Some say it’s been a decade since Breguet last held a launch event as grand in scale as the one it dedicated to the premier of a pair of new Breguet Type XX (Type 20) watches. Held in Paris, France, and organized around a visit to the Paris-Le Bourget Aviation Museum where a number of Breguet planes and flight instruments are on display, along with a special gala at the Petite Palais, some 380 guests were on location for the big reveal. Strangely, the watch is as mixed as the crowd that attended. I wore an earlier Breguet Type XX Transatlantique 3820 on loan from a friend that provided a splendid opportunity for some comparisons — but first, the basics.
Ever since the French Ministry of Defense commissioned a chronograph in the 1950s, the history of the Breguet Type XX has been written by military (officially called Type 20, as per military requirements) and civilian (Type XX) variations on a much loved and somewhat generic pilot’s watch theme. The Breguet Type XX likely to be most widely recognized is the one that I brought along, the third and hitherto latest generation of Type XX chronograph watches. You’ll see it in yellow gold with a black dial in these images. Launched in 1995 with the no-date Aeronavale and followed by the date-equipped Transatlantique in 1998, the Type XX became a Breguet staple with its fluted case profile, excellent proportions, finely tuned (albeit cam-actuated) Lemania movement, and strong character in both steel and gold, and later in platinum and titanium.
In a somewhat surprising move, Breguet has not simply discontinued this finely aging Type XX 3800/3820 but has apparently abandoned it altogether. The new Breguet Type XX reference 2057 “military” (Type 20, green lume, two subdials) and 2067 “civilian” (Type XX, beige lume, three subdials) reach much further back in time for inspiration and find it with some of the earliest pieces that Breguet had provided to the French military (mostly, but not exclusively, its Air Force). Gone is the 38-39mm diameter of the third generation reference 3800/3820 in favor of a noticeably larger 42mm size, the same as the Type XXI.
Both versions of the 2023 Breguet Type XX have the same case size at 42mm-wide and 14.1mm-thick with a characteristic beveled lug design, relatively narrow bezel, wide dial, Arabic numerals, and both have what has turned out to be a highly controversial date display at 4:30 with the Swiss Made designation right under it. Unlike Breguet Type XX watches of old, the company (or rather Swatch Group) decided it would not launch a no-date version. Many brands across luxury conglomerates have reported to us over the years that their surveys and retailer reports tell them that their global customer base is overwhelmingly partial to having a date window, as opposed to having that feature “cheapened out” from their desired watch. Be that as it may, I doubt market research will soothe the outraged anti-date watch enthusiasts.
The new Type XX has its imperfections, but, strangely enough, it isn’t the existence and/or placement of its date window, nor the “Swiss Made” text written right under it that I’d add to that list. Its shortcomings we’ll come to below, but first, to address the date window situation on the Type XX, I will say this. It looks really quite obtrusive in images, and especially on some of the images and videos Breguet has debuted these two watches with. In the metal, however, and on the wrist, it truly is nowhere near as bad an issue as many make it out to be. Everyone is, of course, invited to participate in the bottomless date-window debate and can hate on this date window and others as much as they like — some appear as though they might never get it out of their system, even if such judgment might be wiser reserved until a watch is held in hand.
Would I prefer at least one of the new Breguet Type XX or Type 20 watches to be offered without the date? Absolutely. I’d even give Breguet a pass if it omitted the date without bothering to engineer out the 1st position of the crown to more elegantly adapt the movement to a non-date version. A single solid dial option would have likely saved this new collection from a lot of over-amplified criticism. The color-coordinated, large, legible 04:30 date window is often made out to be as though it’s so bad that it catches one’s sight every time you look at the watch. Well, having seen both versions in the metal, I can say that the date window (that, again, I too would prefer to not be there from a subjective design aspect) was never in my focus when I was looking at any other portion of the watch. Glancing down at the watch to read the time, it never jumped out from the series of green or beige indices, or from the sea of matte blackness that is the dial of the Breguet Type 20 2057 and Breguet Type XX 2067.
My issue with the new Breguet Type XX concerns not the dial but the execution of the stainless steel case, both in terms of its size and design. It is stunning how quickly the large watch trend has shifted — just a few years ago many would’ve cried out in a chorus stating “I’m not buying anything under 44mm or 45mm, how can this be just 42mm?!” By contrast, in today’s world, a 42mm-wide release is considered to be at least a couple millimeters too large. To be fair, this criticism is also valid from a historical approach: The Breguet Type 20 watches of the mid-1950s were 38mm-wide, a fact that the modern Breguet itself recognized with its pièce unique Only Watch Type XX in 2019. That watch looked a whole lot like today’s 2057 but measured not 42mm-wide, just 38mm-wide. Scaling the 4th generation Type XX collection down to 38-39mm-wide would have stayed true to the originals, pleased neo-vintage enthusiasts, and would be more in tune with the shifting trend to smaller-diameter luxury watches.
One of the reasons behind the increased diameter could be the thickness of the all-new Breguet Caliber 728 (7281 with triple subdials). Breguet and Swatch Group do not specify the thickness of the new movement, but it is safe to call it a relatively tall construction, as all movements are in its segment that are fitted with a self-winding system, vertical clutch, extended power reserve, and date. The resulting case thickness for the new Breguet Type XX is 14.1mm — a measurement that does not exactly go well with a 40mm, let alone 38mm case diameter. The only exception in this segment would be the Rolex Daytona and its Caliber 4130/4131. However, that does not have a date display on any of its variations, shaving off at least a bit from the thickness of the movement, and the watch. The Daytona is over 2mm thinner and is considerably narrower at a quoted 40mm (actually 39mm) diameter.
Still, the Breguet Caliber 728 is an impressive new movement. Breguet has developed and filed a patent for a new pusher system where it adapted both the zero-reset mechanism and the vertical clutch in a way to ensure that “whatever function [start, stop, reset] is performed, the pressure felt on the pushers will be even and balanced.” Breguet also refers to “several patents” but does not disclose what they might be. The new Caliber 728 uses a high-energy-density mainspring in an enlarged barrel to achieve a 60-hour power reserve not with 4Hz, but an increased and impressive 5Hz operating frequency.
The balance spring, escape wheel, and pallet lever horns are crafted from silicon with “improved accuracy” — but, again, Breguet does not appear to make any specific claims with regard to the accuracy of the new Type XX or its 728/7281 movement. Sister-brand Omega and arch nemesis Rolex, along with many smaller brands, disclose the tolerances to which they hold their latest watches — Breguet, a brand that carries the name of one of the greatest watchmakers to have ever lived, might want to catch up in this regard, especially with such an impressive new high-frequency movement on hand.
Movement finishing is impressive, even in what appears to be an all-gray guise. Numerous parts are beveled and polished by hand, which is also how perlage is applied on some of the plates. Mirror-polished screw heads reflect like little flashlights all across the movement, and even the typography on that otherwise rather uninteresting and large plate appears to be bespoke and historic Breguet-inspired.
It’s been said countless times that Rolex has it easy, for all it has to do is keep making the same thing over and over again. Well, maybe it’s not that easy, after all. We will, perhaps, never know, but this potentially could have been a splendid opportunity for Breguet to just keep making the 3800-series Type XX. Having been quietly discontinued for a few years, marking its return with just the slightest of refining touches and a new movement within might have solidified the Type XX’s status as one of the modern icons from the late 20th-/early 21st-century luxury watch industry.
Instead, Breguet has joined what has become an incomprehensibly large pack of watch companies — from small to large manufactures and from historic to mushroom brands — that have, for years, been saturating the market with vintage-inspired watches, suffering no shortage of vintage-inspired military and pilot’s watches. Yes, Breguet has the pedigree and the archives that so many of its competitors don’t, but the crown jewel of the Swatch Group arguably has all that it takes to be able to own any and all of its recent designs, without having to go back quite so far into the past to justify a new product.
I do miss the fluting that so prominently decorated not just the side, but also in between the lugs on the 3800-series Type XX, although a whimsical and historically incorrect detail (actual military Type 20 watches didn’t have it). It’s such a Breguet-specific trait that simultaneously looks expensive, challenging to execute, and is immediately recognizable from afar. The latter is precisely what every brand in need of an “icon” so desperately wants these days — and Breguet had it with the 3800. To continue on this personal note, I join so many others in the call for a smaller case, not just because it is in tune with the latest trends, but also because it so perfectly befits an elegant manufacture such as Breguet — even when it’s making a “military” watch.
If there is one thing that perfectly describes every modern Breguet watch — even the most restrained two-hand dress watch — it is their character. They are unmistakable for this quality and are almost painfully desirable for so many of us watch enthusiasts. Those who will see it in the metal might come to agree that the new Type XX is not lacking in character, but that might not be enough to outweigh the lingering desire for something a little more playful and original (a little more 1990s) and a little less strict and generic (a little less 1950s).
The critical feedback the new Type XX has received implies high expectations for the brand, which in turn indicates just how highly people think of Breguet. That goes for not just Abraham-Louis Breguet, but also the Breguet of today. The overshoot on the size, the rather more simplistic case (at least when compared to the outgoing Type XX), and the divisive dial design make this an uncharacteristic proposition from Breguet.
However long or short this chapter in the 70-year story of the Type XX may be, Breguet remains one of the absolute greatest names not just in today’s watch industry, but in the history of watchmaking. The Breguet Type XX and Breguet Type 20 watches are priced at $18,000. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.