Some of my favorite watches are the pieces that most people don’t necessarily associate with a particular brand. It’s the reason why I often prefer vintage (think original IWC Portugieser or ’60s Heuer Carreras), and it’s a large contributing factor in why the modern Grand Seiko line has become one of my favorite contemporary collections. These pieces are different not for difference’s sake, but because they represent either a different era, a different angle, or both, for the brand in question. Another such series, in my opinion, is the Breguet Type XX— a watch model so dissimilar from the luxuriously designed tourbillons and general high-complication identity of that brand that it would not be surprising for some to mistake these watches as part of, perhaps even the flagship of, some other manufacturer’s lineup.
Originally introduced in the 1950s, the Type XX (pronounced “Type 20”) was a French military-issued, utilitarian timepiece — a project meant to reinvigorate Naval Air force watches post-World War II, and boost local French manufacturing at the same time. Loosely based upon the German chronographs used against the French in the decade prior, the Type XX-style design (as above) was used for watches produced by a variety of French watchmakers and characterized by a highly visible, contrasting dial, a flyback chronograph, at least two subdials, and a bi-directional rotating bezel. Today, we recognize Breguet as the leading contemporary producer of watches in this style, but it is often the multi-brand, non-civilian military pieces that preceded the Type XX that truly command the desire of many vintage-watch enthusiasts. However, as it’s nearly impossible to actually discover one of these watches in decent condition without breaking the bank, that leaves most of us in the market for their modern equivalent.
Breguet today produces three styles of the Type XX: the namesake Type XX, Type XXI, and Type XXII. We will cover the modern re-interpretation of the Type XX Aeronavale Automatic Chronograph (Ref. 3800ST/92/9W6, above). The stainless steel, 39.5-mm watch features a unidirectional bezel, a solid caseback, and humble chronograph pushers. On the dial, you’ll notice the contrasting black and white colors for enhanced visibility, bold Arabic numerals for most hour markers, and 60-second, 12-hour, and 60-minute subdials at the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions, respectively. Other features to notice are the vintage-like, pilot-style hour and minute hands; unusual seconds counters on both the main dial and 3 o’clock subdial; and, finally, the automatic movement powering the piece, Breguet Caliber 582, based heavily on the Lemania 1350, except now with an additional flyback complication. Available on either a brown leather strap or metal bracelet, prices for the watch begin around $7,000.
What I appreciate about this watch is how different it is from the rest of Breguet’s series; it is very much the one “sports guy” in a room full of aristocrats. I also think it’s very cool that Breguet has been producing this piece for years, in contrast to many other brands that are just now beginning to venture back into their vintage designs.
However, for everything I like about this piece— including the hands, dial, chronograph pushers, solid caseback, and especially its history — I find many of its modern departures from the historical designs less than desirable. In my opinion, a manual-wound movement would do just as well, and would most likely decrease it’s relatively thick case of 14.4-mm; I think the bezel could benefit from more numerals and a thinner width for a more historically inspired design; and, lastly, I think the shiny, polished finish of the case, instead of the more common brushed finish, is more of a distraction from the utilitarian heritage of the piece than a positive accent.
Overall, the modern Breguet Type XX is an interesting watch. While personally I prefer a stricter adherence to the classic designs, I really enjoy how the brand continues to produce the series in a historically-inspired context, and furthermore, how much it contrasts with the brand’s other watch collections. Finally, as more and more people become interested in vintage watches, the pieces of the 1950s, ’60s, and so forth will continue to rise in price and become more difficult to locate. This leaves many with a desire for the designs, but without access to the watches — a situation that has created a huge opening for pieces like the modern Breguet Type XX to fill, and it is doing so admirably already. Who knows? Maybe we will look back in 40 years to consider this watch a classic; Breguet can only hope.
For last week’s article, in which I take a look at the historical inspirations of the Patek Philippe Aquanaut, click here.
Caleb Anderson is the Director of Outreach at the online vintage watch boutique theoandharris.com. Since starting at Theo & Harris, he has garnered extensive knowledge on vintage watches, and spends much of his time sharing his opinions within the field. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on watches, and a casual runner.
The correct subdials description is 30-min, 12-hr and running seconds at the 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions.