Airain, the heritage watch brand that made a triumphant return in 2020 with their Type 20 reissue, is back with a new spin on the popular (and historic) chronograph that gives it a sleek and under the radar look. Airain, you might remember, is one of the original French manufacturers of the Type 20 chronograph, the military aviator’s watch issued to French pilots in the 1950s and 60s. Several watchmakers were contracted by the French Ministry of Defense to produce the watches to spec, including Mathey Tissot, Dodane, and, most famously, Breguet. Vintage examples of the Type 20 are highly collectible, and Breguet of course still produces a variety of excellent chronographs under the moniker. Brands like Hemel and Massena LAB have also gotten in on the Type 20 action recently, which might harken a boom in interest in these very specific chronographs.
The specificity, I think, is part of the charm. Like other watches built for military purposes, the Type 20 was made to a certain standard, with certain key features, regardless of the manufacturer that actually produced it. In the case of the Type 20, those requirements included a black dial with registers at 3:00 and 6:00, giving the wearer the ability to time events up to 30 minutes in duration, along with a 38mm case diameter, a rotating 12 hour bezel, lumed hands and Arabic numerals, and accuracy to within 8 seconds per day. The other key feature was that the chronograph needed to have flyback functionality, a requirement that adds a slightly more complex wrinkle into making a modern version of the Type 20 that meets all of the major standards of the original watch.
For Airain’s latest version of the Type 20, dubbed the Furtivité Limited Edition (Furtivité is French for “stealth”) the case has been given a DLC coating that results in a beautiful gray finish. It immediately makes the watch feel more contemporary and tactical than previous versions in steel, and I really like the contrast between the vintage aesthetic of the dial and case shape with the overtly modern anthracite coating. In a small concession to reproducing a watch under the original Type 20 specs, the new Furtivité variant has also been given a gray dial to nearly match the tone of the case. The completely monochromatic look is great, although I think some collectors might have good natured disagreements over the combination of beige “faux-tina” lume on the Arabic numerals and hour/minute hands clashing with the stark white hands and type in both sub registers.
A positive development with this new version of the Type 20 is that it includes a pair of update sthat would seem to indicate Airain plans to stick around for a bit, and that they have something of a vision beyond simply reissuing new versions of old watches. One change, based on customer feedback, is that the crystal is now sapphire rather than acrylic, which should lend a certain amount of additional durability to the watch in most use cases. Secondly, due to supplier constraints, they’ve opted to switch from the La Joux-Perret built flyback chronograph movement in the earlier versions of the watch and gone with a caliber with the same functionality built by Manufacture AMT, a branch of Sellita that is responsible for higher grade movements. It would have been easy for Airain to compromise and put a less expensive chronograph movement in these watches without flyback functionality, but they appear to have an understanding of what makes these watches special to collectors and enthusiasts, and have taken a more forward thinking approach. The new caliber is manually wound, uses a column wheel mechanism, and has around 63 hours of power reserve.
Pre-orders for the new Furtivité Limited Edition are open now, with delivery expected in the fourth quarter of this year. The Furtivité is limited to 134 pieces, but it’s worth noting that along with this LE, Airain has introduced a “permanent” version of the standard black dialed Type 20 with the same movement change and sapphire crystal upgrade. The retail price for the Furtivité is € 2900, while the black dialed, non-DLC version is € 2650. Airain