Introducing The Mathey-Tissot × Massena LAB Type XX Flyback And Tribute Chronographs
“Pilot’s watch” is as much of an evocative term as “diver’s watch”. Without hesitation, you can conjure the configuration and layout of a pilot’s watch by the mere mention. Namely, a pilot’s watch must be legible and luminescent with oversized indications and tactile extremities. The French Ministry of Defence (MOD) already had these specifications in mind for its pilots’ timepieces in the 1950s. And with that, the MOD sent a request for proposal (RFP) for military pilot’s chronographs to six watch manufacturers, including Breguet and, in turn, today’s revival, Mathey-Tissot. Together with Massena LAB, these civilian chronographs recapture the spirit of the original design spec and are a tribute to the aging effects of vintage chronographs. That’s right; there’s not one but two classically inspired wristwatches to choose from. Let’s get to know them.
The “Type 20” brief from the French MOD was clear. The chronograph needed to have a flyback function, known in French as retour en vol. Also, the dial had to be black (more on that later) with outsized luminous numerals and twin registers at 3 and 9 o’clock. Finally, the case required a bidirectional bezel, and the movement needed a power reserve of at least 35 hours. I must say, I wish all RFPs had such well-defined and considered requirements. Six manufacturers stood up to the challenge, but none were as long-standing, pioneering, or high-profile as Breguet. Yes, the same Breguet of tourbillon, overcoil, and stylized-numeral fame. The famed watch manufacturer — still based in Paris at the time — gladly accepted the military commission of 2,000 Type 20 chronographs in 1954. But with a tight deadline, Breguet outsourced the assembly to little-known Mathey-Tissot.
Mathey-Tissot × Massena LAB Type XX Flyback Chronograph
Thus, there is real substance to today’s revival. Mathey-Tissot assembled the 5101/54-era chronograph for Breguet for military usage. While Breguet manufactured civilian versions, the Mathey-Tissot-produced pieces entered active military life. Mathey-Tissot later manufactured civilian references with its logo on the dial, but the brand drifted into obscurity in the 1970s. Enter, William Massena. Massena was a leader of early online watch forums and a notable collector. Under his brand Massena LAB, he now expands the repertoire of collaborative reintroductions of fabled watch designs. Next on the hit list is the classic Type XX, but you may be curious why it’s not “Type 20”. The designation “Type 20” is not registered, but in 1994, Breguet already switched to the Roman-numeral variation of the name.
Flyback to where you want to belong
“Type 20” had been used on military and civilian timepieces, yet Breguet needed to distinguish between the references in 1994. The supply to military forces had long fallen out of circulation, so the Type XX, XXI and XXII remained in the brand’s catalog as customer-orientated pieces with a pioneering history. Massena owns a vintage Breguet Type 20 but can see the latest offerings drifting further from the original designs. The Mathey-Tissot × Massena LAB Type XX Chronographs reinstate the ethos of the 1950s models for the modern day. Well, as I almost said, there are two versions available. The black-dial version has the traditional layout with deep beige Arabic numerals, a “big-eye” 30-minute totalizer at 3 o’clock, and running seconds at 9 o’clock. Notably, this version is still a flyback chronograph. By pressing the reset pusher below the crown while running, the chronograph seconds resets to zero while continuing to time.
Mathey-Tissot × Massena LAB Type XX Tribute Chronograph
Powering the Flyback chronograph is the self-winding Arola caliber 7750 FlyBack with a 48-hour power reserve. By having the black dial and flyback function, the Flyback model is incredibly close to the French MOD technical program. Albeit, the case thickness of 14.6mm is just a hair over the original “less than 14.0mm thick” requirement. Conversely, the Type XX Tribute Chronograph takes inspiration from the effect of time on the vintage Type 20s. The defective black paint on the dials gave way to warm brown tones over the years. Therefore, the Tribute pays homage by applying a brown color instead of the requested black. The Tribute also uses smaller numerals. To distance itself from the military pieces even further, the Tribute is a traditional chronograph without the flyback functionality. Powering the Tribute is the Sellita caliber SW511 M BH b with a healthy 63-hour power reserve.
The Tribute model is not only a close resemblance to vintage pieces but also to Breguet’s faithful re-edition Type 20 for Only Watch 2021. That unique piece sold for CHF 250,000, exceeding the estimate of between CHF 35,000 and CHF 50,000. I would like to say that these Mathey-Tissot × Massena LAB models make it easier to obtain this classic design, but the Flyback is limited to 25 pieces at US$2,995, while the Tribute is limited to 99 pieces at $1,995.
The $1K difference is likely down to the Flyback movement, but both watch models are housed in a 38.5mm 316L stainless steel case. The smooth-rotating bidirectional 12-hour bezel is also steel, and a solid steel case back protects the watch to 3 ATM of pressure. On the case back is the engraving of the watch model and the limited-edition number. Along with the watch comes two brown leather strap options — a typical two-piece and the Bund-style strap.
For more information on the Type 20, I recommend two articles on The Spring Bar that provide an overview of the issued military and civilian Type 20 watches. Both of these Mathey-Tissot × Massena LAB Type XX models are available exclusively on Massena LAB’s website as of today, November 17th.