One of the most enduring types of classic watch designs are military timepieces intended for pilots. The golden era for this was the middle of the 20th century when a variety of companies would produce spec watches for military organizations around the world. Rather than come up with entirely original designs, brands would make products to fit rubric design specifications set forth by military organizations. One of the most famous types of military pilot watches during the 20th century was the Type 20 and, later, the Type 21 dial designations. Many companies produced watches with Type 20 or Type 21 dials, including Airain. Originally founded by the Dodane family (another brand that made these types of military aviation chronograph watches), Airain produced Type 20 and Type 21 watches in the 1950s and 1960s. Airain is back today under Dutch ownership but with proudly Swiss Made products. Airain has already released “re-edition” versions of  its Type 20 dial watches, and today, I review the Airain Type 21 Re-Edition reference 423.438 watch, which does a great job of offering a vintage military watch-wearing experience with entirely modern materials and construction.

The Airain Type 20 and Type 21 Re-Edition watches are similar in design, style, and price. They also both launched as limited-edition/limited-production models that Airain claims will later be part of its permanent collection. The original Type 21 dial designation was intended to be a slightly tweaked Type 20, with what I understand was a bit more focus on legibility and refinement. Practically speaking, your preference between the Type 20 and Type 21 dial is going to be a matter of taste. I prefer the Type 21, as the dial is just a bit simpler, more elegant, and more legible, to my eye.

Advertising Message

Some vintage-style watches feel thoroughly modern when worn and handled, and others are designed to replicate some of the look and actual feel of original models. The latter is the approach Airain took with the Type 20 and Type 21. The cases are modest in size, the designs are thankfully restrained, and the sapphire crystals over the dials are designed to look like an old acrylic crystal in terms of its shape and how the dial looks when viewed through it. Airain even decided to use a manually wound (versus automatic) movement to go with the “classic” wearing experience. Another benefit of using a manual movement is that it allows the case to be thinner.

The Airain Type 21 case is in polished steel, is 39mm wide (39.5mm wide at the bezel), and just 10.9mm thick (not including the crystal, which adds about two more millimeters). The case has a modest lug-to-lug length of 47.7mm and is water resistant to 50 meters (without a screw-down crown as that would make regular winding less convenient). This is a good opportunity to complement the crown design, which is comfortable to operate and doesn’t look disproportionately big in size.

The countdown bezel is an attractive and distinguishing feature of the Airain Type 21 case. It moves relatively securely even though it is bidirectional, and allows you to track or countdown anything you want using markers on the bezel. The matching steel-on-steel look of the bezel is visually appealing. Airain decided to use an “old radium” color for the luminant on the hands and hour markers. I am a fan of this color, as I find white to be too harsh. These khaki colors mixed with a black face always look pleasing to my eyes. There is little original about the dial design since most watch lovers are familiar with the chronograph dial look of Type 20 and Type 21 dials. With that said, Airain gets a lot of the details correct and succeeds in creating a sexy, historical, and still serious visage for the Type 21 Re-Edition.

Advertising Message

What is inside the Type 21? You can’t see the movement through the back of the case as Airain wanted the Type 21 to have a simple, instrument-style military watch caseback. The brand refers to the movement inside the Type 20 and Type 21 Re-Edition watches as the Airain AM2. This is a Sellita SW510-based modern chronograph movement, which has the automatic winding system removed and displays a 30-minute chronograph on the dial. It should be noted that the column-wheel controlled chronograph also has a flyback complication, which allows the chronograph to be immediately reset without having to be stopped first. The movement operates at 4Hz and has 63 hours of power reserve. Airain further claims that the movements are individually tested (to five positions) and regulated for peak accuracy and performance. I will admit that I prefer automatic-winding watches, but given the them here I don’t mind having to manually wind this timepiece since it is actually a pleasure to do so.

The Type 21 Re-Edition is not a budget watch, and accordingly, Airain includes high-end packaging as well as an extra strap light brown suede strap option. Airain even includes two different buckles that you can swap out, although I would have preferred if the brown strap did not require the exact same hardware as the black strap. That means if you want to swap out the straps regularly, you also have to swap out the buckle hardware – which isn’t ideal. It should not be a complicated fix for Airain to include just a few extra small metal parts in the kit to solve this issue.

Even if you have little interest in military aviation history or care that Airain used to supply timepieces to the French military, the Type 21 can be a very satisfying product. These types of classic-looking sports watches are enduringly popular because they are fashionable and rarely inappropriate for a setting. Mid-20th century “professional” watches of this type endure today in many forms whether they were designed for divers, drivers, flyers, or fighters. Conservative good looks, a slight air of adventure and class, and enthusiast appeal help make timepieces like the Airain Type 21 a success. I’ve certainly found it an easy choice to wear given its modern durability, sensible size, and casual style. Price for the Airain Type 21 Re-Edition reference 423.438 watch is $3,196 USD. For more information, please visit the Airain website.

Necessary Data
>Brand: Airain
>Model: Type 21 Re-Edition reference 423.438
>Price: $3,196 USD
>Size: 39.5mm wide (with bezel), 1o.9mm thick (without crystal), 47.7mm long lug-to-lug distance
>When reviewer would personally wear it: As casual wearing sports or social watch thanks to its timeless style and simplicity.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Military or aviation history lovers who have a hole in their collection of a Type 20 or Type 21 dial timepiece.
>Best characteristic of watch: Excellent fit and finish along with offering a vintage style in a modern wristwatch. Comfortable to wear, nice kit, and legible dial. Will still look fashionable years from now.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Vintage-style sapphire crystal shape adds glare, but not much. Still a bit thick despite having manually wound movement. Should supply buckle hardware for both straps.

Advertising Message

Subscribe to our Newsletter