Hands-On With The Period Correct Airain Type 20 Flyback Chronograph

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Earlier this year we brought you news of the Airain Type 20 pilot’s watch making a return in the form of a faithful re-issue. Here was a historically significant, and era accurate (mostly) Type 20 brought back to life thanks to the folks that got Airain’s OG sister brand, Lebois & Co back on their feet in 2014. That means a sub 40mm case, a function-first dial spec, and a manual winding flyback chronograph movement. Best of all, it looks as sharp as the original, and is being offered for under $3k. 

There’s plenty of history built into this watch, having originally appeared alongside pilot watch icons from the likes of Mathey Tissot and Breguet ultimately built for the French Ministry of Defense. How many Airain Type 20 watches actually made it to the wrists of French airmen is a bit less clear, but that doesn’t take anything away from the watch in front of us today. It’s easy to over-romanticize watches like this but at the end of the day they still need to hold up in a very different environment than they were perhaps designed for.

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$2980

Hands-On With The Period Correct Airain Type 20 Flyback Chronograph

Case
Stainless Steel
Movement
La Joux-Perret AM1
Dial
Matte black or brown
Lume
hand-applied Super-LumiNova
Lens
domed Hesalite
Strap
suede leather
Water Resistance
50 Meters
Dimensions
39.5x47mm
Thickness
14.5mm
Lug Width
20mm
Crown
Push/Pull
Warranty
Price
$2980

There is one element to this watch’s history that needs to be explained, however. This is a Type 20 watch, therefore its function and design needed to follow a set of rules laid out by the MoD. These rules were:

  • A black dial with registers at 3 and 6 o’clock with the ability to track up to 30 minutes
  • Luminous hands and hours, which needed to be Arabic numerals
  • A case diameter of ~38mm and thickness under 14mm
  • A chronograph complication with flyback functionality 
  • A rotating 12 hour bezel
  • Accuracy to within 8 seconds per day
  • A power reserve of at least 35 hours

The original Airain Type 20 met those requirements (presumably) and the re-issue seen here does as well, save for one detail, the case size. The re-issue has grown to 39mm in diameter, and sits a hair north of 14mm in total thickness (lug to lug is 47mm). In total, not a huge departure, and the watch is still well within wearable territory.

Aesthetically, the new Airain Type 20 looks, well, like an old school pilot’s watch, because that’s what it is. The lumed Arabic numerals look like they could have been applied in the ‘50s, same for the design of the registers at 3 and 9 o’clock. The jewel count and shock absorber style appearing at 6 o’clock on the matte dial likewise feels very much of another era. After a decade of re-issues and throwback inspiration, however, none of it really feels out of place.

Some styles from the ‘50s feel relevant as ever, and while I wouldn’t call this design timeless in the way a Speedmaster is, there’s clear character here and if you ask me, it’s perfectly handsome even if it’s not modern-sport-watch GADA practical. That also means there’s no pressure to fit this into whatever activity or outfit you have planned for the day. This is squarely (and unapologetically) in jeans and a leather (or waxed cotton) jacket territory. 

The case here has grown a tad since the original, as mentioned above, but while the dimensions are still perfectly manageable, the case finishing is another story. Let me first point out that the watch seen here is a prototype, as labeled on the back, so this may not be indicative of the final product. 

The top of the squared off lugs are polished while the case walls get a vertical brush. The transition between the surfaces feels a bit unfinished, as does the lug to case transition as viewed from the profile. It’s not as crisp or intentional is you’d like to see in this price range. Overall the case has a raw feeling about it, and that extends to the 12 hour rotating bezel. The grip is adequate, however the markings etched into its surface have no infill, and due to their size, are nearly impossible to read at a glance.

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Things get a lot more interesting within the case, where you’ll find a manually wound integrated flyback chronograph movement developed by La Joux-Perret, called the AM1. Like the Valjoux 222 within the original, the AM1 hits all the specs needed to fulfill the Type 20 criteria outlined above. The AM1 ups the jewel count from 17 to 24 (though the website claims 28, the dial says 24), and gets a power reserve of 60 hours, and while it’s not visible, the watchmaker is treated to a blued steel column wheel and some Côtes de Genève decoration on the bridge for good measure. 

Information on this movement is scarce as of yet, but at its base it looks an awful lot like a 7750 that’s been re-worked for this application. The La Joux-Perret automatic flyback caliber 8147-2 uses a base 7750 so this makes a good bit of sense, and certainly there’s nothing wrong with the bones here so it would appear the AM1 is off to a strong start. A hand wound flyback chronograph in a case ~14mm thick case (including a nearly 4mm high domed crystal) is all good in my book, and it feels rock solid in use. 

As cool as the flyback feature is, I failed to find many practical uses for it in my day to day life, which you could chalk up to a failure of imagination on my part. I still enjoyed using it, and it makes for a great conversation piece (in the right group). The pump pusher at 2 o’clock gets things going, as you’d expect, and while running a press of the pusher at 4 o’clock will send the timing seconds hand back to the top of the dial for a new timing session (this includes the minute totalizer hand at 3 o’clock). Stop and reset are handled the same way.

On the wrist, this is a comfortable, usable watch thanks to the great case size and suede leather strap, which is quite supple out of the box. The buckle is a single piece that serves as both the buckle, and first keeper, which keeps the strap surprisingly contoured to the wrist. 

Overall, this is a well done re-issue with some legit, if under the radar, bona fides. The character of the original comes through here in full force, and it feels right at home within today’s landscape of heritage styled pilot watches. To reiterate, this is a hand-wound flyback chronograph that is being offered at $2,980. I can’t think of another watch that hits the same specs for a cheaper price. Oak & Oscar came close earlier this year with their lovely (and sold out) Jackson Big Eye, and the Siduna Siduna M3440-510 Aviation Fly-Back Chronograph, which was priced at $2,500, however it too, is sold out. 

The Airain Type 20 is not a perfect watch, but it does offer a lot in the way of complexity and history for the price. This watch has been a project long in the making, and while they are still taking pre-orders, production is about to begin in earnest, with deliveries expected to commence by Q1 of 2022. Airain

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Blake is a Wisconsin native who’s spent the past decade covering the people, products, and brands that make the watch world a little more interesting. Blake enjoys the practical elements that watches bring to everyday life, from modern Seikos to vintage Rolex. He is an avid writer and photographer with a penchant for classic cars, non-fiction literature, and home-built mechanical keyboards.
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