For almost seven decades, Breguet, celebrated for its robust timepieces and its ability to meet airforce requirements, has been a near-permanent fixture on pilots’ wrists, the same way in which it was celebrated for its contribution to maritime navigation during the 19th century. Alberto Santos-Dumont, the feted Brazilian aviation pioneer, sported Breguet in 1910, as did US pilots based in France during 1918 – and their Japanese counterparts, who visited France in the 1920s, gave further kudos to the label that, in the following decade, would continue to bring about innovative, envelope-pushing features, such as split-second chronographs.
It was during the 1950s in which Breguet found its groove in the field of timekeeping in the skies, and, for the following 30 years, the company established its standing in the world of aviation, a notion which was perhaps best symbolised by its Type XX model.
A vintage Breguet Type XX
Rooted firmly in the middle of the century, this particular line was launched as a result of the French Air Force’s mission to seek out a timepiece – eventually named the Type XX by the Air Ministry – that would display several necessary features, including a black dial with luminescent numerals, luminescent hands, a premium movement that was resistant to changes in pressure and acceleration, a bezel that could rotate, and, rather importantly, a flyback function.
A vintage Breguet Type 20
A vintage Breguet Type XX
With Breguet having met these technical specifications in its prototypes, the French Air Force placed an order of 1,100 military Type 20s, which showcased a 30-minute totaliser, an unsigned dial, and a caseback that had the inscription, ‘BREGUET – TYPE 20 – 5101/54.’ The Centre d’Essais en Vol (CEV), for elite French test pilots, also invested in the piece, but with slightly different features – the letters ‘CEV’ followed by a number from 1 to 80 engraved on the back, among them – as did the French Navy, for the sailors and pilots of its airborne wing; their watch (the Type XX) too, differed, notably in its 15-minute totaliser that was kept in a circle with an oversized diameter.
Type XX Chronographe 2067
As the prestige of its performance became increasingly known among watch circles, the Type XX’s presence moved beyond the military realm and into the public arena, with more than 2,000 ‘civilian’ models sold to everyday horology enthusiasts, with the watch seeing minimal style changes until 1970.
A second-generation – noted for its enlarged polished-steel case, black bezel, and thick lugs – arrived in 1971 and was snapped up by the likes of the Royal Moroccan Air Force, as well as the presidency of the French Republic, and, little under 25 years later, a third version – the Reference 3800 Aéronavale (without date) and the Reference 3820 Transatlantique (with date) – was unveiled, illustrating both conventional details (including a black dial and rotating bezel) and new additions (a self-winding movement and a fluted caseband). This model would go on to spur several iterations, including those that exhibited a variety of dial colours and precious metals.
Now, seven decades on from its debut appearance, Breguet has brought back this classic piece of timekeeping. Taking four years to tweak and perfect, the revamped, redesigned line – which, again, comes in two versions: one influenced by the military; the other, angled towards everyday wear – that is at once contemporary and envelope-pushing yet is studded with nods to the past.
Type 20 Chronographe 2057
First up is the Type 20 Chronographe 2057, the military-style creation, which takes its cues from the Type 20s of the 1950s. Here, the Arabic numerals (a feature that was unique to the original, as other models’ names were written in Roman numerals), the triangle on the bezel and the hands are defined by their mint-green appearance; the black dial, which has been brought up to a contemporary style, offsets the luminescent style beautifully; and the 30-minute totaliser, which can be found at 3 o’clock, is now bigger than the 60-second totaliser located at the opposite side.
The piece also sees the addition of a date window that sits between 4 and 5, and, as was the case for those timepieces given to military air forces in years gone, the 42mm case features a non-engraved fluted bidirectional bezel. Rounding things off, the crown is adjustable in a trio of positions – neutral; date correction; and time setting – meanwhile the 2 o’clock pusher sets off the chronograph, and the one at 4 o’clock is for the flyback function.
The second offering, the Type XX Chronographe 2067, which has lineage to the CEV’s model from 1957, has a look that sits somewhere between everyday sophistication and a throwback-adventure style. As with the 2057, the dial is black, but it does have a set of distinguishable features. At 3 o’clock, the wearer will spot a 15-minute totaliser; a 12-hour totaliser is directly below; and, at 9 o’lock there are running seconds.
Morevover, the Arabic numerals, the hands and the triangle on the bezel are done out in an ivory-hued luminescent treatment, and the date window has been placed between 4 and 5 o’clock. On the steel case, which is also sized at 42mm, there’s a fluted bidirectional graduated bezel.
Both designs arrive in a finely crafted ‘Havana’ leather presentation box that calls to mind an aircraft wing, meanwhile, in order to customise the pieces according to personal tastes, straps include a calfskin option, as well as an extra black NATO strap, and a rapid-interchange system (RIS) facilitates an easy, tool-free removal of the former feature.
Then, when it comes to the inside, Breguet has introduced its new self-winding Calibre 7281 in the military version; and the Calibre 728 for the civilian one, both of which feature conventional chronograph designs, including a vertical clutch and zero-resetting activation system. There’s also a balance spring; an escape wheel; the pallet-lever horns are crafted from silicon, a material resistant to corrosion, wear, and magnetic fields; and it is fitted with a 60-hour power reserve. The flyback functions on both, it should be noted, also replaces the three operations once needed with just one.
With regards to the movement’s looks, the decoration has been elevated to a high level – not only is there circular-graining and a sunburst pattern, but the column wheel has been given a black DLC application, all of which can be viewed through the sapphire crystal caseback.
Made for the skies, but appropriate for daily wear on the ground, the relaunched Type XX continues to elevate the standards of the pilot’s watch.
Heading to the skies? Here’s how to dress (and what to pack) for a long-haul flight…
Become a Gentleman’s Journal member. Find out more here.
Become a Gentleman’s Journal Member?
Like the Gentleman’s Journal? Why not join the Clubhouse, a special kind of private club where members receive offers and experiences from hand-picked, premium brands. You will also receive invites to exclusive events, the quarterly print magazine delivered directly to your door and your own membership card.