timepiece looks classy and clean, but is a far-cry from slim, shiny, and elegant dress-watch alternatives.
I’ll also say that the Pilot Zulu won’t cut it if you’re actually a pilot and need a watch that will help you keep time in the skies. Maybe it goes without saying, but this is an aviation-inspired fashion piece, not a true pilot’s watch.
Original Grain Pilot Zulu Unboxing & Review
The style definitely gave me the 1930s and 40s explorer vibe.
Inside the cardboard box is a more substantial wooden box—the same style as their usual boxes, but much longer.
The wooden box is a huge bonus in my book. It makes the unboxing experience really fun, and it would make for a killer gift.
Original Grain didn’t include as much information for the pilot watch compared to their other pieces, and I only got a small instruction manual rather than the full certificate of authenticity I’d gotten with their Barrel.
Still, this is up there with the best watch unboxing experiences I’ve had.
Case & Caseback
The 43.5mm case is made with bead blasted 316L stainless steel, so it has a nice matte finish.
It’s a large timepiece, no doubt. I have an average sized wrist and this is on the cusp of being too sizeable for my taste. But if you like a bigger watch, the Pilot Zulu is up your alley.
Still, it’s not too big to wear, even for someone with an average sized wrist. My recommendation is to pair it with a rolled up sleeve or something heavier like a denim jacket. The watch plays off that masculine vibe really well.
It wouldn’t be an Original Grain piece if there wasn’t some wood, and they’ve incorporated an inlay underneath the bezel.
It’s a clever design move and they’ve punched holes in the stainless steel at 12, 3, 6, and 9 so you can get a top-down glimpse of the wood insert, too.
The case has a 10atm (100m) water resistance rating, which is excellent for a fashion watch like this. While I won’t be jumping in the lake with this timepiece because of the leather strap, a metal bracelet, nylon NATO, or silicon strap would all look great and make the watch adventure-ready.
Flipping the watch over, you’ll find a screw-in caseback with eight circular wooden inlays. It’s embossed with the custom Pilot Zulu logo and some other information.
Overall, the case and caseback design is well thought-out. Even though it’s a large watch, the designers kept it from being a bulky piece.
Dial & Crystal
I picked up the navy colorway, and I’m loving how simple the dial is. Made with steel, the dial is a matte navy with embossed second a millisecond markings.
The hour indices have a lume coating and a supersized 3 and 9.
Navy and white is a classic combination, though I love what Original Grain is doing by weaving in some of that matte golden color from the wood. The Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) 24-tracker contrasts nicely with the navy and adds a subtle intrigue to the design.
As I said earlier, OG stepped up their glass for the Pilot Zulu by including a domed sapphire crystal. Sapphire glass is much more scratch and shatter resistant than mineral crystal, so it’ll keep the face looking clean and new for much longer.
I’ve noticed with my mineral crystal watches, the glass starts to scratch from normal wear and tear after a year or so. But it takes a pretty significant hit to scratch sapphire. It happens from time to time, but that little upgrade in material helps a lot over the lifetime of the watch.
Movement & Crown
The Pilot Zulu features a Swiss Ronda 515.24H movement, which is broadly considered to be an affordable and reliable caliber within the watch community.
It allows for a second timezone, so you can track GMT (you can track any timezone you want, but the gold GMT on the dial suggests otherwise).
One of my favorite things about this watch is the second-hand, which is a triangle with a pointer at the end. It looks like a tiny airplane, and I think that’s awesome.
A three-position crown controls the minute, hour, date, and second timezone complications, and the instruction manual clearly lays out how to do so.
To keep with the brand’s wood theme, there’s a wood inlay in the crown and for added grip, they’ve cut out markers in the stainless steel. After you’ve set the time and date, the crown screws back into place, which is a useful feature for added security and water resistance.
Strap & Wearability
I haven’t tried other Original Grain leather straps, but I’m a fan of this genuine Horween leather band. It’s quite supple right away, which isn’t always true for genuine leather.
I’d love to weave a navy NATO strap onto the Pilot Zulu—then it would really have the adventure look and feel.
Still, the navy-dyed leather strap is good quality and looks classy.
As I mentioned earlier, the watch is a bit large at 43.5mm. I’d say this takes the timepiece out of contention for guys with smaller wrists (unless you’re looking for a true oversized watch).
But the large diameter is part of Original Grain’s brand—they don’t shy away from that masculine look.
My Thoughts Overall On the Original Grain Pilot Zulu
What I Like
Original Grain has stepped up their materials with the Swiss movement and domed sapphire crystal.
The design is intricate, and while it may seem simple, there’s a lot going on to keep this large watch from looking bulky.
Wooden inlays along the crown, underneath the bezel, and on the caseback give that special Original Grain touch.
The strap is soft and made with genuine Horween leather.
What I Don’t Like
If you have small wrists, the 43.5mm diameter may be too large.
Who is the Pilot Zulu for?
The Pilot Zulu is a great choice for any guy who yearns for a little adventure and exploration in his life.
Original Grain stepped up their game for the new Pilot Zulu.
I was already a fan of the brand for their wooden watches like my German Beer Barrel piece. But their pilot watch is made with better materials and has a more refined look.
The design is one-of-a-kind and I felt it communicates that classic 30s and 40s era of exploration. It feels like an adventure watch and looks like a fashion watch.
The Pilot Zulu is a great addition to any casual wardrobe, and it’s best suited for guys who like that rugged casual workwear look.
If you have small wrists, the 43.5” diameter can be imposing, but it’s certainly a masculine look for dudes with average to large sized wrists.
With 100 meters of water resistance and a sapphire crystal, this watch can withstand some pretty harsh punishment, so feel free to wear it to the beach or out on the river.
Overall, the Pilot Zulu soars.
Original Grain went big with their first pilot watch. The Pilot Zulu is a 43.5mm diameter, domed sapphire crystal, Swiss quartz beast. But just because it's a beast doesn't mean it's not also a beauty.
Where is Original Grain located?
Original Grain is based in San Diego, California. They use reclaimed wood from all over the world, and their watches are assembled in China.
What is the best wood watch?
Our favorite wood watch is the Original Grain Barrel collection.