back to top

Dodane Type 23 BNL Fighter Pilot’s Watch Hands-On

Dodane Type 23 BNL Fighter Pilot's Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Just as there’s a time and a place for a mechanical watch, I’d argue there’s one for quartz, as well – there’s an undeniable convenience of having a super-capable and staggeringly accurate adventure watch always running and at the ready – whether it’s on my wrist, tucked into my carry-on, or sitting in the top drawer of my desk awaiting its next mission. Dodane’s Type 23 Quartz embodies this spirit to a tee, like a beautifully made, but highly specialized tool watch that utilizes a staggeringly accurate digital quartz ETA movement with dual LCD screens to display different timekeeping functions. However, there’s a little more to the story behind Dodane’s signature chartreuse “BNL” dial, which bears a neat little secret that can only be fully appreciated by an actual fighter pilot.

Dodane Type 23 BNL Fighter Pilot's Watch Hands-On Hands-On

In an era of overwrought marketing hype and precious few remaining secrets in the watch industry, French indie Dodane remains a quiet outlier – a surprisingly unturned stone in a sea of manufacturers who go to great lengths to produce evidence of heritage. Here we have a proudly French watchmaker who has been making small numbers of excellent tool watches – without fanfare – for French aviation personnel, NATO air forces, and military branches for over 150 family-owned years. But it gets more interesting: Of the original six contracted suppliers of pilot watches to the French Ministry of Defense during World War II, only two are still in production: Dodane and Breguet.

Dodane Type 23 BNL Fighter Pilot's Watch Hands-On Hands-On

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, as Dodane’s signature Type 23 mechanical chronograph shares a fair amount of visual DNA with Breguet’s iconic Type XX chronograph, though it’s worth noting that the Breguet would be considered a luxury product – the Fifty Fathoms of pilot watches, for comparison’s sake. But where Breguet took a sharp turn upwards towards haute horology, Dodane has remained faithful to its roots, manufacturing not just military-issue watches, but also the actual clocks affixed to instrument panels in military aircraft, like the Dassault Mirage 2000 (essentially, the French F-16). And though not the case for this particular quartz watch, it’s worth noting that all of Dodane’s automatic offerings can be sent off by request to formally undergo observatory chronometry trials, whereupon each watch’s accuracy is measured in multiple positions and temperatures as it relates to Earth’s motion around the sun, and certified as an observatory chronometer upon completion — again, without fanfare, simply because it’s the way things have always been done in Besancon.

Dodane Type 23 BNL Fighter Pilot's Watch Hands-On Hands-On

With its long history of active military use dating back to the first World War, the Type 23 Quartz was developed in response to a modernizing French Air Force, who demanded not just an ultra-accurate mission timer, but also a more economical modern alternative that could adapt to the changing technology in the cockpit – like night vision. It’s important to note that this particular “BNL” (bas niveau de lumière, or low-light LumiNova) dial variant does not luminesce as one would expect after a quick charge in sunlight or from a UV torch (though it fluoresces green under UV, which is quite cool). That’s right – despite its blindingly bright appearance, only the bezel pip is filled with traditional Supe-LumiNova. However, the reason for this is that this particular shade of chartreuse yellow is designed for use with night vision goggles worn by pilots. A traditional dial with Super-LumiNova would otherwise create a distracting “blooming” effect and could cause far greater legibility and, potentially, even safety problems. Thankfully, the sharp contrast between the black and yellow in the dial not only looks awesome, but it also yields just enough legibility to make out the dial in all but the darkest airline cabins.

Dodane Type 23 BNL Fighter Pilot's Watch Hands-On Hands-On

This particular Type 23 is built around a relatively stock ETA 988 movement with an independently adjustable hour hand, alarm, GMT, count-up/down timer, split-second chronograph, and perpetual calendar – all functions that can be engaged via the crown with a push, a pull, or a quick twist. These are also all characteristics that you’d find on 988-equipped ani-digi watches like the discontinued Victorinox Chrono Classic XLS or the Breitling Aerospace EVO, though it does lack the backlight and minute repeating functions found on the latter. One advantage that the Type 23 has over both, though, is that the oversized coin-edged crown is extremely tactile and very easy to grip, making interactions with this watch much more fluid and natural, compared to engaging with the Aerospace’s notoriously fiddly crown. The 988 is also accurate to within one second per day, putting it well within the timekeeping demands of the French Air Force.

Advertisement

Dodane Type 23 BNL Fighter Pilot's Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Like its mechanical alternatives, the Type 23 case exhibits a very cool “industrial chic” aesthetic, despite being intentionally designed as an instrument. At 42.5mm, the case wears somewhat broadly (it was meant to be worn over a flight suit, after all), but its sculpted lugs and relatively sleek profile evokes the silhouettes of the fighter jets it was designed to inhabit. This particular variant has been fully bead-blasted and is equipped with a bi-directional rotating countdown bezel, but a wide variety of other bezel types, treatments, and finishes, are all available at the buyer’s request. The BNL variant is fitted to a very high-quality heavy calf strap with matching yellow “BNL” stitching, which also comes alive under a UV light. It’s worth noting that only a single set of screwed bars is used to secure the strap ends to the lugs, despite there being four screws at each end of the case — likely just an aesthetic choice by designer Julien Thiebaud, but a cool one, nonetheless, which persists throughout the Type 23 collection.

Dodane Type 23 BNL Fighter Pilot's Watch Hands-On Hands-On

It’s a shame that the ani-digi is turning into something of an endangered species, particularly because this genus of watch fits my lifestyle perfectly. It travels extremely well, has enough functionality and water resistance to keep up when I get to wherever I’m going, and is certainly to be running throughout the entirety of the adventure – regardless of whether it’s on my wrist or awaiting deployment from my carry-on. And given its heritage, functionality, and finishing, I’d also argue that the Dodane Type 23 Quartz BNL is very competitively priced, starting at 1500 Euros (more than half the cost of its closest Swiss competitor still in production). You can learn more about it at dodane1857.com, or inquire at Dodane’s exclusive retailer, Page&Cooper.

Dodane Type 23 BNL Fighter Pilot's Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Explore

Comments

Disqus Debug thread_id: 7576503410

  • Ayreonaut

    I like it, but the slime yellow color is a deal breaker.

  • Correct – the story above explains exactly why. You should give it a read 😉

    • DanW94

      Love the passive/agressive response 🙂

      • Zach is always very polite!

        • DanW94

          Yes he is.

    • I read it, I understand it, and it makes perfect sense for professional pilots. On the other hand, if you’re marketing to civilians (which I am assuming is what they’re doing) then this doesn’t work as well.

      I am a huge ana-digi fan — my favourite watches are all ana-digi — and I understand the quirks of what works and what doesn’t (as a non-profesionnal at least).

      For example the single crown is nice for most functions, but changing the time is a nightmare! If it’s similar to the aerospace, you have to give a fast turn to change the hour, and a slower turn to change the minutes. Let’s just say it takes forever to accurately change the time as I miss the mark 9 times out of 10!

      So ana-digi really works best when you have more buttons/pushers.

      Also, the lack of backlight on a negative screen makes it completely unusable without bright direct light.

      One last thing is the accuracy which, is not very impressive compared to the competition.

      All in all it’s a pity because I REALLY LIKE the design, and would happily wear it even with these quirks! 🙂

      • You’re totally right, but I think the point I tried to make pretty clear above, is that Dodane doesn’t market this edition to civilians – this is built expressly for professional pilots. So while I understand a lot of elements for it don’t make sense for anyone not in that realm, it’s important to construct criticism through the lens of its intended audience. I chose this version for my hands-on, because there’s simply nothing else like it out there. How many “professional” tools (watches or otherwise) are actually quietly designed for armchair operators?

        • I like reading your reviews, and the way you explain things, so this is not a criticism in any way. I didn’t quite get that it was not marketed to civilians. I thought that it occupied the same space as the aerospace (terrible pun) of professional watches that civilians can also “enjoy”.

          One thing that is debatable is the “staggering” accuracy. At 1s/day it’s around 30s/month which is average at best, for a quartz. Compared to a COSC quartz that is 0.07s/day or a HAQ that is within 10s/year, this ETA is not in the superquartz category.

          That said, I still want it, and given the chance I will get one!

          • All good points, and as always, I enjoy the feedback. Good to have you around!

  • gwd

    Love it from the get-go. *Immediately scrolls to bottom to see the price* Mmm yeah, no.

  • Beautiful, will look for a diver. Those negative LCDs are illegible though.

    Oh, wait. Price.

  • Jan-Paul

    Nice, but if to choose between this and a good used Chopard Monaco Historique Time Attack MF for $ 200 or $ 300 more, it might be a though call for some. Superquartz like Breitling and a Chopard. From an esthetic point a view, both watches are pretty similar. https://www.ablogtowatch.com/chopard-monaco-historique-time-attack-mf-watch-review/

    • That Chopard is cool – in all my ana-digi research, I missed that one. Thanks for sharing!

  • Colt Foutz

    When you can see it, at least….

  • That’s so awesome to hear – the 23 GMT is very high on my list right now.

    • Robin Tobin

      Would love to read your guys take. Shame, you’re not in the UK – you could borrow mine! I read a lot of griping about price but I’m not sure what really compares – in terms of functionality; quality of construction; actual heritage etc etc. Anyway, look forward to you guys getting hold of one.

  • Drop files here or
    Accepted file types: jpg, png.