There are many watches that can be named iconic or emblematic. Each category has its cult watches – the Submariner for divers, the Speedmaster for racing chronographs and the Calatrava for dress watches. Few can rival the aura of the Type XX watches when it comes to pilot’s watches, specifically pilot’s chronographs. As we speak, Breguet is somewhat dormant on this topic, and only Airain seems to have an appealing re-edition to please collectors. Well, there’s a third option to look at now. Indeed, Massena LAB, the design studio headed by William Massena, is on a mission to revive Mathey-Tissot Type XX to its former glory… And their collaboration seems to have resulted in something very attractive.
The Type XX and Mathey-Tissot
Contrary to what many believe, the Type XX or Type 20 watches are not the sole property of Breguet. In fact, the name doesn’t even refer to a model but to a set of specifications for the creation of a pilot’s chronograph for the French Ministry of Defense. Type 20 (military versions) and Type XX (civilian versions) watches were designed after precise requirements, which include a flyback function, or retour en vol, which allowed a pilot to instantaneously restart a running chronograph without the need to stop, reset, and then restart. Other specifications included a black dial with large, luminous Arabic numerals and two registers at 3 and 9 o’clock; a bidirectional, 12-hour rotation bezel; and a power reserve of at least 35 hours (more on that topic here).
In addition to the most famous of all the contractors – Breguet – other brands manufactured watches according to this specification, including Dodane, Auricoste, Mathey Tissot, Airain, and Vixa. The most interesting part is to come… While Breguet models are often regarded as the most collectable of them all, it is now quite acceptable to say that probably none of the 2,000 watches delivered by Breguet to the French government was actually manufactured by Breguet. The reality is this: in 1954, Breguet received a military contract to supply the MOD with 2,000 Type 20 watches. Still based in France and with only limited time to fulfil the government’s contract, Breguet asked watchmakers in Switzerland to produce the Type 20. And so, the watches were produced by Mathey-Tissot, which manufactured watches under Breguet’s name and also under its own name.
With this in mind, and being a Frenchman himself, William Massena is known for loving the Type XX/Type 20 watches and found a way to revive them under the name Mathey-Tissot, with a very faithful approach to design, yet with modern pragmatism and value in mind. The result is a pair of very handsome watches that are absolutely faithful to the original models but mechanically modernised and fairly priced.
The Type XX Flyback Chronograph
The first of the two Mathey-Tissot Type XX released by Massena LAB is, without a doubt, the most faithful of the lot. Not because it’s differently designed but because it’s the only one to come with the all-important retour en vol complication. And, in my books, as someone passionate about the Type XX watches, it makes all the difference.
The job undertaken by Mathey-Tissot and Massena LAB is rather impressive. The watch is basically a one-to-one reproduction of the original models, at least regarding looks. It starts with the case, which retains the same old-school diameter of 38.5mm and the same distinctive short, bevelled lugs and combination of brushed and polished surfaces. In the same vein, the dial is framed by a bi-directional, no-click (continuous rotation), 12-hour bezel with an engraved scale, and the right side comes with its oversized crown and a pair of large pump pushers. The back of the watch is also faithful, and its 12-sided profile is screwed.
Under a highly domed mineral glass with an anti-reflective and sapphire coating is a dial that, just like the case, is all about originality. The bi-compax layout has been chosen here (tri-compax models also existed) and comes on a matte, slightly grained black dial. The two registers are identical to the vintage watches, with small seconds at 9 o’clock and the signature “big-eye” 15-minute totaliser at 3 o’clock, with its emblematic pear-shaped hand and elongated markers. The dial features classic large, coffee-coloured Arabic numerals, painted with soft layers of lume, which matches the white-painted handset.
Modernity is found in the movement. The originals were powered by flyback, column-wheel Valjoux movements. Now, in order to keep the price reasonable, the Mathey-Tissot Type XX Flyback Chronograph relies on a more contemporary movement, the Arola calibre 7750 FlyB made by Rochat & Fils. An evolution of the classic Valjoux ébauche, this automatic movement features a flyback complication, beats at 4Hz and stores up to 48 hours of power reserve.
The Massena LAB x Mathey Tissot Type XX Flyback Chronograph is a limited edition of 25 pieces, delivered in a presentation box with two brown calfskin straps, a Bund style strap, as well as a classic, two-piece strap.
Quick facts: 38.5mm x 14.6mm – steel case, bi-directional 12-hour bezel, mineral glass – black dial, coffee-coloured, oversized, luminous, Arabic numerals – self-winding, Arola calibre 7750 FlyB, 4Hz, flyback chronograph – 2 leather straps included – 25 pieces – USD 2,995
The Type XX Tribute Chronograph
In addition to this Flyback re-edition, Massena LAB and Mathey-Tissot are also releasing a slightly simpler model, without the retour en vol, but at an even more accessible price, the Type XX Tribute Chronograph.
The case of this simpler edition is almost entirely identical, only with minor differences on the caseback. What changes is the dial, which is said to be inspired by William Massena’s own vintage Breguet Type 20. As such, the dial has a brown, tropical-like colour that is reminiscent of patinated vintage watches. Although the watch relies on the same sub-counters, hands and tracks, the coffee-coloured Arabic numerals are slightly smaller. Other than that, everything that was found on the Flyback version is retained.
Under the screwed caseback beats a tried-and-tested movement, the hand-wound Sellita calibre SW511 M BH b – a clone of the hand-wound Valjoux movement. If it doesn’t come with a flyback function and is just a regular chronograph, it compensates with its historically accurate manual winding and an extended power reserve of 63 hours.
Just like above, the Massena LAB x Mathey Tissot Type XX Tribute Chronograph is delivered with two brown calfskin straps – a Bund and a classic two-piece. This version is limited to 99 pieces.
Quick facts: 38.5mm x 14.6mm – steel case, bi-directional 12-hour bezel, mineral glass – brown dial, coffee-coloured, luminous, Arabic numerals – hand-wound Sellita calibre SW511 M BH b, 4Hz, cam-lever chronograph – 2 leather straps included – 99 pieces – USD 1,995
Availability & Price
As mentioned, the Massena LAB x Mathey Tissot Type XX Flyback Chronograph is a limited edition of 25 pieces and priced at USD 2,995, while the Type XX Tribute Chronograph is limited to 99 pieces and priced at USD 1,995 – which is quite a fair price for limited-edition chronographs.
Both models are available now exclusively from www.massenalab.com.