A Stainless-Steel Chronograph from a High Horology Brand for Half the Price of a Daytona
April 5, 2023
The compelling case for the Breguet Type XX/XXI/XXII collection
Breguet is known for some of the most traditional dress watches on the market–the brand's recognizable design codes are, for the most part, rooted in the late eighteenth-century classicism of its founder's active years. Given this reputation, when thinking about luxury stainless-steel sports chronographs, Breguet is likely one of the last names that come to mind. If you didn't know, the brand does indeed produce several sports chronographs, namely the Type XX, XXI, and XXII. Several of these commonly overlooked models can compete with (and even defeat) the likes of the IWC Big Pilot Chronograph and Rolex Daytona both in terms of price and quality. In a luxury market crowded with these more recognizable chronographs, the Type XX, XXI, and XXII offer a compelling value proposition.
A Rich History
The story of the Type XX begins in the 1950s. "Type" refers to the specification sheet sent by the French Ministry of Defense for a large order of flyback chronographs (known as "Type 20"). The flyback function allowed the chronograph hand to jump to 12 and continue running when the pusher was engaged, meaning pilots could take measurements for calculations without losing time resetting the chronograph hand. Such a loss would be far more important when traveling at 100s of miles per hour. Breguet also produced civilian versions of the chronograph under the Type XX name. The Type XX as we know it today was revived in the mid-1990s.
In the early 2000s, Breguet introduced the Type XXI. This model differed from the original Type XX in its larger case and inclusion of centrally mounted coaxial seconds and minutes hands to track elapsed time. In 2010, Breguet announced the Type XXII. In comparison to the XX and XXI, the XXII was far more ambitious. The 44-millimeter case housed the 10-hertz caliber 589 F which was among the first watches to make use of a silicon escapement. The impressively high beat rate yielded greater timing precision. This model is still available at retail today. The Type XXI saw an update in 2016, gaining larger numerals, a brushed and engraved bezel, and a new movement.
Vintage Design with Modern Appeal
While the design of the original chronographs issued to the French military has been modernized, many of its defining elements remain the same. The old and new share large Arabic numerals, a dark dial, luminous hands and markers, and a fluted rotating bezel. One of the most noticeable changes is the bezel engraving. The original bezel was either numberless or had an engraved 12-hour scale. Today, the Type XX, XXI, and XXII all opt for an engraved 60-minute scale, with modern versions of the XXI and XXII receiving a brushed finish.
The dial is far more complex than the Type 20s of the '50s. The modern Type XX retains the original position of the small seconds sub-dial and 30-minute totalizer, though it adds a 12-hour totalizer at six o'clock. The XXI and XXII both feature a centrally mounted minute totalizer. The XXI includes a 12-hour totalizer at six and a 24-hour day/night indicator at three while the XXII totals the minutes with a sub-dial at three and includes a second time zone at six. The inclusion of a date window also varies from model to model; the XX is available in both calendar and no-calendar variants (the Transatlantique and Aeronavale, respectively) while all Type XXI and XXII models have a date window at six.
The case has also undergone a significant upgrade. Across the board, the diameter has been upsized from the original 38 millimeters. As is true of its dial, the Type XX stays closer to the original design with a diameter of 39 millimeters. The Type XXI has a bit more wrist presence, measuring in at 42 millimeters. The Type XXII, the sportiest of the bunch, has a sizable 44-millimeter case.
When deciding between the models, the biggest factors will be the movement and case size. The XXII's movement is far more complex, though this comes with a much larger case. The Lemania 1350-based caliber 582 inside the Type XX is a bit simpler than the caliber 584 inside modern Type XXI models. That said, appearance may play a part. The XXII looks a bit more like a racing chronograph with its detailed graduations and sporty red accents in the strap stitching, dial markers, chronograph hand, and numerals. The main aesthetic difference between the XX and XXI is the dial. The XXI simply features much larger numerals and recessed sub-dials while the XX does not. All have very charming vintage appeal.
The Quality of High Horology for a Fraction of the Price
The most enticing part about the Type XX/XXI/XXII model family is the price to quality ratio. This factor gives the collection a highly advantageous position in the luxury chronograph market. Sure, Rolex is known for making some of the highest quality watches around. But when compared to the world of high horology, there is a noticeable gap. Similar gaps exist between aviation chronographs from IWC and Breitling. They're all great watches, but they simply aren't Breguets.
A simple look through the sapphire crystal caseback of the 3817 tells you all that you need to know. As with any Breguet, the movement finishing is exquisite–the caliber 584 Q/2's crisp Côtes de Genève, flawless anglage, and 18 karat gold oscillating weight trump the Daytona's utilitarian finishing. The caliber holds its own technically as well; the Type XX, XXI, and XXII are flyback chronographs, meaning the chronograph hand will fly back to 12 and continue ticking with the single press of a pusher. That being said, the quality of movement depends on the model. The caliber 582 in the Type XX is less attractive than the 584 Q/2 and the 584 Q and Q/A lack the gold rotor. Still, when price is accounted for, these are fairly minor factors.
Despite being priced around $15,000 and up at retail, the Type XXI can be found for less than $12,000 on the secondary market. Some Type XX models sell for south of $7,000. The Type XXII can be had for roughly several thousand less than its over $21,000 retail price. When considering the fact that these watches are Breguets, they punch well above their weight. Simply put, if you want a luxury stainless-steel chronograph, the Type XX, XXI, and XXII are hard to beat.
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