Hands-on With The Airain Type 20 Re-Edition Brown Limited Edition
Fans of vintage chronographs may well be familiar with the Airain Type 20. The first time I came across the brand was trawling through vintage watch eBay listings, on the hunt for a potential bargain — sadly, to this day, I have never found anything to cause me to pull the trigger. I don’t remember exactly which Airain model I saw on my searches, but it was indeed a chronograph and “could” have been a vintage example of the watch I’m looking at today. That is the Airain Type 20 Re-Edition Brown Limited Edition.
Now owned by a Dutch team that resurrected Airain‘s sister watch brand, Lebois & Co, Airain originally operated out of Besancon, at the base of the Jura Mountains in France. The illustrious Dodane family (another brand name you’ll likely be familiar with) previously owned the Airain name, and it began life in 1934. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the brand became known for being one of the selected watch suppliers to the French Airforce, along with Breguet, Dodane, and others, for the famous Type 20/21 watches.
The Airain Type 20
As the title suggests, this watch is of the Type 20 specification. Type 20 refers to a specific requirement for pilot chronographs issued by the French Ministry of Defense. These specifications include:
- A case diameter of approximately 38mm wide and no more than 14mm thick
- Screw-in case back
- Black dial, with two registers at 3 and 9 o’clock that can count to 30 minutes
- Arabic numbers
- Luminescent material on both hands and numbers
- Flyback function
- Bi-directional 12-hour rotating bezel
- Movement accuracy of within eights seconds a day
- Power reserve of at least 35 hours
As with all watches with military provenance, vintage examples of Type 20 chronograph watches are highly sought after and difficult to get hold of in good working condition. So, with that in mind, the new Airain Type 20 Re-Edition should prove to be very popular indeed. The question is, will buyers be impressed by what’s on offer here, or will it crash and burn? Well, the folks behind the Airain resurrection were kind enough to send over a prototype of the brown-dialed re-edition for us to go hands-on with, and see for ourselves.
A faithful recreation
I was fortunate to play with the watch when I was at Fratello HQ the other week. According to the brand, the Airain Type 20 Re-Edition faithfully matches in every detail the design and specifications of the original 1950’s Type 20. Indeed on the brand’s website, there’s a nifty little image of the two watches that you can interact with, which shows that visually the re-edition is pretty much a dead ringer for the original. This will be incredibly important to purists, but it also shows a modicum of humbleness from the brand. It would have been all too easy for the brand to decide to make many modern “improvements” and destroy the spirit of the original Type 20.
When handling the watch for the first time and strapping it to my wrist, it immediately felt slightly smaller than the 39.5mm sizing may suggest. The majority of my watches are 40mm, but this felt smaller than 0.5mm. With the narrower bezel and large dial, you’d think that it may have appeared slightly larger than the actual dimensions, but no. It’s neither a positive nor negative for me, but an interesting observation. Either way, the case felt nice in the hand. It is well machined with both polished and brushed finishing and a smooth actioned rotation 12-hour bezel. The bezel was a friction-action and was possibly a little loose, but as a well-traveled prototype, I am pretty confident this will be one of the first things fixed on the production version of the Airain Type 20.
In fact, the bezel action is one of only a couple of minor niggles. I don’t think it was loose enough that the bezel moved out of place too easily, but it still was loose enough to make me consider it a possibility and wish it were just a touch tighter. Aside from that, I was quite impressed with the case. The pump pushers were easy to operate and had a satisfying and definite action to them. However, that is more so due to the excellent movement choice.
A fine movement indeed!
No ETA or Sellita here, no. Airain chose to use a movement from Manufacture La Joux-Perret S.A. made in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. The brand calls the movement their Caliber AM1. I’m not sure, but I believe that it is based on the LPJ7773 but without the automatic winding mechanism.
I feel it’s important to state how much value I believe the movement offers at this price point.
In operation, it wound just as you’d expect from an LJP movement: buttery smooth. I am a big fan of La Joux Perret, and this was a superb choice from Airain. The movement offers 60 hours of power reserve when fully wound, along with a 30-minute chronograph, as per the original. I feel it’s important to state how much value I believe the movement offers at this price point. It’s not uncommon to see similarly priced watches using ETA or Sellita chronograph movements, but, in my opinion, the La Joux Perret movements are superior.
Brown on brown
The strap was probably my only other minor niggle. That said, it’s absolutely nothing to do with quality or comfort. The belt was excellent on that front. The suede/nubuck leather felt soft to the touch and was exceptionally comfortable on the wrist, and the strap required no breaking in time. Suede is one of my favorite leathers for a watch strap for these reasons, and aesthetically the texture was the perfect complement to the dial.
…the strap was lovely, just not the right color, in my opinion.
The only thing I didn’t love was the color choice. I felt that the brown strap washed out the dial slightly, meaning that the gorgeous brown dial lost a bit of its “pop”. We tried swapping it out for a black leather strap lying around the office, and our instincts were right. All the team agreed. Thankfully it’s effortless to swap out a strap at home, and if you were to purchase this watch, you’d be adding a fantastic brown suede strap that’ll likely look awesome on many of your other watches. Genuinely the strap was lovely, just not the right color, in my opinion. That said, you may love it; color complements can be very subjective.
It’s a color choice!
Now, talking about the dial, it’s a very accurate and faithful recreation of the original. That is good. Very good. This excellent brown dial version is limited to just 134 pieces. However, a non-limited black dial version is also available if you prefer something a bit more classic. It was nice to see Airain use brown confidently, without feeling the need to faux-age the dial color. It’s clear that this dial is meant to be brown rather than appear to be a black dial that’s faded to brown over time. It’s confident decisions, such as this, that make me respect the owners and see them as respectful custodians of the Airain brand and heritage.
The brand carefully chose the color of the hand-applied Super-LumiNova markers to recall the original luminescent material of the original Airain Type 20. Here is where we will get swathes of “FAUXTINA!” naysayers. Let’s remember here that firstly, the original watches used this color of lume when new. It’s not an attempt to “age” the look of the watch, or we would have seen this in the dial color too. Secondly, the beige-colored lume perfectly complements the brown dial. So these are color choices rather than attempts to present a pretend aged effect. Fauxtina naysayers really grind my gears, so I had to get that one out there. Don’t @ me!
On the wrist, this watch felt good. While I didn’t weigh it, it was incredibly lightweight and comfortable on the wrist. Not only that, but the gorgeous case shape was the perfect fit for my wrist. The soft suede leather felt good and only compounded the ideal fit.
Would I buy the Airain Type 20 Re-Edition Brown Limited Edition?
I guess the real question that everyone will want to know the answer to is, would I buy it? Absolutely! As previously mentioned, I believe that this watch offers some of the best value on the market today. The movement alone provides more value than many other watches in similar or higher price brackets. Where else can you find a Swiss-made La Joux-Perret column-wheel-operated flyback chronograph movement with a 60-hour power reserve for €2,600?
If you’re a fan of military watches and chronographs, then you could do far worse than take a hard look at the Airain Type 20. This is a faithful recreation of a timeless classic from the brand’s archives. You’re getting a tried and tested watch design with genuine military provenance for a steal of a price compared to the vintage iterations. The Airain Type 20 is available now. Prices start at €2,540 for the non-limited black dial, or €2,600 for the limited edition brown dial version. Find out more on the Airain website.
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