If you’re a long time reader of Monochrome-Watches, you probably know that I have a soft-spot for the pilot-watches manufactured by Breguet. It’s something I extensively explained in a review of my personal Type XX and later in an instalment of the Collector’s Series. I know that these watches, whether we talk about the Type XX, the Type XXI or the Type XXII, aren’t perfect (their dials, especially, are strange – many different fonts, many different hands, not well balanced) but they feature a unique charm. This is the reason why I was quite excited to the see the new Breguet Type XXI 3817, now with vintage-inspired look and visible movement, in the metal and to share with you my personal opinion.
The Type XX.. Series of watches by Breguet has been introduced in 1995 with the Type XX, later followed by a larger edition, the Type XXI, and a more technical and even larger version, with 10Hz movement, the Type XXII. I know that these watches aren’t perfect, they are full of weird details and they are far from the rest of the Breguet collection, usually built around classical, elegant dress-watches with fluted case and guilloché dial. The Type XX.. Series of watches is a tribute to the history of Breguet, both the watches and the family. You have to know that the Breguet Family was not only involved in watchmaking (a lineage started by the legendary Abraham Louis Breguet) but also in aviation, as Louis Charles Breguet was a French aircraft designer and builder and one of the early aviation pioneers. Then, Breguet was also one of the suppliers of military pilot chronographs for the French Navy, a watch known under the code Type 20. The revival watch, the Type XX, paid tribute to both the aviation-members of the family and to this military watch.
Later came a larger, bolder edition with a 42mm case and a sportier look – an evolution guided by a trend at that time and the demand of certain markets for larger watches, considering the small 38mm diameter of the Type XX and its almost dressed look. This watch, the Breguet Type XXI 3810, was also featuring an improved version of the movement of the Type XX. Moving forward, closer to us, came a special watch made for charity auction Only Watch, a unique Breguet Type XXI 3813, encased in platinum and featuring a different dial, with slate grey tone and vintage-tinted indexes. Remove the platinum case and make it in stainless steel, and you’ll obtain the new Breguet Type XXI 3817 introduced at Baselworld 2016. In fact, it seems that more and more brands use the unique Only Watch editions as a playground to test their future creations – like Tudor did with the unique Black Bay One, predicting the Black Bay Black.
The new Breguet Type XXI 3817
When putting the Breguet Type XXI next to the older Type XX, I’ve always preferred the latter, mainly because of the smaller diameter and slightly more elegant, less sporty look. Visually, these two watches are very close, sharing the same overall case and almost the same dial – but most of us know that the devil hides in the details… and these small details always made the Type XX more attractive to me than the Type XXI – I always thought the dial not to be very well proportioned and the watch to be a bit too chunky, even if sitting perfectly on the wrist. The Type XXI was previously (and still is…) available with a dark brown dial, polished hands and applied markers, numerals filled with light paint and an alligator strap matching the dial. Strangely, if this combination of color and dressed strap works on the small Type XX, I thought it was odd on the type XXI – the combination of large case, brushed bezel and elegant strap and colors was not working. I changed my mind when seeing the unique edition for Only Watch, a timepiece that immediately brought a big “wow” in my mouth. Finally, the dial and the strap were matching the sportier look and size of the case.
I was thus extremely pleased to see the Breguet Type XXI 3817 at Baselworld 2016, mainly because it is the exact same watch as the one auctioned for Only Watch, only differing from the material used for the 42mm case – a good point because who needs a platinum case (heavy and more fragile) in such a pilot watch. I think this new edition of the Type XXI corrects all the faults I blamed the older one for (the ref. 3810): a new color for the dial, some revamped indexes, a date disc matching the dial and a new strap. Again these are only details but I can ensure you that the end result is totally different in the metal.
First, the dial. Usually, the Breguet Type XXI was available in a dark brown color – even if a full black one, with black bezel exists. This 2016 Breguet Type XXI 3817 introduces a slate grey dial, which brings two effects. First, it immediately sets the watch as sportier and thus, it has more consistency with the rest of the package. Then, because this new dial is brighter, it virtually enlightens the watch, breaking the “chunky effect” I had with the previous edition. A good point to note is that this new color never affects the legibility of the dial, which remains a crucial aspect of a pilot watch – I’m not sure many owners of a Type XXI use their watch as an aviation tool, but still, it has its importance. Then, the indexes and numerals are revamped, not only because they now boast a sort of faux-patina paint – a light creamy paint to be precise.
The numerals are also larger than before. The Breguet Type XXI used to have this layout: an inner flange printed with a 60-minute track, then, a step lower, the hour track with 12 diamond-shaped indexes, next to the hour markers (Arabic numerals). To make the dial more legible and less clustered, Breguet removed the diamond-shaped indexes (to the exception of 3 and 9) and increased the size of the Arabic numerals. Finally, another detail is the date disc matching the dial. I never liked the date-editions of the Type XX. Series and well, even if I would prefer a no-date edition, the Breguet Type XXI 3817 has the intelligence to have a more discreet date window.
Another detail is the strap. I know, it is only a strap and you can easily switch. I’m the first to tell people: “don’t look at the strap“, “a strap can be changed” or “the strap is not making the watch“. Right. However, I know that, as stupid as it is, a strap can play a role in the final buying decision. And the alligator strap of the previous Type XXI, with its brown color, its dressed look and its shape (a sort of integrated strap, with curved shape next to the case) was part of the reason why I never loved the Type XXI as much as the Type XX. Things changed; the Breguet Type XXI 3817 has a “normally shaped” strap, now made of brown distressed calf skin with cream stitching – in a word, a sporty, vintage, pilot-looking strap that perfectly matches the new look of the Type XXI. Now I’m happy to strap this watch on my wrist.
The latest evolution comes from the movement… well, the fact that the movement is now visible. Technically, no evolutions to note but for the first time in the pilot watches collection of the brand, the Breguet Type XXI 3817 features a see-through caseback – something I’ve always wanted to have on my own Type XX, because I know this movement to be quite nice to look at. In the Breguet Type XXI 3817, the movement is still the same as the other Type XXI watches. I’m still wondering if Breguet improved the finishing to have it visible. Even if intended to be a sports watch (and to be an entry level to the Breguet family), the calibre 584Q/2 is pleasantly finished, with Geneva stripes on the bridges, polished chamfers, a main plate with circular graining, chronograph levers straight brushed and with polished beveled angles. To create some contrast, the rotor is gilded (no mention by Breguet of the material used here) and features a diamond pattern.
The calibre 584Q/2 of the Breguet Type XXI 3817 is a modern automatic, integrated chronograph movement. Even if it is operated by a cam and not a column wheel, it remains technically interesting with a flyback function (the famous “retour en vol” that made the vintage Type 20 popular). It allows to stop and reset the chronograph by only pressing the pusher at 4 once (instead of the normal 3-step sequence: stop, reset, start), something extremely practical for on-board calculations. To increase the legibility, it has the measured minutes and seconds on the central axis (via large hands) and not in a dedicated sub-dial. The dial features instead a day-night indicator (at 3), together with the classical 12-hour counter (at 6) and the small second (at 9). Finally, it features a variable inertia balance wheel and antimagnetic silicon pallets for the escapement and a silicon balance-spring. It runs at 28,800vph and boasts 48 hours of power reserve.
Concluding words about the Breguet Type XXI 3817
I’m actually very pleased with this new introduction by Breguet. I never thought to have such an excitement with a Type XXI but, by changing details like the indexes, the color of the dial or the style of the strap, Breguet managed to finally have the perfect larger pilot-watch. It used to be a timepiece too dressy for its vocation. With its sportier look and a few vintage elements, it now has some consistency. The different between the Type XX and the Type XXI used to be mainly a matter of size. We now have a clear distinction: a small dressed chronograph on one side and a sporty vintage chronograph with larger (but not too large) case on the other side. The see-though case back is just a nice, extra-feature – not mandatory but enjoyable. As a personal lover of the pilot watches by Breguet, I must say that this Breguet Type XXI 3817 is a great addition. Price: 13,500 Euros (to be compared to the 11,500 Euros required by the normal Ref. 3810 Type XXI). More details on the dedicated page on breguet.com.