Breguet Type XX
This collection enjoying iconic status for nearly 70 years has accompanied the history of aviation – whether on pilots’ wrists as a precision instrument or on those of ordinary amateur enthusiasts fascinated by its legendary qualities. The Manufacture Breguet proudly unveils a redesigned line that is innovative, highly contemporary and brimming with nods to history.
The year 2023 brings a new Type XX, new momentum, a new generation and an all-new calibre. Four years of preparation preceded the arrival of the new generation of iconic Type XX watches, this time, issued in two versions to meet all expectations: one military-inspired and the other drawing on the finest civilian models. Taking cues from the emblematic first-generation models, Breguet has instilled a contemporary, dynamic and technological spirit into these watches. The Type XX saga clearly shows no sign of petering out!
It was entirely natural for Breguet to draw on its inexhaustible heritage in creating the new Type XX. Putting things into context, one may recall that in the early 1950s, Breguet was able to meet the requirements of air forces wishing to equip themselves with a robust wrist chronograph featuring certain distinctive characteristics.
A prestigious and widely recognised firm keen to be part of humankind’s great adventures, Breguet placed itself at the service of airborne navigation in the 20th
century, just as it had done for maritime navigation in the 19th
century. A large number of pilots acquired Breguet watches, including Alberto Santos-Dumont in 1910, American pilots stationed in France in 1918, the Louis Breguet aviation company, Japanese pilots visiting France in the 1920s, and many others…
Time and airborne navigation
For pilots, and more generally for air-crew members, keeping track of time on board an aircraft – meaning preserving temporal references within an environment characterised by intense activity and stress – is a vital necessity. Operations such as measuring flight time or intermediate flight times, monitoring fuel consumption, taking bearings and carrying out manoeuvres all required instruments that watchmakers would render both more accurate and convenient to handle over the years: on-board chronographs and soon thereafter chronograph wristwatches.
A study of the company archives reveals that numerous “special”
products – i.e. suited to the particular constraints of the aeronautical environment – were introduced from the 1930s onwards. 19-line aerodrome chronometers in an antimagnetic silver case, split-second chronographs, small 24-line on-board chronometers with a heat-insulated case, a thermostat and lighting, siderometers... All these highly technical timepieces were delivered both to military aviation and to the recently created French national airline, Air France.
Delivery of watchmaking instruments for aircraft instrument panels increased from 5 the early 1950s onwards and for 30 years was one of Breguet’s recognised specialities. The most widespread models were the Type 11, 11/1 and 12, which were sold to a dozen countries and featured on the instrument panels of numerous aircraft, notably the unforgettable, supersonic Concorde.
In the 1930s, the company was already producing more and more wristwatches with a chronograph function and the post-war period confirmed the trend. The fashion for wrist worn chronographs was launched and has continued unabated ever since.
For pilots, time is so precious when aboard aircraft that it is necessary, for safety reasons, to establish a principle of redundancy. At the time, that meant backing up the chronograph on the instrument panel with another chronograph – and not just any model – strapped to the pilot’s wrist. If one became unusable, the other would take over. This was the whole point of the watchmaking instruments in which Breguet was to become a specialist, notably with the legendary Type XX.
It is impossible to describe the history of a model as emblematic as the Type XX in just few lines. We will therefore confine ourselves to a brief overview of the successive milestone models featured in the company’s catalogue across almost 70 years.
According to the archives, things began in the early 1950s when the company, already a specialist in products dedicated to the aviation industry, learned that the French Air Force was looking to equip its pilots with a chronograph wristwatch meeting the following technical specifications: a black dial with luminescent numerals, luminescent hands, a high-quality movement resistant to changes in pressure and acceleration, a rotating bezel and of course a “flyback”
function, to mention but the most important. It was the Air Ministry that named the future product “Type XX”.
Several companies competed and won contracts, which meant that several brands would produce Type XXs; on the other hand, the brands selected for public contracts could also sell the same product to private customers. This led to the production of military Type XXs and civilian Type XXs.
For Breguet, things went as follows: the prototypes submitted by the company in 1952 were approved in 1953 by the Service Technique Aéronautique. In 1954, the French Air Force placed an order for 1,100 military Type 20s, which were delivered between 1955 and 1959. They feature a 30-minute totalizer and their dial is unsigned, while the back bears the official inscriptions BREGUET - TYPE 20 - 5101/54.
Pochette 001 Chrono Concorde
Another prestigious customer, the Centre d’Essais en Vol (CEV) for elite French test pilots ordered 80 timepieces that were delivered in 1956 and 1957. They have a 15-minute totalizer and 50 of them feature a 12-hour totalizer at 6 o’clock; while the letters CEV followed by a number from 1 to 80 are engraved on the back.
Type XX on-board chronograph equipment sheet Type 11
In 1958, the French Navy ordered 500 timepieces for the pilots and sailors of its airborne wing, the Aéronautique Navale. Delivered in full on 13 January 1960, these Type XX military timepieces are significantly different from those of the Air Force: their 15-minute totalizer is housed in a circle with an enlarged diameter; their dial is signed and their back bears the inscription BREGUET - MARINE NATIONALE - AERONAUTIQUE NAVALE - N° X / 500.
View of Paris airport Le Bourget, around 1970; Breguet markets there the Type XX through the shop Aeroshopping
The reputation of the Type XX quickly spread beyond the military sphere, leading to a situation where the world of civil aviation and chronograph enthusiasts were also keen to acquire a Type XX from Breguet. Even though the Valjoux 14-line movement was replaced in 1963 by a modernized 13-line movement, and despite certain perceptible variations in terms of dial, the hands or the bezel, the Type XX underwent barely any aesthetic modifications until 1970. More than 2000 “civilian”
Type XX models were sold.
Fighter jet Dassault Mystèrre IV - Dassault Aviation
The second-generation Type XX arrived in 1971 and is recognisable by its enlarged polished steel case, thick lugs and black bezel. Available with or without a 12-hour totalizer, it continued to feature a 15-minute counter.
Nearly 800 of these timepieces were sold, most of them to civilians; while on the military side, only 50 pieces were delivered to the Royal Moroccan Air Force. Orders were also placed by Aérospatiale (later Airbus Industries) and purchased by the Presidency of the French Republic as official gifts.
The last ones were sold in 1986, spelling the (provisional) end of more than 30 years of a rich history.
Breguet 1050 Alizé instrument panel
After a barely ten-year absence, Type XX enjoyed a revival in 1995 with the appearance of the third generation in the form of Reference 3800 ““Aéronavale”
(without date) and subsequently Reference 3820 “Transatlantique”
(with date). The new Type XX picks up the traditional aviation characteristics: black dial, rotating bezel, “flyback”
function, now backed by the convenience of a self-winding movement. Aesthetically, it features a fluted caseband, a somewhat anachronistic legacy of the “historical Breguet”
Breguet 1780 Type XX civilian
It proved successful and led to numerous interpretations, with a variety of precious metals and dial colour changes over the years. The line was enriched by an alarm watch(Reference 3860) and a Type XX for ladies (Reference 4820), before the 2004 arrival of the Type XXI (Reference 3810) and the 2010 introduction of the impressive Type XXII (Reference 3880) incorporating high-frequency technology and silicon. Type XXI in turn welcomed many variations and some limited series, right the way through to the models unveiled in recent years (References 3817 and 3815).
Fascinated by the conquest of the air, Louis Charles – grandson of Louis Clément Breguet, whose own grandfather was Abraham-Louis Breguet – got involved in the aeronautical adventure in the early 20th
century. He began by building gyroplanes (the forerunner of the helicopter) before creating the Louis Breguet aviation workshops in 1911. Several of his aircraft enjoyed international attention.
Gyroplane Breguet-Dorand, around 1935
The Breguet family had a very good relationship with the Brown family that had acquired the watchmaking company in 1870. It was therefore only natural that aircraft manufacturer Louis Breguet should turn to the Browns to discuss the watchmaking needs of the aeronautical world. Louis Breguet thus purchased watches from the Breguet watchmaking company to equip his aircraft and pilots.
In 1966, Marcel Dassault bought up the company founded by Louis Breguet and merged it with his own in 1971 under the name Avions Marcel Dassault-Breguet Aviation. The firm was renamed Dassault Aviation in 1990.
With orders from the French Air Force, followed by the Centre d’Essais en Vol, the Aéronautique Navale and numerous civilian pilots, the entire aviation elite took to the skies with the famous Type XX.
We know from the company’s archives that one of the first Type XXs was given by aircraft manufacturer Louis Breguet to the great aviator Jacqueline Auriol, a test pilot and internationally renowned figure in women’s aviation.
Jacqueline Auriol, test pilot and first woman to use a Type XX © Tallandier / Bridgeman Images
Many aeronautical organisations also regularly purchased Type XX watches. The Royal Moroccan Air Force was also a customer of the second-generation Type XX in the 1970s, as were Aérospatiale (later Airbus Industries), the French Presidency, ENAC (École Nationale de l’Aviation Civile), the Gendarmerie Nationale, the Heli-Union helicopter company, the Office Général de l’Air (OGA) and many others...
The fact that Type XX also appealed to the sports world is a not widely-known reality. Motor-racing organisations including the Monte Carlo Rally rewarded winners with Type XX watches. Famous drivers such as Fernand Masoero, Jack Brabham and Pierre Alexandre had a Type XX on their E wrists. The latter’s watch is now part of the Breguet Museum collections. As for the French Football Federation, it gifted a personalised Type XX to each winner of the 1998 World Cup.
This timepiece is inspired by the 1100 delivered to the French Air Force between 1955 and 1959, whose name appeared as Type 20 in Arabic numerals, unlike all the others, including those of the Aéronautique Navale, whose name was written Type XX in Roman numerals. Its black dial has been modernised while remaining faithful to the Type 20 identity.
The Arabic numerals and the triangle on the bezel are luminescent and feature a mint green shade, as do all the hands. The 30-minute totalizer located at 3 o’clock is now larger than the 60-second totalizer displayed at 9 o’clock, and a date window has been added between 4 and 5 o’clock.
The 42 mm steel case is fitted with a non-engraved fluted bidirectional bezel, as was that of the models delivered to military air forces in the past. The crown reflecting the original pear shape is adjustable in three positions: 1) neutral, 2) date correction, 3) time setting. The 2 o’clock pusher serves to activate the chronograph, the one at 4 o’clock for the “flyback”
function. The former is used to start and stop the watch, while the latter serves to reset the chronograph and the minute totalizer.
The line of civilian versions
This second timepiece with its adventurous look is a direct descendant of the finest civilian Type XX from the 1950s and 1960s, notably a model made in 1957 and bearing the individual number 2988. While its dial is black as the 2057, it differs in several respects.
First of all, its display: the 15-minute totalizer is located at 3 o’clock, the 12-hour totalizer at 6 o’clock and running seconds at 9 o’clock. Just as in the military-inspired version, the totalizer is sized differently to make the dial both more dynamic and more legible.
The Arabic numerals, the hands and the triangle on the bezel are coated with an ivory-coloured luminescent treatment. The date window appears between 4 and 5 o’clock.
The 42 mm steel case is fitted with a fluted bidirectional graduated bezel. Its classic straight crown enables setting in three positions: 1) neutral, 2) date correction, 3) time setting. The 2 o’clock pusher starts and stops the chronograph functions, while the one at 4 o’clock resets and restarts the chronograph immediately, based on the famous “flyback”
These two eagerly awaited new additions to the current collection are delivered in a havana-coloured leather presentation box reminiscent of an aircraft wing. Enabling owners to vary the look according to their personal wishes, the new chronograph is fitted with a calfskin strap along with an additional black NATO strap contained in its case. The rapid interchange system (RIS) of the bracelets has been designed to enable the easy, independent and tool-free removal of the leather strap.
The user can indeed remove both halves of the strap simply by pressing the under-lug correctors to fit another leather strap, simply position the slot at the upper end of the strap on a level with the watch lugs, at a 45 to 60-degree angle. An interlocking system is enough to secure it in place. It takes only a few seconds to switch from a calf leather strap to another leather variant, while the black NATO strap slips between the two bars while passing under the case.
Arrival of the new Calibre 728
After four years of development at the Manufacture Breguet, the brand is delighted to present the new self-winding Calibre 728 for the civilian version and Calibre 7281 for the military version. Combining robustness and innovation, this movement and its variant are protected by several patents. It incorporates all the designs of a modern chronograph such as a column wheel, vertical clutch, 5 Hz frequency as well as an innovative zero-resetting activation system. Alongside these elements, it also benefits from the latest technical innovations in the field of chronometry (precision timing).
The balance-spring, the escape-wheel and the pallet-lever horns are made of silicon. In addition to being resistant to corrosion and wear, silicon is insensitive to the influence of magnetic fields and improves the accuracy of the timepiece. Moreover, this self-winding chronograph has a 60-hour power reserve.
Both models are equipped with a “flyback”.
This function is a precious asset for pilots, replacing the three operations previously required with just one. Different times and directions that require evaluation are easily handled using the “flyback”
These innovative activation and zero-resetting systems have been designed for crisp and accurate use. Whatever function is performed, the pressure felt on the pushers will be even and balanced. The same applies to the vertical clutch mechanism, which has been adopted for the accuracy of its activation. The chronograph hand thus starts instantly without any initial jerks. To make the movement robust and guarantee its precision even in case of potential impacts, a cross-through bridge was chosen to secure the balance in place.
Sized in such a way as to occupy a maximum of the available space within the movement, the barrel – the energy source – is equipped with a spring whose high-energy-density material enables a longer power reserve.
Finally, this new movement’s other asset lies in its aesthetics, as significant work has been done on its decoration. In addition to the sunburst pattern, snailing, bevelling, circular-graining and other visible decorations on the components, Breguet has treated the column wheel to a black DLC treatment that heightens visual contrast while improving tribological properties. The sapphire crystal caseback provides a chance to admire the details of the movement, including its blackened oscillating weight shaped like an aircraft wing and engraved with the Breguet logo.