In the past years we have reviewed some quite impressive timepieces. We showed you classic styled Haute Horlogerie, like for instance the JLC master ultra-thin 1907 and the iconic Lange 1 from A. Lange & Söhne. The good things about Haute Horlogerie is that it is not bound by certain style codes, and is rather defined by the quality. Recently we’ve worn a thoroughbred Haute Horlogerie piece that, in its looks, does not share much with the aforementioned watches, except that it indicates the time with an hour and minute hand. Upon closer inspection however, there are much more similarities than expected based on a first glance. We’re talking about the De Bethune DB28 Black Matte.
For those unknown with De Bethune, I think it’s best to say that all their timepieces feature a rather unusual look/style, although most come in a round case, feature two hands to indicate the time, and are attached to the wrist with a strap. It’s mainly details that are just different. For instance the crown is not positioned at the usual right-hand side, however it sits beautifully balanced at the top of the case. It’s actually a bit pocket-watch-alike. And there are many more unusual design feats that define the brand’s style. De Bethune is the brain-child of Denis Flageolet, master watchmaker, and David Zanetta, designer, and the watches they created over the past 12 years are visually and technically intriguing and spectacular.
Considering the brand’s nature of creating modern time-telling art for the wrist, and doing that in accordance with the highest Haute Horlogerie standards possible, their production numbers are not that high. So when you own a De Bethune, you can be sure it is a rare timepiece. Now first a bit of history.
De Bethune is still a very young fledgling brand – it was founded in 2002 – and is part of the wave of young, innovative and highly technical brands that started in the early 2000’s, like MB&F, Hautlence and URWERK. Despite the fact that De Bethune is a young brand, it already has numerous patented innovations, and an strong visual identity. The two gentlemen responsible for that are the founders, Denis Flageolet and David Zaneta, who shared a vision of watchmaking in the 21st century.
I’m going to quote something I wrote back in 2012: “De Bethune’s master watchmaker Denis Flageolet is a ‘mad professor’ when it comes to improving the balance wheel and he experimented with many different materials and shapes to improve this regulating organ of mechanical watches. And there’s more. He invented a temperature-compensating silicon balance spring, a two armed silicon balance with platinum inertia blocks, an annular balance with silicon centre contained within a platinum ring and a cage-less tourbillon constructed from silicon/platinum and a small amount of steel.“
This probably sounds like abracadabra, however believe me, the man is a genius when it comes to watchmaking and improving essential watch components within the boundaries of pure Haute Horlogerie.
“The other person from De Bethune, who also does groundbreaking work, is David Zanetta. He creates the most fascinating designs for the wrist or ‘object d’art de temps’ as I called it before. The case he designed for the DB27 features the so-called floating lugs which are fitted with a patented system of springs that enables the watch to adjust to the wrist and to its wearer’s movements. Maximum comfort!“
Pierre Jacques now leads the company as CEO. In 2011 De Bethune was awarded with the prestigious Aiguille d’Or at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève for the DB28; this prize can be considered the Oscar for best movie in the world of watchmaking, i.e. THE most important prize to win. At the 2014 GPHG De Bethune won the prize for best chronograph with their spectacular DB29 Maxi Chrono.
Now, back on topic, being the overall appearance of the De Bethune DB28 Black Matte! When you first see the DB28 Black Matte it looks rather stealthy and when you think of it, it actually is rather stealthy. The black wrist watch looks nothing like the average wrist watch. OK, it has a round case and indicates time with central hour and minute hand, but that’s where the parallels end (at least at first sight.) The round case is captured by what De Bethune calls “floating lugs” and on the wrist these give the DB28 a massive presence (and great wearing comfort).
The all black appearance – black case, black floating lugs, black alligator strap and buckle – might not be for the faint of heart. Maybe it’s best to simply state it’s a polarizing timepiece, because it’s not suitable for every occasion, and it will also not suit everyone’s style. However those who dare, and those who are open for “something else” will not be disappointed. The abundance of Haute Horlogerie sweetness is simply overwhelming and even after wearing it for some weeks, the DB28 Black Matte kept surprising me with its beauty.
We could say that the DB28 Black Matte is a simple two-hand watch that indicates hours and minutes, by means of two centrally placed hands. While that’s entirely true, however it doesn’t tell the full story. There are of course the floating lugs, which guarantee maximum comfort on the wrist. This version of the DB28, being the DB28 Black Matte, is made in Zirconium (hence the DB28Z engraved on the reverse side) and that’s a super light-weight, scratch-resistant and hypoallergenic material.
Besides the case and lugs, the DB28 has no dial, only a chapter ring around where usually the dial would be. At the 6 o’clock position, nested in that chapter ring, is a spherical moon phase indicator. Visible in the center are the movement’s bridges, which are blackened and adorned with Côte de Bethune striping, and a full mirror polished titanium plate/bridge. Connected to this, is the triple pare-chute system and balance bridge, which holds the futuristic balance wheel. On the reverse side is the power reserve indicator that shows how much of the 6-days power reserve remains in the two main spring barrels.
Dial, Hands and Movement
Since we’ve just touched upon the topic, the movement’s bridges are the dial. Everything is hand-finished – like every watch part used for every De Bethune watch. The bridges are adorned with Côte de Bethune striping, black coated, and depending on the light you’ll see the striping very well, or hardly. The center bridge is a sort of supporting bridge for the triple pare-chute system and balance bridge. Both the supporting bridge, the black shiny triangle, and the balance bridge, are mirror polished. Mirror polishing, or black polishing, is an old and extremely time-consuming technique to polish steel parts to a perfect mirror finish, and when looking from various angles the steel can look like a perfect mirror, or entirely black. The hands are also black polished. Something that can only be done by hand, and when you look at the shape of the hands, with curves and cut-outs, this is an extremely difficult and time-consuming labour that can only be done by a very skilled craftsman. As said, the seduction of horological sweetness is overwhelming and already starts on the dial side.
The movement, calibre DB2115, is a manually wound movement that offers six days of power reserve. All parts are finished and decorated by hand; the mainplate is snailed (pèrlage), steel parts are chamfered and hand-polished, the bridges are adorned with Côtes De Bethune, and so on. De Bethune has also done ground-breaking work on finishing titanium, and mastered to fully mirror-polish this light and anti-magnetic material.
Here are some specifications of calibre DB2115:
- Functions: hours – minutes – spherical moon-phase indication at 6 o’clock – power-reserve indication
- Basic data: diameter 30 mm – 299 parts – 38 jewels – 28,800 vibrations per hour – power reserve: 6 days
- Patents: self-regulating twin barrel* – silicon/white gold balance – balance-spring with flat terminal curve* – triple pare-chute shock-absorbing system* – spherical moon-phase indication accurate to a degree of one lunar day every 122 years* – silicon escape-wheel*
De Bethune’s patented inventions
The self-regulating twin barrel packs around 144 hours (or six days) of autonomy when fully wound, and ensure maximum constant power reserve. Six jeweled blades, which are placed on either side of the spring, will ensure an optimal transmission of maximum energy to the balance wheel.
The triple pare-chute shock-absorbing system comprises a titanium balance bridge that is secured by a spring-based system, comprising three jewels that connect the various elements. The construction absorbs shocks and also ensures precise repositioning of the bridge after a displacement.
The balance spring with flat terminal curve is an evolvement on the Breguet overcoil, and it enables free concentric development (“breathing”) of the spring. The more free a balance spring can “breathe” the better, and De Bethune realized this by a unique shape of the terminal curve, and a new alloy. Because of this the entire construction is noticeably thinner, and it avoids any distortion of the coils in case of impacts, thanks to the specific study of its elasticity at its point of attachment. Long story short: better timekeeping!
Another factor that should improve precise timekeeping is the silicon/white gold balance. An important note is that not many watch manufacturers make their own balance wheel, and especially for a small independent manufacture this is an admirable feat indeed! The goal was to create a balance wheel that is as light as possible while maintaining the highest possible level of inertia. De Bethune’s latest balance wheel, unveiled in 2010, is crafted silicon and a gold/palladium alloy. The center part is made from silicon, and the rim is from gold/palladium; a light center, and a heavy rim that together create a balance that is more than 20% lighter than usual and thus achieves a better mass/inertia ratio.
The phenomenal finishing and decorations doesn’t end on the reverse side! Just look at the fine straight graining of the rose gold power reserve mechanism that even features beautifully hand-beveled and polished angles.
Case and strap
The round case measures 42.60 mm in diameter, and is crafted in zirconium that is sandblasted to an anthracite colour and feel smooth, very smooth! One of the typical things is that De Bethune places the crown at the 12 o’clock position, reminiscent of vintage pocket watches. But there’s a practical reason for this as well: the floating lugs are attached at the 3 and 9 position, which is also the pivoting point; in other words, it would be impossible to put the crown in that position.
De Bethune offers two sizes of floating lugs, short or long, so they will comfortably ‘wrap’ around your wrist. The 42.60 mm large case doesn’t wear very big, so it can even be enjoyed by people with a smaller wrist. The DB28 comes on an alligator leather strap – hand stitched of course – and is closed by a tang buckle (often the choice of purists).
Some specifications DB28:
- Sandblasted anthracite zirconium – round with crown at 12 o’clock – diameter 42.60 mm
- Choice for short or long floating lugs, executed in sandblasted anthracite zirconium
- Sapphire crystal on both sides, treated with anti-reflective coating on the inside
- Black alligator leather strap with black pin buckle
Wearing this De Bethune DB28 Black Matte for several weeks was a pleasure, it wears incredibly comfortable, it’s very legible during day time and even when lights go slightly dim (but not when it’s dark, because of the lack of luminescent material applied) and everything about the watch is Haute Horlogerie. Build, finish, adornments, this is top of the game! We do understand that the design is polarizing. Maybe it’s best to compare this to modern art. Not everyone will like it, just like not everyone will like Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol or Mark Rothko.
The abundance of Haute Horlogerie feats is so overwhelming, and kept me intrigued, constantly drew my attention, and putting a smile on my face. However it comes with a price tag, a hefty one. The De Bethune DB28 Black Matte has a retail price of CHF 85,000 Swiss France (before tax) and with such a price tag is can actually best be compared to the few other ultra-high-end watchmakers, like Kari Voutilainen, Grönefeld, and Romain Gauthier. Haute Horlogerie in an unusual ‘modern art’ package, however like with art you will have to experience it to be able to judge about it. My advice is to go and try one on your wrist… enjoy!
More info via the De Bethune website: www.debethune,ch