The exhibition called “Breguet: Watchmaker, Aviator, Innovator” consisting of rare aeronautical timepieces constructed by Breguet, one of the most praised watchmaking brands in the world, is currently open in New York City. It displays the most significant pilot’s watches made by Breguet in the period of nearly 100 years. Ten vintage timekeepers which are showcased in the exhibition are presented in the U.S. for the first time. Breguet started producing pilot’s watches and cockpit chronographs in 1918, and since then, it has launched iconic aeronautical watch series, such as two generations of Type XX timekeepers, a military series introduced during the 1950s and the civilian version of it launched in the 1960s. The latest pilots watch by the famous French brand, included in the exhibited line-up, is the masterpiece of micro-mechanics, Breguet Type XXII watch which runs on the astonishingly high frequency of 10 Hz (72,000 vph).
Watchmaking and Aeronautical Creations of the Breguet Family
The exhibition includes 26 pieces that tell one aspect of the story about the brand’s ties to aeronautics. In fact, the connections of the Breguet family and aviation are not only limited to the manufacture of the instruments for pilots. The main figure of these links is Louis Charles Breguet, the grandson of legendary Abraham Louis Breguet, the greatest watchmaker of his era and the founder of the brand. Just like his grandfather who is the one of the greatest innovators in the history of watchmaking, the creator of tourbillon complication among many other groundbreaking feats, Louis Charles Breguet is also known for his advanced designs. However, the area of his expertise was the creation of aircrafts. The grandson of the brand’s founder made his first airplane with fixed winged wings in 1909. One of his products, the bomber Breguet 14, is the most famous military aircraft made by the French.
Roughly at the same time as Louis Charles Breguet started presenting his prototypes of aircrafts, in the period of the development of aeronautics, a new kind of watches was necessary. The especially handy feature of these watches was the chronograph function which allowed the measurement of intervals in time. This complication becomes even simpler to utilize and less time consuming when the watch has a fly-back chronograph which enables instant stopping, resetting and restarting of the chrono. Exactly this type of mechanical movement, first introduced by the company in the 1930s, became the base of the military edition of the legendary pilots watch with the code name Type 20.
Military Origin and Civilian Reinterpretation
The iconic timepiece was constructed by the brand following the instruction of the Ministry of War which desired an accurate and dependent wristwatch with a chrono function. Breguet complied to request and in 1954 became the official timekeeper of the French Air Force, as well as the Navy and the CEV (Centre d’Essai en Vol) of Bretigny which is the central national agency responsible for testing and approving of all new aircraft types. The first incarnation of Type 20 timepiece was reserved exclusively for military pilots all the way from 1954 to 1960.
An important moment in the collaboration comes in 1958 when French Naval Aviation requested 500 models which would, unlike the regular models with 30-minute chrono counter, have a 15-minute subsidiary dial, since a quarter of an hour matches the period that is required to properly check the plane before the launch. The first incarnation of the Type 20 watch with these specifications was unveiled two years later, in 1960, when Breguet presented the chronographs that bore the inscription “Marine Nationale Aeronautique Navale”.
Another embodiment of Breguet with the national agencies was made in 1950, when the CEV commissioned 500 models with two chrono sub-counters and 50 more with three registers. Unlike most models with three subsidiary dials, these Breguet models also have 15-minute counters. The first model made for the CEV that is featured in the show has three counters on its one-of-a-kind brown dial, while its case back reveals markings that say “CEV 1″. Its bezel is engraved with hour markers. The initial watch in the series was the property of the CEV’s director, Louis Bonte.
In 1960, Breguet Type 20 watches finally became available to civilians. The name was officially changed to Type XX, and offered timepieces with different bezels and dials than the original ones. Type XX Breguet chronographs, or the second generation of the model, were made with thicker black Bakelite bezels and bigger lugs. The third 12-hour chrono counter is also the standard feature of the second incarnation of the pilot’s watch made by the renowned French company.
Type XXII – Automatic Flyback 1/10th of a Second Chronograph with Second Time Zone Feature
One of the central pieces that are featured on the exhibition named “Breguet – Watchmaker, Aviator, Innovator” is Breguet Type XXII chronograph with the reference 3880 ST. It is a very special horological creation, first presented two years ago. The feat of micro-mechanics by Breguet has a self-winding movement that beats at the amazing high frequency of 10 Hz (72,000 vph). The automatic caliber is made with a silicon escapement and a flat balance spring. The input of lightweight silicon components is an ingenious solution because it eliminates the need for lubrication, which is the weak spot of high-frequency movements.
Central Chrono Second Hand that Makes a Full Rotation in 30 Seconds
The Breguet pilot’s timekeeper has a flyback chronograph function with the precision of 1/10th of a second, while the central chronograph seconds hand makes a full revolution is 30 seconds. It might be a bit tricky to get used to this manner of measurement. However, once the wearer is well adjusted to this kind of display, it is possible to make use of its ability to express the measured period twice as accurate than on a regular chronograph. The timepiece also includes a second time zone feature, represented on a 24-hour scale on the right side of the dial.
The exhibition was initially displayed at the Intrepid Museum in New York with the presence of the head managers of the brand and 300 selected VIP Guests. The Exhibition is currently set at the Breguet Boutique at 711 Fifth Avenue and is open to public. The awesome selection of iconic Breguet’s pilot watches will be in the Big Apple until 8 July. Afterwards, the exhibition shall be displayed in Florida and California.