HANDS-ON: The stylish pilot – Breguet’s Type XXI 3817

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Turns out that Breguet, not content with nailing the brief when it comes to dress watches and innovating left, right and centre are also quite the dab hand when it comes to pilot’s watches. And they’re no Johnny-come-latelies at the genre, either. In fact, in the early 20th century, Abraham Louis Breguet’s grandson – Louis Charles Breguet – made planes under the name of Breguet Aviation. There is no connection, however, between Louis Charles’ aeronautical business and the Type 20 chronograph that inspired the Type XXI 3817 that we’re looking at today.

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It’s important to note that Type 20 and 21 chronographs used by the French Air Force in the early ’50s were made by a variety of suppliers. A group of six brands produced them according to a set of minimum requirements covering off form and function, with key features being the flyback chronograph, rotating 12-hour bezel and some fairly rigorous accuracy requirements. Of those brands that made these (super stylish, it must be said) tool watches, Breguet’s examples are the most coveted by collectors today.

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In the ’90s, Breguet realised the potential of this design, releasing a civilian version – the Type XX – in 1995, with the larger Type XXI following in 2004. We’ve seen many variations on these in the subsequent years, but 2016’s Type XXI 3817, with its world-weary dial and perfectly proportioned case, is perhaps the most handsome yet.

For me, what stood out first was the old-world Arabic numerals, in slightly aged luminous material. The fact the colour of the hands and bezel pip is mismatched by a shade or two only makes it look even better, while the dial in slate grey rather than black makes this a more low-key proposition. You’ll notice the subdial at three has some discreet altimeter-style markings – this indicator is actually a 24-hour time display and the markings are very subtle day/night indicator. Meanwhile, the 42mm steel case features Breguet’s characteristic fluted middle caseband, which doesn’t look out of place thanks to the similarly notched bezel.

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The view is just as fine from behind, with the calibre 584 Q/2 on full display – and what a movement. Based on a decades-old Lemania calibre, executed in Breguet’s typically top-notch style, with classical movement design paired with silicon technology, this is the first time one of their pilot’s watches has had a clear caseback, and we’re glad it’s happened. That guilloche-inspired gold rotor alone is worth the price of admission.

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Simply put, if you’re on the hunt for a pilot’s watch that offers history, heritage style and all-round hotness, then the search is over: the Breguet Type XXI 3817 takes us back to a time when air travel was both chic and daring.

Breguet Type XXI 3817 Australian pricing

Breguet Type XXI 3817, steel on leather, $17,800.

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