Call it Type 20 or Type XX (keep in mind that each has its own meaning), but what’s always true is that we’re looking at one of the most emblematic French-related watches and one of the most important models of the modern era of Breguet. Born in the 1950s as an answer to a military request, the (Breguet but not only) Type 20, the military version, named after the French Air Force’s specification or later the civilian Breguet Type XX, have long been some of the most illustrious pilot’s chronographs around. After a few years without its presence in the collection, it’s now time for Breguet to bring it back with a pair of watches that take cues from emblematic first-generation models yet modernised on many levels. Here are the 2023 Breguet Type 20 Chronograph 2057 and Breguet Type XX Chronograph 2067.
If you’ve been reading MONOCHROME for some years, there’s something you probably know about me. The Type XX (to be precise, the mid-1990s reference 3800ST) is one of my all-time favourite watches and a timepiece of significant personal meaning. This was thus my duty to write this article. But before we dive into the specificities of these new Breguet Type 20 and Type XX, we need to look back at the past.
Breguet, Aviation and the Type 20 / Type XX
The name Breguet is often associated, for obvious reasons, with its illustrious founder, Abraham-Louis Breguet (in other words, one of the most prominent watchmakers of all times). However, the Breguet family left its mark in another field, namely aviation. Louis Breguet (1880-1955), a descendant of A.L. Breguet, was one of the pioneers of aviation in France. He founded the Société d’Aviation Louis Breguet, exporting his planes to multiple countries around the globe and participating in the foundation of Air France. He began by building gyroplanes (the forerunners of the helicopter) before creating the Louis Breguet aviation workshops in 1911. The Breguet family had an excellent relationship with the Brown family that had acquired the watchmaking company in 1870. It was, therefore, only natural that aircraft manufacturer Louis Breguet turned to the Browns to purchase watches from the Breguet watchmaking company to equip his aircraft and pilots.
The story of the Type 20 watches began in the early 1950s, as the French Air Force was looking to equip its pilots with a chronograph wristwatch meeting the following technical specifications: a black dial with luminescent numerals, luminescent hands, a high-quality movement resistant to changes in pressure and acceleration, a rotating bezel and a flyback (or retour en vol) function for the chronograph. Several companies competed and won contracts, which meant that several brands would produce Type XX and Type 20 watches – Dodane, Auricoste, Mathey-Tissot, Airain, Vixa and, of course, Breguet. And importantly, the brands selected for public contracts could also sell the same product to private customers, explaining the existence of military Type 20s and civilian Type XXs.
For Breguet, the prototypes submitted by the company in 1952 were approved in 1953 by the Service Technique Aéronautique. In 1954, the French Air Force placed an order for 1,100 military Type 20 watches, which were delivered between 1955 and 1959. They featured a 30-minute totalizer, a fluted, non-engraved rotating bezel, and a pear-shaped crown, and their dials were unsigned.
Another prestigious customer, the Centre d’Essais en Vol (CEV) for elite French test pilots ordered 80 timepieces that were delivered in 1956 and 1957. They have a 15-minute totalizer and 50 of them feature a 12-hour totalizer at 6 o’clock; while the letters CEV followed by a number from 1 to 80 are engraved on the back. In 1958, the French Navy ordered 500 timepieces for the pilots and sailors of its airborne wing, the Aéronautique Navale. Delivered in full on 13 January 1960, these Type XX military timepieces are significantly different from those of the Air Force, as their 15-minute totalizer is housed in a sub-dial with an enlarged diameter (a.k.a Big Eye), with luminous markers every 3 minutes.
The reputation of the Type XX quickly spread beyond the military sphere, leading to a situation where the world of civil aviation and chronograph enthusiasts were also keen to acquire a Breguet Type XX. While the original 14-ligne Valjoux flyback movement was replaced in 1963 by a modernized 13-ligne movement (also from Valjoux), only minor evolutions are to be seen until 1970. About 2,000 civilian Type XX watches were sold.
The second generation of Breguet Type XX was released in 1971 and came with significant changes for the case. The dial, however, remained almost identical to early models. It was characterised by an enlarged polished steel case, thick lugs and a black-coated 60-minute bezel (identical cases can be found at Mathey-Tissot and Sinn for example). Available with or without a 12-hour totalizer, it continued to feature a 15-minute counter. Nearly 800 of these timepieces were sold, most of them to civilians; while on the military side, only 50 pieces were delivered to the Royal Moroccan Air Force. Orders were also placed by Aérospatiale (later Airbus Industries) and purchased by the Presidency of the French Republic as official gifts. The last ones were sold in 1986.
After almost a decade of absence, and under the Investcorp era of Breguet, the Type XX came back in 1995, with the third-generation models. Even though deeply modernised, historical references were clear in what would be known first as the Breguet Type XX Reference 3800st Aéronavale (no-date, polished bezel) and later Type XX Reference 3820st Transatlantique (with date, brushed bezel). The basics were there – black dial, large Arabic numerals, big-eye counter, flyback retour en vol function – but now in a 39mm case with typical Breguet fluted case-bands, a bi-directional 60-minute scale and the convenience of an automatic movement (based on the Lemania 1350). It proved successful and led to numerous interpretations, with a variety of precious metals and dial colours. The collection will be home for the Type XXI (Reference 3810) as of 2004, and for the Type XXII (Reference 3880) as of 2010, with a high-frequency movement. The Type XX Reference 3800st, the most classic version, was discontinued in 2018. But it’s time now for its replacement.
The New Breguet Type 20 and Type XX Chronograph Flyback
The Breguet Type XX might have been absent for 4 years, but in the meantime, the brand has been busy creating not one but two new watches. If technically almost identical, sharing most of the specifications, you’ll now have the choice between the Breguet Type 20 Chronograph 2057, a watch that pays tribute to the early military editions, or the Breguet Type XX Chronograph 2067, a model that is inspired by the civilian editions of the first generation. And if you look closely, you’ll see that many parts are different…
Let’s talk about the basics first. As you can see with both editions, there’s an undeniable vintage inspiration for this new pair of flyback pilot’s chronographs. However, contrary to the two unique watches that Breguet created for Only Watch in 2019 and then in 2021, the 2023 Breguet Type 20/XX collection isn’t about being entirely faithful to the past and they actually bring modernity in almost all areas apart from the looks. High-end, complicated timepieces with new in-house movements…
Both watches share the same middle case and overall construction. Made of stainless steel, they both measure 42mm in diameter, with a height of 14mm – typical dimensions for a modern pilot’s chronograph with an automatic movement. The shape is reminiscent of first-generation watches, with faceted lugs, classic pump pushers and a combination of brushed surfaces and polished accents. Contrary to the previous version, the coin-edge fluted texture on the side of the case has been removed, then again as a node to early versions. The dial is protected by a box-shaped sapphire crystal and the back features a see-through window, to see the new engine that powers the new Type 20 and Type XX. A benefit of a modern construction, the case has a comfortable 100m water-resistance.
Under the hood is an unprecedented movement, developed and manufactured by Breguet. Dubbed Calibre 728 (Type XX) or Calibre 7281 (Type 20) – the only difference being the two or three-counter display – we’re talking about a modern, high-tech movement. An automatic, integrated chronograph with retour en vol (flyback) function, it features a column-wheel and a vertical clutch – allowing for a smooth start and reset of the chronograph, without initial jerk. Benefitting from the Swatch Group’s technologies, it features a balance spring, an escape wheel and pallet-lever horns in silicon, for anti-magnetic properties. The power reserve is also generous, at 60 hours when fully wound.
There’s more to these calibres. First of all, we’re talking about high-frequency movements beating at 5Hz or 36,000 vibrations/hour. The flyback function allows performing multiple timing sessions in a row, replacing the three operations previously required to start a new timing session (stop, reset, start) with just one, by pressing the pusher at 4 o’clock. Regarding the pushers, Breguet also introduces new, patented activation and zero-resetting systems, allowing for an even force to be transmitted to the chronograph mechanism whatever the pressure applied to the pushers. This large, modernly-built 32mm automatic movement is decorated in a contemporary and appealing way, with a sunburst pattern on the bridges, snailing, bevelling, circular-graining and other visible decorations on the components. The column-wheel is treated in black DLC and the blackened oscillating weight is shaped like an aircraft wing.
Now, as said at the start of this article, Breguet isn’t releasing one but two editions of its emblematic flyback pilot’s watch. First, there’s the Breguet Type 20 Chronograph 2057, a tribute to early military watches. This edition is equipped with a rotating, non-engraved fluted bezel, only bearing a luminous triangle marking the zero. Also, the crown is pear-shaped. As for the dial, the display relies on only two counters, with a small seconds and a big-eye 30-minute counter, the latter featuring a drop-shaped luminous hand, while the small seconds hand is also lumed. The graduations of this minute counter are simple and the central hands, again as a node to the past, are large pencil-shaped lumed ones.
The other model, the Breguet Type XX Chronograph 2067, is designed according to early civilian versions. It here features a notched polished bezel (bi-directional) with an engraved 12-hour scale. The crown is here flat. The dial is also different, regarding the display and the looks. It’s a three-counter dial, with small seconds, a 15-minute big-eye counter at 3 o’clock and a 12-hour totaliser at 6 o’clock. The oversized minute counter features elongated, luminous markers every 3 minutes, a signature element of later versions – and it’s the only sub-counter with a lumed hand on this edition. Also, the hands are here thin and alpha-shaped.
On both editions, either the Type 20 or the Type XX, the dial is matte black with large Arabic numerals, with all elements of the display largely coated with light cream (Type XX) or light green (Type 20) Super-LumiNova. And, something that some won’t appreciate, there’s a date window at 4:30. Apart from that, Breguet has managed to create two distinct dials that are emblematic of early production models of this watch.
Both versions are delivered in a Havana-coloured leather presentation box reminiscent of an aircraft wing. Also, Breguet has added a simple interchangeability system for the strap. It can be removed simply by pressing the under-lug correctors to fit another leather strap – simply position the slot at the upper end of the strap on a level with the watch lugs, at a 45 to 60-degree angle. An interlocking system is enough to secure it in place. The Breguet Type 20 Chronograph 2057 is delivered as standard with a black calfskin leather strap, while the Breguet Type XX Chronograph 2067 comes with a light brown leather strap. Both also come with an additional black fabric NATO strap.
Availability & Price
Both the Breguet Type 20 Chronograph 2057 and the Breguet Type XX Chronograph 2067 will be part of the permanent collection, and won’t be limited. The price will be the same for both models, EUR 19,100 (incl. taxes).
For more details, please visit www.breguet.com.