Usually, when we write reviews, they are for watches that the brands lend to us. But here, let me be a bit more personal as I will write about one of my own watches. I’ve had this Breguet Type XX for more than 5 years now and I love it. However, before being part of the Monochrome-Watches team, I was close to calling it ‘the perfect chronograph’. Now that I’m used to seeing, touching and writing about watches all day long, I think it’s time to do an in-depth review and to be really impartial about this pilot watch.
Pilot Watches and the Type 20 specification
First of all, we have to understand what a pilot watch is. Chronograph or not, these timekeeping instruments all share some common features. As military tools (or at least inspired by military tools), pilot watches are usually solid and functional. They are built to survive the rough life of a plane’s cockpit and made to be used in tough conditions: magnetic environments, low-light conditions, pressurized or cold cabins. Usually, they come with a black/dark dial with highly contrasting Arabic numbers. Legibility is the key. The chronograph function is something that comes into play quite often, as it is certainly the most useful complication for a pilot. Rotating bezels are also helpful in the case of a chronograph.
If you want to know more about pilot watch specifications, you can have a look at TeStaF, the new standard for pilot watches required by the German Air Force.
But it is not the only standard used for pilot watches. Type 20 and Type 21 were specifications used by the French Army during the 1950s and were not made only by Breguet: five other brands built these chronographs – Dodane, Auricoste, Mathey Tissot, Airain and Vixa. The specifications were clear: a 38mm stainless steel case, a black dial with white luminescent numerals and hands, a chronograph function with flyback complication, a rotating bezel engraved with the 12 hours, an accuracy to within eight seconds a day and a power reserve of more than 35 hours. Though half of them are now out of service, three of these brands continue to make some very nice re-editions: Breguet, Auricoste and Dodane ((click the link to see the piece we reviewed from the lattermost house; and if you want to go deep into the history of pilot watches, you have to take a look at Max’s articles: The History of the Pilot Watch Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4)
I know this watch better than any other. I bought it more than 5 years ago, while I was still a student and not that much into watches. I was wearing it nearly everyday and for every occasion. My Breguet Type XX had survived trips to the desert, large cities, seaside holidays, student parties, go-kart races and it even faced some mechanical troubles (which were fixed after a recent servicing). Even after having a lot of different watches in my hands, I still love wearing it. But now I know how to recognize its qualities and its faults.
The Type XX (not the Type 20) was launched in 1995, just before the Swatch Group acquired Breguet. it is clearly a re-edition inspired by the Type 20 but not a watch that fulfills the Type 20 specifications. While it has kept many of its iconic features and design codes, it is now a more modern and refined timepiece that can proudly sport the Breguet logo.
The Type XX is a real pilot chronograph, with its dial showing a black colour and contrasting white digits. It has also kept the chronograph function with flyback complication, that every pilot knows to be really useful when a calculation is required. Breguet also had the very good idea to maintain a rather small diameter for the case, at 39mm. As for the rest of its characteristics, the Type XX now integrates several of the codes of modern Breguet that give it an more dressed design. The Breguet Type XX is a watch that will be comfortable both in a plane’s cockpit and during a business meeting.
The Type XX, like the old Type 20, is equipped with a flyback chronograph movement. A flyback allows getting back to zero (that is, starting a new timing session) by only pressing a single pusher. In a classical chronograph, it’s a 3-step operation: First you have to stop the chronograph by pressing the pusher at 2, then set it back to Zero by pressing the pusher at 4 and finally start the chronograph again by pressing the pusher at 2. On a flyback chronograph, you only have to press the pusher at 4 once to accomplish this. It is especially useful when you have to time several distances or intervals in a row.
One of the main applications of a pilot watch is the calculation of speeds or distances. If you have to keep a constant speed when flying, you just have to check the time it takes to run a fixed distance several times in a row. Each time you cross that distance, you can start a new timing session instantaneously by just using the flyback.
The Type XX also features a typical pilot watch dial, with a design inspired by the Type 20. It’s a tri-compax chronograph with a running second at 9, a 30min counter at 3 and a 12-hours counter at 6. The model you can see here is the ref. 3800ST ‘Aeronavale’ without date. You can also choose the edition with date, called ‘Transatlantique,’ under the reference 3820ST.
Dial and Hands
When first looking at the dial of the Breguet Type XX, you may feel slightly confused. It presents several different fonts, each hand has a distinct shape and each sub-counter has its own layout. But if you take the time to look seriously at it, you will understand how clear and legible it is. Of course with a black colour and bold contrasting numbers and markings painted in white, time reading is very easy. The matte finish also helps to prevent light reflections.
What can be seen as a messy layout is on the contrary a deliberate and smart approach. First the hands: 4 of them are bolder and coated with luminescent material. They emphasize the most important indications: hours, minutes, central second and 30-minute counter. The small-second hand and 12-hour counter hand, that are secondary information, are slimmer and free of Luminova. The sub-dials also share that same idea with a 30-minute counter larger than the other two. All of this taken together, the indications come to you very sharply and without any confusion, even during night time, as the luminous material is really efficient and has been applied to both the hands and the indexes. The only regret that we have comes from the 30-minute counter: first, it is a running hand and not a jumping hand (which would go from one minute to another); and the scale is made of 15 markers for 30 minutes. Not very functional!
Beyond the technical and practical need of legibility, that voluntary disorder creates a unique design not denied of certain charms, and that is totally coherent with the vintage Type 20 dials.
Case and Strap
The case measures 39mm, a very reasonable size that some will find too small compared to modern pilot watches (such as the 43mm of the IWC Pilot Watch Chronograph or the 42mm of the Speake-Marin Spirit Seafire – we won’t even mention here the 48mm Zenith Pilot Type 20 GMT or the 60mm Zenith Type 20 Grand Feu.) Considering its reissue status, Breguet made the right choice by keeping the size close to that of the original Type 20. However, the thickness is less adaptable, at 15mm. Even if manly, due to the domed sapphire crystal and coherent with the design, the Type XX will be hard to hide under your shirt’s cuffs.
The design and details of the stainless steel case are the main difference with the vintage Type 20. Whereas the old ones used to have a very simple and functional shape, the new Type XX comes with a refined and very well-executed case. The typical Breguet fluted sides add an upscale touch, as does the polished finish. I found this finish almost too shiny when the watch was new. A brushed bezel could be a great option (note: the date edition, a.k.a. ‘Transatlantique’, features a brushed bezel). Now that I’ve been wearing it for years, it has its own patina and scratches all around. I do understand that some wearers won’t like to keep the watch in such condition but for me, it’s the way it has to be worn. It’s a tool – albeit a refined and delicate one – but not a dress watch that has to be immaculate.
The bi-directional bezel has 60 clicks and feels really qualitative. The edges are notched and easy to grab, even with gloves. It is engraved with minutes and has a luminous marker at 12 (another difference from the old Type 20, which was engraved with the hours.) The pushers and crown are not protected and thus are easy to use, once again even with gloves. Finally the case back is full, brushed and engraved with the brand’s name, the name of the model and the reference number. The whole quality of the case is impressive and the attention to details and proportions results in a very appealing watch overall.
It usually comes on a brown alligator strap with folding clasp but it will also look great on a leather NATO-strap or a thick aviator leather strap. As for an Omega Speedmaster or a Rolex GMT Master II, the Breguet Type XX is comparatively a very versatile watch that will feel comfortable in every situation. It’s just a matter of how you want to wear it.
The Breguet Type XX uses the Calibre 582 that is basically a Lemania 1350 with an extra flyback complication. The Calibre 1350 is an evolution of the Lemania 1340 that can be found in some vintage automatic Omega Speedmaster and Seamaster chronographs, such as the Seamaster Yachting we reviewed a few weeks ago. It’s a modern automatic chronograph movement, activated by cams, that ticks at 28.800vph (4Hz) and boasts 48h of power reserve. It is not properly an in-house calibre, but Lemania is now fully integrated in the Swatch Group and the 1350 is exclusive to the Type XX. Let’s agree that it is a proprietary movement.
Compared to the Lemania 1350, the finish of the movement is brought up to Breguet standards, meaning Geneva Stripes on the rotor, circular graining on the plates and bridges and bevelled angles and straight graining of the chronograph levers and cams. Based on my personal experience, it is a great movement… until it stops. I’ve faced some issues with it when the watch wasn’t running anymore. The oils were dry and some gears stuck; a surprising event for a movement that is supposed to be known and old enough to be reliable. A simple service fixed all that and after adjustment, the watch is now running to a very accurate +2sec/day, a level of precision worthy of a COSC certification.
The Type XX is clearly one of the best chronographs I know, especially among pilot-oriented watches. It has some faults but I managed to accept them and admit that they are part of its charm. It is an accurate, functional and highly legible tool watch, with an extra upscale feeling that allows you to wear it as a flying instrument or as a business daily beater. I think that’s what makes it a great watch – it can be compared to a Rolex Daytona or an IWC Portuguese Chronograph, watches that are suitable for every occasion. I also really like the historical background and the loyalty to the old Type 20, without simply being a copy-paste, but rather a modern interpretation of an iconic model. Finally, the price required – € 6.200.Eur – seems more than justified for what you get.
- The attractive and clever design of the dial
- The legibility, even in tough conditions
- The flyback function
- The reasonable size
- Suitable for every outfit
- A very good value for the money
- the 30-minute counter with a running hand and only 15 graduations
- Its thickness
- The folding clasp that can be quite uncomfortable
- A bit too shiny when new (a brushed bezel will look better)