Breguet is not known as a manufacturer of military watches, quite the contrary in fact, and yet, its solitary effort in the genre produced one of the most desirable military chronographs of the 20th century.
Breguet’s Type XX was one of several models produced according to a technical specification released by the French Ministry of Defense in the 1950s. Auricoste, Dodane and Vixa also supplied the French military.
We cannot say with any certainty what was in this specification, as there is no record of it, but looking at the models that were supplied, we can deduce from their similarities that the case diameter of the watch had to be 38mm and that it should come with bi-directional rotating bezel, that the dial should be black with easily readable Arabic numerals and luminescent hands and indexes, and most of all, that the movement should come with a flyback complication.
Breguet supplied a first batch of Type XX wristwatches in 1954 and continued supplying the French military until the beginning of 1970s. The model evolved over time as the specifications and recipients of the watches changed and we are left with a wide variety of examples, each one carrying its own set of idiosyncrasies.
The first generation was a simple two-register chronograph with an onion crown, a reeded bezel, and the Breguet name engraved at the back, along with the model name and reference, and the year the watch was ordered. Models that followed would be fitted with a graduated bezel, and Breguet would also produce Type XX watches with more complicated movements for specific branches of the military. Ironically, many of the ones that have resurfaced were originally bought by French pilots through private means.
In parallel to the production of military watches, which kept the company afloat during a rough period for watchmakers, Breguet also made civilian versions of its Type XX. These were made in much smaller quantities and their rarity and condition makes finding them today just as satisfying as finding one that was issued.
The present model is one of those civilian Type XX models. Manufactured in 1967, and sold on January 26, 1968, it is based on the extremely rare three-register chronograph issued to the Centre d’Essais en Vol (CEV) in the 1960s.
The watch features a large and attractive 15-minute counter at 3 o’clock with five luminous markers at each 3-minute interval, seconds at 9 o’clock, and an additional 12-hour counter positioned at 6 o’clock. Most of the CEV models feature only two registers.
You may remember a similar watch from our Stop-Start- Reset sale, a Mathey-Tissot Type XX prototype. This isn’t surprising, since it was Mathey-Tissot who manufactured and assembled Breguet’s Type XX.
The case measures 38.5mm, the standard size for Type 20 chronographs, and shows very few signs of wear, retaining the extremely sharp facets and edges, as delivered by the factory five decades ago.
Exactly fifty years later, its dial has gone tropical, turning from black to a warm chocolate brown colour, while the luminous Arabic numerals and hands have also aged to a pleasing dark beige tone.
What makes this particular model even more exceptional is that it was found with its hand-set still intact. Many military issued examples had their feuille de sauge hands replaced with lighter hands during maintenance in order to reduce reset times, but Breguet’s decision to sell this example to a private client significantly reduced its chances of meeting the same fate.
This Breguet Type XX will be offered in our inaugural New York sale, Winning Icons: Legendary Watches of the 20th Century, on October 26.