A look at De BethuneDate: Dec 06, 2009,14:45 PM - (view entire thread)
In early December, David Zanetta and Denis Flageollet were in Singapore to present the latest creations from De Bethune. I first profiled De Bethune in 2007 when I was deeply impressed after visiting them at Basel (click here for my Basel report of that year). Two years later I am even more amazed by the brilliant creations from the company.
Above: The Dream Watch 3 tourbillon
De Bethune watches are of a sheer, high quality that is difficult to find elsewhere, coupled with a remarkable penchant for innovation. That is thanks to Denis Flageollet, who together with Vianney Halter and Francois-Paul Journe founded Techniques Horlogères Appliquées (THA) in Saint Croix before going their separate ways. Denis is the resident genius at De Bethune; from what I understand every single De Bethune innovation is his work, even when David conceives of an idea, like the triple pare-chute for instance, Denis is the one who executes it.
Denis’ genius extends to production and manufacturing as well. He developed the techniques for polishing titanium to a high sheen, as seen on the Dream Watch One and the titanium cases of some of the sports models like the DB24. And when I visited De Bethune at Basel in 2006, I was given to understand the waterproof, carbon fibre texture watch straps used by De Bethune were invented by Denis; even though they are water resistant they are still porous for comfort (Denis speaks almost no English so understanding technical descriptions is a challenge).
Radical as they look, De Bethune watches are utterly conventional in how they tell the time, save for the Digitale, all De Bethune watches use a pair of hands. There are no orbital, spherical or trapezoidal gadgets that float, sweep, jump or jiggle. Instead De Bethune concentrates on technical innovations in the movement and a remarkable standard of finishing on every part.
Above: The DB25 Moon Phase
The attention to detail in terms of construction and finishing is outstanding. Take for example the hand-made blued steel plate for the moon phase which is fabricated by pressing bits of solid gold into the star-shaped cut-outs on the plate. Or the mirror finished titanium dial of the Dream Watch 1 (below). These are admirably challenging and complex to execute. That is not to say that the level of finish is perfect. With a macro lens imperfections on certain parts of the movement are visible; you can see some in my photos. I will not point them out, I like admire the brand’s work too much to do that, but they are there.
I do not know if some of the movement innovations, like the exotic balance wheels or bevelled escape wheel, truly offer any tangible benefit to timekeeping. But whatever may be the case, the level of thought and ingenuity that goes into the movements is incredible.
One downside of this perpetual quest for the next invention is that some models never seem to be delivered. For example, the Maxichrono, a brilliant chronograph that combines all the hands into a single axis, was first shown a few years ago but has yet to be delivered. However, in the mean time the spring loaded titanium lugs of the Maxichrono have been used in the Dream Watch 2.
That being said De Bethune has a terrific record of delivering on its promises. With a production of less than 300 watches a year it is especially amazing. David is particularly proud of the fact that De Bethune manages to deliver a dozen or so in-house (they really are) movements that work perfectly (anecdotal evidence from owners bears this out).
Some may remember the first De Bethune watches, which were relatively traditional in style, save for the bizarre bullet-shaped lugs, and contained mostly reworked vintage movements from Venus, Enicar and others. The evolution to today’s collection is astonishing.
When I first encountered De Bethune I was sceptical – what achievement is there in reworking an Enicar (of all brands) automatic movement? But as the brand has developed and I learn more about the company and its people I am won over, totally. Very often in modern watchmaking the product does not equal the promise, De Bethune avoids this let down and the product is actually magnificent. David himself is conscious of what is product is and he brutally rubbishes the products of others. He hilariously describes “fusion of rubber and metal with a 20 franc ETA bullshit movement” as a lousy product.
Above: The DB25 Moon Phase in white gold
The biggest shortcoming of De Bethune is that it starts at a very, very, very high price. The entry level DB25 automatic, the cheapest watch in its collection, retails for about US$50,000 (yes, fifty thousand). On the face of it, that is abnormally steep for an automatic wristwatch with no complications, even one with a 10 day power reserve. But there is nothing comparable with the same level of inventiveness and the quality of finish and materials. David Zanetta says, with undisguised assurance, if you create something so well made that nothing else compares, you can charge a thumping price. And that is true.
Click here to see more photos of the incredible De Bethune watches.