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Exploring the history of the Breguet Type XX watch

By the time World War II had begun, wristwatches were being worn more than pocket watches. The convenience of a wrist-worn tool, as opposed to one that had to be located inside the pocket of a jacket, was indispensable to those who needed to free up their hands for more important (often life-threatening) tasks on the frontline. This brings us to talk about a watch released just after this period of unrest – a watch that was utilised for many years thereafter – the Breguet Type XX watch.

For many reasons, Breguet is a brand that is not instantly associated with the manufacture of tool watches. It developed the tourbillon along with the popular nautical-influenced Marine chronometer series for the French Royal Navy, yet the aviation-inspired Type XX watch is another string to the brand’s bow. It traces its roots back to the 20th century with a design that connects the brand’s wristwatches and dashboard clocks to Breguet’s rich heritage in producing military aircraft. Devices were installed in the cockpit instrument panels of Breguet’s warplanes, yet from the early 1930s, the brand had begun focussing heavily on developing pilot’s watches for French military units, including its first wrist-borne chronographs in 1935.

The Breguet Type XX

Fast forward to the 1950s and the watch manufacturer, founded by Louis-Charles Breguet’s family, had begun developing watches for Aéronavale, who required a durable and reliable timekeeping tool for its military pilots. The Breguet Type 20 was based on the designs of its earlier 1930 wristwatches and became one of the world’s first flyback chronographs, marking the beginnings of the famous Type XX. Shortly after this, Breguet upgraded the watch to feature a 15-minute counter instead of a 30-minute counter – a feature that represented the length of time required to check an aircraft before flight. This model was exclusive to just 500 pieces and was issued in the year 1960.

Our Pick

Breguet Type XX

Reference: 3800ST/92/9W6

Case/Dial: 39mm Stailess steel, Black
100 mt.

Movement: 582, Automatic

Functions: Date, Calendar, Chronograph, 48h power reserve

Strap: Leather

Style: Chronograph

The first Breguet Type XX watches

During the early 1960s, Breguet also began producing the second generation of the Breguet Type 20 watches – part of the Type XX bracket. These inaugurated the “Type XX” designation and featured Roman numerals as opposed to Arabic numerals, three chronograph dials (as opposed to the former bicompax dial layout), chunkier lugs, and a thicker bezel crafted from Bakelite. These models were flyback chronograph watches too and were once again equipped with the same Valjoux movement used in their predecessors.

The Breguet Type XX Aeronavale

It was not until several decades after the discontinuation of the earlier Breguet Type 20 watches that the third generation of the Breguet Type XX surfaced. Earlier models had been swallowed up by the crushing effect of the quartz crisis during the 1970s and 1980s. It was the year 1995 and the mechanical watch was re-emerging. Breguet had also changed hands several times during this period. The Parisian jeweller, Chaumet had purchased the company from the Brown family in 1970 who has previously ran the company for over 100 years, relocating it from Paris to Switzerland’s Vallée de Joux in 1976 before selling it to Bahrain- based Investcorp in 1987.

By the time the third generation arrived, the Type XX Aeronavale watch had gone through some changes.  It was now a slightly larger 39mm size compared to its 38mm predecessor. Its coin-edge fluting became a signature design feature and the Valjoux movement had now been swapped out for the self-winding Breguet 582, based on the Lemania 1350. As a modification, the movement featured the brand’s in-house module for the flyback functionality, making chronograph timings effortless once again.

To follow on from the Breguet Type XX Aeronavale, Breguet launched the Type XX Transatlantique, which featured a polished bezel that gave the watch a more utilitarian look, along with a date window located on the dial at 6 o’clock. The watches also paid homage to the company’s heritage in aviation manufacture, with a specially developed presentation box honouring the non-stop flight from New York to Paris by a Breguet 19 plane in 1930.

By the turn of the century, Breguet had undergone new ownership once again and was now in the hands of Swatch Group. With this change came a new iteration of the Type XX watch. The Type XXI debuted in the year 2001 and featured a new lightweight case crafted from titanium. It measured a broader 42mm diameter and featured a flyback chronograph function. The Breguet Type XXI was powered by the Breguet Caliber 584Q and featured a 12-hour totaliser, a small second sub-dial, a 30-minute register, date, and central mounted hands to tally elapsed hours and minutes, along with a day and night indicator.

The Breguet Type XXII

The Breguet Type XXII is considered the sixth generation of the Type XX watch and was released in 2010. It was first released in a stainless steel case but was later offered in 18ct rose gold for a more luxurious iteration. What made the movement so resistant to magnetic fields was its silicone flat balance spring and escapement, enabling it to perform at a rate of 72,000 vibrations per hour. In 30 seconds, the chronograph seconds hand makes a full rotation as opposed to 60 seconds, enabling the chronograph readout and start function incredibly precise. The addition of the silicon components also reduces friction and lubrication problems that are often experienced by other high-frequency balances. As well as offering a flyback chronograph function, the Type XXII watch has a date feature, a day/night indicator, and a dual time zone display that could be operated via the second crown position.

In 2016, Breguet re-launched the Type XXI with a retro-inspired dial in slate grey, an upgraded movement with more silicon components, and an engraved bidirectional bezel. One of the key modifications of its design was the addition of a sapphire glass exhibition caseback, where the movement and its decorated gold rotor can be admired. The model’s pilot-style strap in brown calfskin leather was another vintage-inspired nod to historical Breguet aviation wristwatches, enhanced by its off-white contrast stitching. Three years later, Breguet unveiled a military-commissioned Type 20 design with the return of its Arabic numeral hour track. The 38.3mm model returned to its smaller size with curved lugs and a prominent onion-shaped crown that sold in that year’s Only Watch auction for 210,000 Swiss francs. The funds raised for this were donated to muscular dystrophy research as part of the Monaco-based biennial charity’s event.

Today, Breguet offers the Type XX DNA in the form of its Type XXI and Type XXII models belonging to its current catalogue. These include models like the Breguet Type XXI 3815 watch with a distinct military-inspired aesthetic achieved through a lightweight titanium case, a black dial and green Super-LumiNova-coated hour markers represented in Arabic numerals. The bicompax dial layout features a 12-hour and small second sub-dial accompanied by an elapsed minute register on a central hand. A screw-locked crown helps the lightweight case uphold its 100-meter water resistance, whilst an anti-reflective sapphire crystal glass front protects the surface of the dial from damage. The same material is sealed to the back of the case, exposing the self-winding Calibre 584Q/A as it performs. The movement comprises a total of 232 components and delivers a 48-hour power reserve. This Breguet Type XXI 3815 watch is exclusive to just 250 pieces worldwide.

The Breguet Type XXII 3880 watch is another offering from the brand’s current collection. The flyback chronograph measures a 44mm diameter and is powered by the self-winding 589 F Calibre, which features a flat silicon balance spring and produces an impressive 40-hour power reserve. On the watch’s dial side, a black display is home to pared-back Arabic numeral hour markers that create a reserved look in comparison to the Type XXI 3815 model. The dial features a trio of chronograph sub-dials at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock. Injections of red colour are seen in the chronograph hands of the watch, whilst a date display is incorporated into the 6 o’clock sub-counter. This model is completed on a stylish black leather band with red contrast stitching up the sides to give the Type XXII watch an edgy look.

Of course, models like the Breguet Type XX Aeronavale watch will always prove popular with Breguet enthusiasts that have been collecting these aviation timepieces for years. Faithful in many ways to the original watch that put the Type XX on the map, the Breguet Type Breguet Aeronavale 3800 watch features a black dial with luminous Arabic numerals and richly glowing hands. The sub-dials offer small seconds, 12-hour and 30-minute functions and are protected underneath a strong glass front crafted from sapphire crystal. The 39mm model features a screw-locked crown and is integrated with 100-meter water resistance.

Whether new to the Breguet Type XX watch or familiar with its unmistakable military tool DNA that has forged several successive generations - the Type XX, Type XXI and Type XXII collection will always hold a significant place in Breguet archives, as well as securing itself a firm place in the manufacturer’s current catalogue.

Our Pick

Breguet Type XXII

Reference: 3880ST/H2/3XV

Case/Dial: 44mm Stainless steel, Black
100 mt.

Movement: 589 F, Automatic

Strap: Leather

Style: Chronograph

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