Think of the name Breguet and almost subconsciously the mind conjures an image of a highly refined, classically designed Swiss masterpiece, almost certainly in gold and with a handmade dial of exquisite beauty and delicate detailing, most probably graced with intriguing horlogic complications. Of course that vision of the hallowed brand is accurate, but it’s not completely representative of the Breguet collections, and the pilot-inspired Type XX ‘Aéronavale’ offers another side to this grandest of names, one steeped in a pioneering history in the worlds of both watchmaking and aviation.
By the time descendent Louis Charles Breguet had proven himself as one of aviation’s founding fathers in the early 1900s, beginning a new and hugely significant legacy in flight, the workshops of the watch company which bore his family name had long been moved on by his grandfather into the ownership of English watch company Henry Brown, but with aviation’s total reliance on precise timing instruments it would only be a matter of time before the famous Breguet names would fly together. For decades to come Breguet-flying pilots would use Breguet watches and dashboard clocks for navigation and a safe return from their missions.
Of those watches, the 1950s saw the introduction of the first Breguet Type XX aviator’s chronograph as a commission of aviator’s instruments, manufactured to the specific criteria of the French Ministry of Defence.
Using only the reference code on the procurement mandate the ‘Type XX’ featured a robust and purposeful case with tactile rotating bezel, bold luminous hands and references, excellent legibility and most importantly in technical terms the flyback chronograph function, which enabled rapid resets and more accurate navigation as a result; what would become an enduring Breguet icon was born.
Today, the Type XXI along with its aviation inspired siblings the Type XX and Type XXII faithfully capture the spirit of their origins. Defined by their 39, 42 or 44mm case size the majority of production series are manufactured in 316L stainless steel or titanium – these non-precious metals underlining how these were designed first and foremost as practical ‘tool’ watches. Of course in what Breguet call ‘civilian versions’18Kt rose gold is also an option.
It’s a ‘tool’ watch that has aged very well however, and since it was relaunched in 1995 has been a constant feature in the Breguet portfolio. Still as practical and reliable as ever, the Type XX/XXI/XXII has lost none of its allure for the professional aviator, and thanks to Breguet’s legendary quality and heritage appeals to a much broader catchment today.
A sixty-minute scale on the rotating bezel allows for quick setting and corrections, and beneath the anti-reflective sapphire crystal the dial is typically dark, so as to accentuate the vivid Super LumiNova of the hands and numerals, and ensuring exceptional legibility in low light conditions. As is the standard setting for Breguet, every little detail is made to perfection and so wherever the eye falls, the quality of workmanship shines through. Oversized arabic numerals are plump with lume and the applied quarter-hour indices and ‘butterknife’ hands are diamond cut and mirror polished before receiving their luminous coats.
Around the dial an outer flange with printed indices sits just above the dial, and combined with the effect of the recessed subdial array creates a stepped three-dimensional view. Where the original Type XX was a dedicated ‘flieger’ with the ‘retour en vol’ flyback chronograph its principal function, with the later XXI and XXII models additional functionality was introduced in the form of 24-hour/day-night display as well as a useful large date aperture at the 6 o’clock position.
Differences between the models are subtle as they all feature a large central chronograph seconds pointer and three-dial array, but a quick study soon reveals how the XX has its running seconds displayed on an off centre register at the 9, with 30-minute and 12-hour chrono totalisers at the 3 and 6 respectively. On the XXI a central constant seconds hand meant that the dial could be reconfigured so as to display the 24-hour/day-night indication at 3, with 60-minutes and 12-hour counters in the other two subdials.
Inside beats the Calibre 582 (XX) or 584 (XXI, XXII) automatic self winding movements. Entirely designed and developed in house, Breguet’s 200 plus years as a forerunner in the annals of horology guarantee a beautifully executed assembly of watchmaking know-how, and the transparent exhibition caseback reveals the meticulous hand finishing techniques on all exposed components, such as the guilloché decoration on the 22Kt gold oscillating rotor or the Côtes de Genève ribbed surfacing on the movement’s bridges and perlage on the plates.
In summary, Breguet’s range of pilot’s watches combine two strands of an illustrious family’s traditions; watchmaking and aviation. An impeccable heritage and superb manufacturing standards result in a collection which authentically recalls an important era in the brand’s history, and serves it up in a sophisticated and stylish luxury men’s watch that still manages to carry off a casual personality.
At Weir & Sons we stock the full collection of these fabulous wristwatches, so we welcome you to call ahead to arrange a visit, or drop in to our spacious stores and we will be happy to demonstrate our Breguet watches in the metal.
Contact the Watch Department on Tel: 0035316779678
Our thanks to Johnny McElherron for his interesting and informative review of the Breguet Type XXI Watch