Can a 17-year history mean something in the industry, where many companies have a centuries-long background? Looks like it can, especially if your watches are becoming an instant classic.
Founded in 2002 by an avid collector David Zanetti and a watchmaker in forth generation Denis Flageollet, De Bethune was destined to become one of the most prominent independent brands of the era. Similar to other successful niche brands of the early noughties, their products offered new ways of understanding and loving horology rather that trying to mimic the classical approach of some Swiss companies with 200+ years in the business. And when high quality meets relatively low production volumes it often results in some serious collecting. In fact, it turned out there were enough watch aficionados, who had already satisfied their urge for classics, and craved for genuinely fresh designs.
The philosophy of the brand was originally built on the fact that watchmaking technology had made quite a leap since the times of Abraham-Louis Breguet and Jean-Adrian Philippe. So why not embrace it? In just a few years, the manufacture was able to obtain a number of patents on some essential movement parts, and each of their new piece was striving to become a miniature gallery of scientific and technological wonders. The traditional balance wheel gave way to a version based on blued titanium and platinum weights. The trademark silicone escapement was engineered from the ground up. Even the lugs has undergone a serious revision. At De Bethune they are a part of a platform attached to the caseback, adapting to the size of any wrist. Besides the obvious practicality, this design emphasizes the round shape of the cases, adding to the perfect geometry.
Titanium is somehow essential for the brand’s DNA. It is used not only for functional parts of the movement, but also as a main decorative element. According to Denis Flageollet, it all started with a routine experiment. The co-founder and technical director of the brand was not satisfied with the reliability of some steel parts, and tempered them with high temperatures. Having repeated the same procedure with titanium, he landed up with a perfect material featuring a deep distinctive blue color. Now the trademark blue can be found on almost any De Bethune product and in some cases like the DB28 Skybridge, the DB28T Tourbillon Kind Of Blue or the DB25 Milky Way the blue is totally dominating.
Talking of the avant-garde designs, the Dream Watch collection stands out even byregular De Bethune standards. As the name implies, these pieces were initially meant to surprise. And the latest to date DW5, as well as its variations, looks just like a little spaceship on a wrist: a gleaming titanium case, a jumping hour display, a three-dimensional moonphase, rotating like a sci-fi engine. Of course, it can be polarizing, but after seeing it once you surely won’t forget it. DW5 Meteorite raises the stakes even higher, thanks to the quirky uneven texture of its case. And with a diamond adorning the crown like an eye of an alien and a tourbillon seen though caseback it really walks an extra mile.
However it’s not only creativity and rebellious approach that drives the Swiss independent brand. De Bethune has several outstanding dressy pieces under its belt too: just look at the DB16 Tourbillon Regulator, the Tourbillon DB25LT, and of course, the incredible Maxichrono Tourbillon, the winner of the Grand Prix d'horlogerie de Genève in the Chronograph category. Needless to say, the movements beating under those elegant gold cases and classical enamel dials are nothing but pure twenty-first century watchmaking. For example, two barrels of the DB25 World Traveller provide the piece with a power reserve of five days and guarantee the accuracy both at full and almost at zero winding. After watching the swipe of the five central Maxichrono Tourbillon hands, one can almost stop caring for the usual sub-dial layout. The legibility is perfect: two distinguished Breguet-hands indicate the hours and minutes, while all the others are dedicated to the chronograph. In addition, the minute hand is highlighted in gold.
There’s also a place for metier d’art decorations at De Bethune catalogue. In addition to the enamel techniques, the company often uses guilloche and hand engraving. This is especially noticeable in limited editions like the Imperial Fountain, The Ninth Mayan Underworld, or recent Maestri Art unique pieces. The complex zodiac signs, a dial full of symbols and indications, carved from a single piece of gold – such execution will win the hearts of even the most conservative haute horlogerie lovers. However it doesn’t keep the brand from experimenting even with their essential watches, just look at the warm and lustrous colour of the recently presented DB28 Yellow Tones. Ironically it is an oxidised grade 5 titanium, much like the usual blue one, used on a regular basis. The 42.6 mm case, the floating lugs, the plates of the movement seen through the openworked dial, – the titanium is literally everywhere.
In the early 2010s there was an interesting episode telling much about the company’sway of doing business. After several years of research in the field of increasing the oscillation speed by ten times, the manufacture decided not to patent the transitional developments. Instead of building legal barriers, the Swiss invited colleagues, journalists, and the industry in general to think about it together. Modern alchemists, the guys at De Bethune are not just impassioned with horology – they are ready to share their passion with everyone interested.
Jun. 17, 2019