When it comes to pilot watches, the feature that I most value is visibility, then functionality, and after my time with the Dodane Type 23, I have to add historical authenticity (see previous article on Type 20/21 chronographs). Dodane has created a watch with all three.
Dodane is the workhorse of the French Air Force. Not only is Dodane a watch company with a vaunted military legacy, providing the Type 20/21 since 1956 with four updates along the way, but in my communication with Laurent Dodane, he shared that the tradition continues with a new model, the Type 23.
France’s SIRPA AIR requested Dodane to make the Type 23, much like the French government commissioned the 195o’s Type 20/21 predecessor. In both instances, performance was paramount. Meeting the French commission of zero tolerance for imperfection, Dodane continues to exceed military expectations in quality and performance, and I was able to inspect the Type 23 prior to its public availability. Laurent writes, “This watch was made to be the symbol of recognition of the French Air Force members.” The civilian model is a pilot’s Pilot Watch.
The Type 23 is a clean, all-business, tool watch used to aid a pilot’s navigation. This unobtrusive watch sits quietly on the wrist, ready for its appointed tasks. The model I received had a beefy, black calfskin strap with white stitching that paired well with the black and white dial. The brushed stainless steel 42.5 mm case creates an understated, but unforgettable first impression. The watch dresses up nicely with a suit, and though its 13.9 mm girth sits above the wrist, it still slipped inside my shirt cuff – barely. Dress or sport, symphony or tarmac, this watch looks good, and the Type 23 makes its wearer look good.
Dodane originally designed the Type 20/21 for navigational redundancy, enabling VFR navigation, which in dire circumstances becomes “dead reckoning.” Dodane designed every feature of the Type 23 to make it a navigational instrument for all circumstances. The Type 23 chronograph, which comes with or without fly-back capability, has two sub-dials: a 30-minute counter and small seconds. Given the importance of the fly-back function to the original watches, fly-back being the key Type 20/21 specification of the French government, I cannot imagine having a Type 23 without the fly-back feature.
Lining the chapter ring is an angled tachymeter with the clear demarcations of seconds at its base along the dial perimeter. A pilot would use the tachymeter to calculate ground speed by measuring the time for a fixed distance and then looking on the chapter ring for the average speed. If your cockpit is the car, then you can calculate your average speed between mile makers.
The bi-directional, rotating bezel is a countdown bezel used for waypoint navigation, and it moves with minimal effort to the coin edge, but securely snaps into place at each click. There is no play in the bezel, and it is available in polished, brushed or black. Quality attends every facet of this watch: the bezel feel, the thickness of the leather strap and the snap of the fly-back. All the design cues of the Type 23 are purposeful, and though the watch is gorgeous, make no mistake, Dodane made this watch for altitude.
The dial is smaller than over-sized Pilot watches, but the large Arabic numerals and contrast of the black and white aid visibility. Given the black colored dial, it took an angle to the light to reveal the circular dial pattern inside the two subdials. With SuperLuminova on the hands, hour markers, and bezel point, legibility is consistent, day or night; and even though the lume is bright, its presence under a jet canopy would be without distraction. The large arrow seconds hand stretches beyond the seconds ring of the dial onto the slope of the tachymeter, making speed calculations easy to see.
Did you know?
There are many types of chronograph movements, but in general, we can distinguish two types: (1) a so-called integrated chronograph caliber and (2) a base movement with a chronograph module on top like the Type 23 Dubois-Dépraz movement. When you look towards the side of the case, if the crown and chronograph pushers are not in one line, you can be sure that inside is a base movement with a chronograph module. When crown and pushers are in one line, it is safe to say an integrated chronograph caliber resides inside. Integrated chronographs are a singular design with all the time and chronograph parts placed on the same base plate, while a modular chronograph has a base movement, that indicates hours/minute and the date, with the chronograph parts/module placed on top. The internal alignment corresponds to the outer alignment of crown and pushers. Which is best? The answer is debatable, but prevailing opinion cites the integrated chronograph with greater accuracy and the modular chronograph with easier service and a lower purchase price.
The lugs extend straight from the case bottom and slope from the top, giving a profile that resembles the trailing edge of a wing. The lugs expose two screws, adding an industrial flair, and a beautiful eagle crest adorns the crown and spans the screw-down case back. This eagle is the sixteenth century symbol of the French city of Besançon, where Dodane manufactures and supplies watch components. The crown recesses slightly into the case, and I never felt the crown dig into my wrist. Though you can get a transparent case-back with a superior finish of the movement, my watch had the solid case back. This watch is substantial in every way, but it felt light on my arm. Please understand that the watch has some heft, but it was less than what I expected, and many days I forgot that the watch was on my wrist, which is something that I cannot say about a comparably sized dive watch.
The veal strap is thick and soft. The company name, Dodane 1857, adorns the buckle. The deployment clasp snaps secure, but the length of the strap left me wanting more. Despite my wrist being a larger size, many straps accommodate my wrist with room to spare, but not the Type 23.
The watch has a Dubois-Dépraz caliber 42030, featuring a modular chronograph movement with or without fly-back and beating at 4 Hz (28,800 bph). Every time that I snapped the fly-back on the chronograph, I smiled like a youngster, continuously impressed by the fly-back responsiveness. The Type 23 is a regulated Chronometer, and on request, Dodane can exceed COSC standards with testing from the National Observatory of Measuring Time of Besançon, earning the watch a special certificate and a viper eagle crest.
A chronograph can be designated an “Observatory Chronometer” if it meets strict standards of accuracy during 15 consecutive days of testing under 5 positions and at different temperature settings. The uniqueness of this control lies in the fact that it applies only to a fully assembled watch unlike its Swiss counterpart, COSC that tests solely non-cased movements.
The Verdict: Pros and Cons
- The watch passes the visibility requirement albeit with a smaller dial than most pilot watches.
- The chunky strap is masculine yet soft to the touch.
- The watch is visually appealing, being understated yet distinctive. This watch leaves the bling for the pretentious brands and instead provides handsome function that belongs at the F.B.O. (Fixed Base Operation).
- The optional, exacting chronometer standards that exceed COSC are impressive.
- I’ve never used a countdown bezel and found it a unique distinction.
- The must-have fly-back function of the chronograph makes this a watch for pilots, even the armchair variety. It also makes you smile.
- This Dodane costs considerably less than a Breguet XX or XXI.
- The Type 23 continues the tradition of the historic Type 20/21.
- The leather strap that came with my watch was short for my wrist.
- Though the case dimension at 42.5 mm is substantial, the watch wears smaller than many over-sized pilot watches, which is a negative for some. Many potential buyers, however, will like this mid-size feel for its versatility of wear.
Overall, the Type 23 is a superb choice for an aviator watch. In balancing historical authenticity with modern chronometric standards, Dodane has provided a new chapter in its military service and offered civilians the chance to own an elite pilot’s watch. The Type 23’s esoteric history and its less-than-common brand name add a je ne sais quoi that I find irresistible; so much so, that I ordered one for myself.
Technical characteristics: Dodane Type 23
Automatic Chronograph Flyback Dubois-Dépraz: 42030
- Caliber dimensions: diameter 30mm (or 13 1/4 line), thickness: 6,5mm
- Swiss Made, Chronometer Regulated
- 45 rubies
- 42-hour Power Reserve
- Frequency 28,800 alt/h (4Hz)
- 1/5th second stopwatch
- Dimensions: diameter 42.5mm, height 13.9mm
- Water proof: 10 ATM/bars (100m/330ft)
- Hands and dial with indexes: SuperLuminova®
- Case: 316L stainless steel
- Bi-directional rotating bezel with ratchet-wheel
- Sapphire glass
More information can be found on the Dodane 1857 website, but please note the website isn’t doesn’t excel in user friendliness. Much obliged to Alexis Sarkissian from Totally Worth It, the US distributor of Dodane 1857, for lending a watch for this review!
This article is written by Max Reddick, contributing writer for Monochrome Watches. All photos, except the one showing the movement, are also credited to Max Reddick.