If you’ve been reading MONOCHROME for some years, there’s something you should know about me… I have a soft spot for the Breguet Type XX, and for pilot’s chronographs in general. It is the watch that ignited my passion for horology. This is why, today, I might lack objectivity and my take on the present watch will be, without a doubt, biased. Two years ago already, Breguet stunned me with its unique piece for Only Watch, with a highly accurate take on its original military-issued pilot’s chronograph. This year’s watch is even more attractive in my books, being THE perfect representation of what a vintage-inspired Breguet Type XX should look like. Let’s have a closer look at this “Big Eye” for Only Watch 2021.
The name Breguet has long resonated in the world of aviation, but not only because of the watchmaker’s pilot’s chronographs. In fact, there are two sides to the Breguet family. First, the descendant of Abraham-Louis Breguet who perpetuated his legacy as a watchmaking company. Second, with Louis Breguet, another descendant of A.L. Breguet, there’s the aviation side of the lineage. Louis was indeed one of the pioneers of aviation in France, as he founded the Société d’Aviation Louis Breguet, exporting his planes in multiple countries around the globe and participating in the foundation of Air France.
With this family connection, Breguet, the watchmaker, started to deliver timepieces for the American Air Force and in 1922 for the Société d’Aviation Louis Breguet. These instruments gradually became chronographs with counters and tachometers, which could either be worn by the pilots or affixed to the plane’s dashboard. Breguet continued to provide increasingly sophisticated chronographs to various aviation and aircraft companies. However, the most important chapter in the history of Breguet pilot’s watches began with the Type XX, or Type 20.
In the early fifties, the French Ministry of Defense drew up specifications with a view to purchasing chronograph wristwatches for its Air Force, to be known as Type 20. Drawing on its experience in this area, Breguet expressed its interest and designed a model that was quickly approved by the authorities. The Type 20, the official military name, was introduced as a pilot watch equipped with a flyback chronograph, a pear-shaped crown, a two-counter display and a fluted bezel with a triangular marker. This military-issued model gave birth to the re-edition we saw at Only Watch 2019.
But importantly for today’s matters, there were actually multiple variations and generations of Breguet’s pilot’s chronograph. Even more important, we must make a difference between the Type 20, referring to military-issued models, and the Type XX, watches made for civilian purposes and sold to a public of amateur pilots. Visually, these XX are often seen with a bidirectional bezel with a 12-hour scale, different hands, a flat crown and, probably the most emblematic feature, a “big eye” 15-minute counter at 3 o’clock. This is the watch most of us have in mind when thinking Breguet Type XX, and this is the watch Breguet has decided to use for its unique piece donated to Only Watch 2021.
The Type XX Only Watch 2021
Once again this year, we’re looking at an extremely faithful reproduction of Breguet’s flyback chronograph, not only visually but also mechanically. Indeed, this new Type XX meticulously reproduces the visual and mechanical codes of this emblematic Breguet timepiece and pays tribute to the civilian editions of the Type XX chronograph from the 1950s and 1960s.
Before I move on to what I think about this watch, some facts. First of all, the case is almost identical to the 2019 edition, with its restrained diameter of 38.30mm as per the original model. Made of stainless steel, with brushed and polished surfaces, it retains the typical curvature of the lugs embellished by a lateral bevel, along with some generously-sized push-buttons. The caseback is screwed and respects the shape of the vintage models, yet with specific engravings to showcase its uniqueness.
What’s new in this Breguet Type XX Only Watch 2021 is first the presence of a graduated bezel, with a 12-hour scale allowing for in-flight calculations, or to display a second timezone. The scale is engraved and filled with black lacquer, and it also comes with a luminous triangle to mark the desired position. In the same vein, the crown is here flat and notched, an element reserved to the early civilian editions of Breguet’s chronograph. Needless to say, the case looks stunning and perfectly sized.
The most obvious evolution for this 2021 unique piece is the dial. While the previous model inspired by military-issued watches featured a relatively straightforward dial with baton hands, this civilian edition feels even more Type XX, mostly due to the combination of the oversized “big eye” counter at 3 with luminous teardrop hand and the 5 oversized luminous markers, and the use of syringe hands for the hours and minutes. Also, the central seconds hand has been updated to a more classic diamond shape. What remains is the use of a bronze-coloured background for a tropical look – not historically accurate but still attractive – and the large Arabic and luminous numerals for the hours.
Inside too, the Breguet Type XX Only Watch 2021 plays on faithfulness, as it is equipped with a Valjoux 235 movement, directly derived from the Valjoux 222 14 lines used by Breguet in the 1950s and early 1960s. This hand-wound column wheel chronograph movement has been restored and returned to service by Breguet. As such, not only it respects the original spirit of the watch, but also the original proportions. Of course, the movement is equipped with the famous flyback “retour en vol” function, without which it could never be a true Type XX pilot chronograph.
It is worn on a simple yet visually coherent dark brown calfskin leather strap with a steel pin buckle, and it is presented in an airplane wing-shaped case.
The Type XX that should be in the collection…
If you ask me what I think about this Breguet Type XX Only Watch 2021, the short answer will be “I absolutely love it.” I mean, it looks fabulous, the proportions are perfect, the movement is stunning, the dial (colour apart) is exactly what I have in mind when thinking vintage Breguet Type XX. If I wasn’t sure the watch could easily fetch a 6-figure price during the auction, I’d be on the line to get it. But since the 2019 model was sold for CHF 210,000, I’m certain this new edition will be out of my budget – and not by a small margin. I don’t care, it’s for a good cause.
But now I’m going to make a longer answer, which basically refers to the title of this article “I hate to love this watch.” Why? The reason is simple. This watch is everything the future Breguet Type XX should be. As you might know, the classic 38mm Type XX ref. 3800ST has recently been discontinued and my guess is that it will be replaced sooner or later by a revised version. My second guess is that Breguet will probably do something different from this highly vintage and accurate edition… sadly. Because when I look at this unique piece for Only Watch 2021, this is exactly what Breguet should do. Sure, the vintage movement is not a necessity and the brand could use its classic automatic flyback chronograph. Also, they could make it a 3-counter watch, and the bronze dial could be replaced by a more traditional black dial. But everything else in this unique piece should be re-used in a watch for the permanent collection.
If Breguet wants to have a larger watch, with a more modern movement, more technology, more luxury, they can still do it with the Type XXI and Type XXII models. But as far as I’m concerned, the Type XX should be re-introduced with this 38.30mm case, with this exact flat, thin and graduated bezel, with this domed crystal, with the same bevelled lugs, with these syringe hands and this “big eye” dial. And no need for a fully decorated movement, or even for a see-through caseback. it has to retain a certain utilitarian feel. If you ask any watch enthusiast to picture a Breguet Type XX, it will have most of the attributes of the watch the brand has designed for Only Watch 2021. If Breguet comes with such a watch for its standard collection, it could be an instant success. But since I’m far from certain that this will happen, this makes me hate to love the Type XX Only Watch 2021 even more…
And if you want to see what this beauty could look like, just look below at yet another photoshopped prediction. And let us know in the comments what you think of this imaginary watch.
Created in 2005, Only Watch is a biennial fundraiser for research on muscular dystrophy – Association Monégasque Contre les Myopathies (AMM). Organised under the patronage of HSH Albert II de Monaco, the watches of the 9th edition will be auctioned by Christie’s on Saturday, 6 November 2021. More details at www.onlywatch.com.