Speak of the name Breguet and images of ultra-complicated pocket watches and emblematic dress watches appear in your mind. At the same time, you’d probably be forgiven for not knowing that House Breguet has a significant history in aviation. Breguet first got involved in the aeronautical industry in the 1930s, developing instruments in response to the requirements of civilian and military aircraft. In this domain, the firm benefited from the kind assistance provided by one of the most outstanding aircraft builders of the time, none other than Louis Breguet, great-great grandson of Abraham-Louis (the brand’s founder). Louis Breguet, the aviation pioneer whose factories were some of the largest in the world at the time, was able to convince the watchmaking company that it was their duty to address the field of aviation. At a time when aviation was still in its infancy, contributing to the development of aerial navigation was as pertinent as helping to develop maritime navigation had been a century and a half earlier.
In the aftermath of the second world war, the French Ministry of Defense drew up specifications with a view to purchasing a large quantity of chronograph wristwatches for its Air Force, to be known as Type 20. Drawing on its experience in this area, Breguet expressed its interest and designed a model that was quickly approved by the authorities. The year was 1954 and the legend of the Type 20 had just begun. In the face of such success and high demand, the House of Breguet also produced a civilian version named Type XX, which would go on to be enjoyed by several generations of private pilots and those who were simply fans of chronographs.
Breguet Type XXI 3815
The Type XX was eventually discontinued and succeeded by the Type XXI, which is, in most angles, a modernised iteration of the Type XX. This year, Breguet has come up with what is arguably the most contemporary Type XXI yet, with bold colours and an atypical dial layout encased in titanium. Here, we bring you the low-down and our thoughts on the new Breguet Type XXI 3815.
The Case, Dial, and Hands
The case of the Type XXI 3815 is crafted in durable grade 5 titanium. While this is not the first time the metal has been used in the collection, it is still a fairly unusual choice of metal for manufactures like Breguet. Measuring 42 mm in diameter, the watch is significantly larger than it’s predecessor, the Type XX. But thanks to the lightweightness of titanium, the Type XXI 3815 wears like a watch a fraction of its size.
When in comes to pilot watches, there is hardly a specimen in the market that has a case that is as nuanced as the Type XXI 3815’s. The most eye-catching bit of the case is perhaps the bi-directional bezel, rendered in relief and coated with black lacquer. The case band is finely fluted like every modern Breguet wristwatch. And while the lugs are matte finished, the crown and chronograph pump pushers are mirror polished. This level of attention to detail is something you typically only get from prestigious manufacturers like Breguet.
Where things get a little spicy is on the dial. The most obvious change that Breguet has brought to the new Type XXI is in the use of boldly coloured lume for hour markers and hands. Customers of the brand can choose from either orange or green, with each colour limited to 250 pieces in production numbers. At first glance, the Type XXI 3815 looks like a chronograph with a classic bi-compax layout. But upon closer inspection, you’ll find that things aren’t quite what they seem. While the register at 9 o’clock does display the running seconds, the outsize sub-dial at 3 o’clock is for the 24-hour display, instead of the chronograph minutes that we’re used to. Interestingly, all of the timepiece’s chronograph functions – both seconds and minutes – are indicated centrally. This is arguably the most underrated quality of Type XXI model – wristwatches with centrally indicated chronograph minutes and seconds are amazingly rare.
Driving the new Type XXI 3815 is the 232-part, 26-jewel Calibre 584Q/A. The automatic movement has a respectable 48-hour power reserve and operates at a modern 4 Hz frequency. Its functions include the time, chronograph seconds and minutes, 24-hour indication, and date indication. Its other function is not immediately apparent unless you understand French or have heard of the term retour en vol (printed on the dial). Indeed, the Calibre 584Q/A has flyback functionality, which allows the running chronograph hands to be reset to zero and immediately restarted just by a single actuation of the reset pusher.
In spite of its old school Lemania-based architecture, the Calibre 584Q/A is thoroughly modern, with silicon escapement and hairspring, as well as freesprung balances. The finissage – as expected of a modern Breguet timepiece – is excellent. A look through the sapphire crystal case back reveals Geneva waves on the bridges, beveled and polished edges, polished screw heads, perlage on the base plate, circular grained wheels, and a hand-engraved winding rotor.
The Competitive Landscape
From tool watch enthusiasts to aviation buffs, plenty of demand exists for pilot watches. There is no shortage of brands that make them too, making this segment of the market fairly competitive. Breguet, with a rich history inextricably linked with aviation and an even richer history in watchmaking, is one of the major players in this market. The Type XX and its successors, the Type XXI and Type XXII, are household names. The new Type XXI 3815 is the latest in line to perpetuate the story of Breguet’s pilot watches and it is available with either orange or green lume. They are made in a limited run of 250 pieces each, is boutique-only, and come with a price tag of SGD21,400.
No discussion about pilot watches is ever truly complete without mentioning the IWC Pilot’s Chronograph. For 2021, IWC presented the Pilot’s Chronograh 41 with – you guessed it – a 41 mm case. They may lack the Type XXI’s 24-hour indicator, but gain a chronograph hour and day display. Clients can choose between blue or green dial, and bracelet or leather strap. The finissage on the Pilot’s Chrongoraph 41 may not be as fine as that on the Type XXI, but at about half the retail price of its Breguet counterpart, all is forgiven.
Another brand steeped in aviation history is Zenith, and its pilot watches today are some of the most charming. Of note is the Pilot Type 20 Chronograph Extra Special. The watch at 45 mm is oversized by today’s standards, but is actually truer to the average size of historical pilot watches which can span up to 55 mm. The reason is that pilot watches used to be worn over jacket sleeves. The huge onion crown and cathedral hands are also another nod to the brand’s aeronautical legacy. Though lacking in functionality other than the chronograph, the Pilot Type 20 Chronograph Extra Special more than makes up for it with its vintage-inspired design. Priced around the SGD10,000 ballpark, it is a worthy (and less costly) alternative to Breguet’s Type XXI.
In spite of its immensely rich watchmaking history, Breguet has never been one to shy away from taking controversial steps in order to “get with the times”, like when the brand began using silicon parts in its movements, over a decade ago. Though likely just a one-off cosmetic abberation, the Type XXI 3815’s bold-coloured lume is still going to be polarising. While some welcome variety and youthful twists, others feel that it is unbecoming of a bastion of traditional watchmaking like Breguet. Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that the Type XXI 3815 is a limited edition piece as Breguet looks to test waters.
All that said, there are some things about the new Type XXI 3815 that will be universally agreed upon: its elegant finissage, nuanced design, and solid watchmaking.