Airain Type 20 chronograph watch faithfully reintroduced
The recently introduced Airain Type 20 Re-Edition closely matches the design and specifications of the original Type 20 from the 1950s. This even includes a hand-wound two-register column wheel chronograph with flyback function. Plus the remarkable countdown bezel and domed Hesalite crystal.
Type 20 chronographs are post-war aeronautical instruments, manufactured according to the requirements of the French government. They are essentially based on the Hahnhart, Tutima and Glashütte WWII two-register chronograph. However, the Type 20 had to meet more stringent specifications. A flyback function was essential, plus the precision of less than 8 seconds / day, a power reserve of more than 35 hours and the possibility of managing the on-off-reset operation 300 times without any problem.
Airain Type 20 reissue
It was only some time ago that Robert-Jan informed us of the rebirth of the Airain brand. Now, not even three months later, we are already able to show you the first Airain watches. While Airain was also known for its pocket chronometers and diving watches, it rose to fame with its interpretation of the Type 20 chronograph. It is therefore not surprising that this model became their first reissue.
A little return to the origins of the Airain Type 20 chronograph. Once upon a time … 😁 Well, no. In the late 1950s the Dodane family was one of the watchmakers producing chronographs to French Type 20 requirements. Others were Matthey-Tissot – who also appears to have made the first batch of Type 20 de Breguet brand – Auricoste, Vixa and, of course, Breguet. Before producing Type 20 chronographs, Dodane was already a well-known chronograph service partner of the French government. The watches produced by Dodane were branded Dodane, Airain, Seliva, Chronofixe, and some were not branded at all.
It gets a little fishy here. In 1956, a second French specification surfaced, called Type 21. The Type 21 requirements were primarily based on the same specifications as the Type 20, but specifically required more reliable and maintainable, say more modern, movements. Until now, I have never seen a signed Dodane chronograph with a Type 20 indication; the signed ones all appear to be Type 21. Which makes sense as Dodane did not use the older Lemania, Hanhart and Valjoux calibers sometimes used by other manufacturers for Type 20 chronographs. One quirk about the Dodane was the bezel, which counted down from 12 to 1, rather than 1 to 12. This, however, we find in Type 20 chronographs produced by Dodane but signed with different brands – like Airain – as well.
From the Airain brand, on the other hand, I have never found a Type 21 signed chronograph; they are all Type 20. Why and how is not clear to me, as the Dodane and Airain models are roughly equal. Not only aesthetically but also technically. Both use the countdown bezel, and both use the same modern calibers – back then.
The situation today
Among the brands that originally supplied the Type20 / 21 chronographs, only Breguet, Auricoste, Dodane, Mathey-Tissot and now Airain still exist. Breguet relaunched its Type 20 (or indeed the civilian Type XX version) already in 1995. Auricoste and Dodane both also offer a serious attempt at reissue. Mathey-Tissot, unfortunately, fails to do so. And meanwhile, others are also producing watches imitating the Type 20 / XX, for example the one we reviewed. Fact.
Of all the Type 20 reissues, I have to conclude that the new Airain is the most faithful to the original. The countdown bezel, the Hesalite crystal, the hands, the typography, everything is very, very close to the original watches of the past. Even the movement. Of course there is no Valjoux 222 caliber inside, but how about a manual winding La Joux Perret SA column wheel caliber? Column wheel and manual winding, as close as possible and different from all the other current suppliers who have chosen automatic calibers. In terms of size, while Type 20/21 watches from the 1950s and ’60s had a diameter of around 37.5mm, the current Brazen is only slightly larger at 39mm. All the others, Breguet, Auricoste and Dodane, are 44mm, 42mm and 41.5mm respectively, even bigger. It will be clear – see the differences in appearance and construction – that unlike in the early days, Dodane no longer produces the current Airain models.
Price and availability
Even in terms of price, the reissue of Airain also seems the most attractive. With Breguet in the € 20,000 region, the Dodane € 3,900 and being Auricoste € 3,750, Brazen has the most attractive price; € 2,750 (for pre-orders even € 2,540). Apart from the most attractive price, the Airain reissue with manual winding movement makes it to me the most attractive of all current Type 20/21 chronographs. Don’t get me wrong, the Breguet is a class act, of course, but for my taste a bit too far removed from the original Type 20/21, aesthetically and technically. The Dodane and the Aricoste are not as aesthetically close as the Airain, in addition to being powered by an automatic movement with Dubois-Depraz module.
Alongside the regular 421.436 and 421.437 versions, Airain offers a limited edition of 134 pieces with a chocolate brown dial and bracelet. Buyers can choose their preferred number – as long as it is available – on the Airain website here.
… A minor inconvenience
There might be one minor downside to the Airain Type 20 Re-Edition. Or I should probably say it’s rather disappointing than a disadvantage. And that is the availability. While it’s possible to pre-order right now, the first watches won’t be ready for delivery until July 2021. And I imagine that for many, it will be hard to wait that long for such an attractive watch.
Invest in the business
The company that owns and produces the Brazen Type 20 is not unknown in the watchmaking world. Their first project was the Lebois & Co Venturist; we reviewed this watch here. The Compagnie des Montres Lebois et Cie, the parent company of the two brands, offers the possibility of becoming a shareholder. Thanks to the Eureeca platform, we will be able to join and learn at the same time, shareholders benefit from significant discounts on Lebois & Co and Airain watches. A possibility that is certainly worth exploring.
You will find more information, as well as the possibility to pre-order, on the Airain website. You will find me on Instagram @gerardnijenbrinks.