Hands-On: Breguet Type 20 for Only Watch 2019

A convincing and pleasing remake.

Breguet’s contribution to the most recent Only Watch auction in 2017 was a unique, enlarged version of its inventive in-line perpetual calendar that had the calendar indications arranged in a column vertically across the dial. Though clever and unusual, the watch was probably too esoteric and classical for current tastes, and it sold for 110,000 Swiss francs, just 10% above the high estimate, reputedly to a discerning collector in Australia.

This year’s upcoming Only Watch, however, includes a very different Breguet that should sell for a multiple of its estimate. The Type 20 for Only Watch 2019 is essentially a spot-on replica of the two-register aviator’s chronograph Breguet supplied to the French military from the mid 1950s – exactly the type of watch that is desirable now.

Specifically, it’s a remake of the first generation Type 20, which was marked “5101/54” on the case back, denoting the order number, “5101”, and the year of 1954. More specifically, it’s based on the Type 20 made for the French air force, distinguished by equal-sized sub-dials; watches for the naval air arm had oversized minute counters.

Named after the French military specification for pilot’s chronographs, itself derived from the Second World War German air force chronograph design, the original Type 20s were produced by a variety of watchmakers, including Vixa, Dodane, and Auricoste. Breguet examples, however, are the most valuable. Note that “Type XX” refers to the same watches made for the civilian market, a label that continues with the modern-day models.

Military reissued 

The last time Breguet created a one-off pilot’s chronograph for Only Watch was in 2015, with the oversized and slightly overweight Type XXI in platinum. In contrast, this year’s Type 20 is a compact watch that channels the looks and feel of the vintage original.

Almost exactly the same size as the vintage examples, the Type 20 is light and compact. And it also retains all the details of the originals, giving it a convincing retro feel.

The case has an oversized, onion-shaped crown, matched with a bidirectional, knurled bezel, both exacting in reproducing the look of the originals.

And more importantly, Breguet got the lugs right, recreating one of the distinctive details of the vintage Type 20. The lugs are short, with a broad, almost brutal, bevel on the top edge that’s wide at the tip and narrows towards the case.

The dial is a rich chocolate brown, meant to recreate the look of certain vintage examples that have “tropical” dials, where the original black lacquer degrades to brown. And it’s matched with ivory Super-Luminova, which again mimics the look of the radium paint on the originals.

Generally I’m not a fan of mock-aged dials, but this is well executed and doesn’t really feel like a remake per se. But because the dial is so brown, really the colour of milk chocolate, it does not come across as a “tropical” dial, as the recent Longines Legend Diver does for instance. It’s just a chocolate dial. More significantly, the dial leaves the door open for Breguet to introduce a regular production model with a black dial.

One element that was not found on the vintage military-issue Type 20 was the Breguet logo. Most air force-issue watches had unsigned, or “sterile”, dials; only chronographs destined for the naval air arm or civilian market sported the signature at 12 o’clock. The Type 20 remake is signed, but it’s an acceptable concession by Breguet, which did the same thing for its replica of Winston Churchill’s pocket watch featured in the 2018 film Darkest Hour.

The back of the watch is polygonal and screw-down, as it was on the vintage examples. But it has been engraved with branding and commemorative text, the only weakness of the watch because of the typography used.

The engraving is modern in style – sharp and well defined – and done in a simple sans serif font that looks too plain, especially given the versatility of current engraving techniques.

Yet it is not as simple or coarse as the engraving or stamping on the vintage originals, which had the specification and issue numbers on the back. Reproducing the look of the simplistic and slightly crude markings of the originals would have made it perfect.

Valjoux vs Valjoux

Some vintage remakes rely on period correct movements, in other words, the exact same movement found in the original. The Type 20 instead uses a close relative of the original.

Under the case back is a Valjoux 235 from the 1970s that’s been restored to fine working order. Breguet has no details on how the movement is finished, but presumably it has a functional, fuss-free finish just like the military originals.

The Valjoux 235 is a 13”’ calibre that’s part of the Valjoux 23 family of movements. Classical in construction, the movements feature both a column wheel and horizontal coupling.

The movements were well regarded enough to be widely used by various brands in the second half of the 20th century. The Valjoux 23 was the base for the Patek Philippe 13-130 movement that powered illustrious models like the refs. 130, 1463, 1518, and 2499. Other variants of the movement include the Valjoux 72, best known for being inside the hand-wound Rolex Daytona.

A dressed up version of the Valjoux 23 – the Patek Philippe 13-130 movement inside the ref. 3670A

Notably, the Valjoux 23 was introduced in the mid 1970s as an improved version of the earlier generation of movements, the Valjoux 22. The flyback variant of that, the Valjoux 222, powered the original Type 20. The Valjoux 22 movements had a slower beat rate – 18,000 beats per hour (bph) against 21,600bph – as well as a larger diameter of 14”’, or about 31mm.

Concluding thoughts

As far as remakes go, the Type 20 extremely well done. It’s by no mean imaginative, but conveys the feel of the original, managing to incorporate all the right details. With a high estimate starting of 50,000 Swiss francs, it should comfortably top that by some margin; about 100,000 francs would be my guess.

More interesting is what will come of this model after Only Watch – might Breguet have something based on the Type 2020 lined up for 2020?

Key facts and price

Breguet Type 20 Only Watch 2019
Reference 2055ST/Z5/398

Diameter: 38.3mm
Height: 13.9mm
Material: Stainless steel
Water resistance: 30m

Movement: Valjoux 235
Functions: Time, flyback chronograph
Frequency: 21,600bph (3Hz)
Winding: Manual wind
Power reserve: 45 hours

Strap: Calfskin with steel pin buckle

Estimated at 35,000-50,000 Swiss francs, the Breguet Type 20 Only Watch 2019 is lot 27 in Only Watch 2019. The auction happens on November 9, 2019 at the Christie’s saleroom in the Four Seasons Geneva. For more, visit Onlywatch.com.

Update November 11, 2019: the Breguet Type 20 sold for 210,000 Swiss francs, with no fees since it was a charity auction.

Back to top.

You may also enjoy these.