Last year, De Bethune celebrated the tenth anniversary of its flagship DB28 model and the second anniversary of its openworked DB28 Steel Wheels. The idea behind the first DB28 Steel Wheels of 2018 was to open the dial to reveal the movement’s contemporary architecture. With this DB28 Steel Wheels Sapphire Tourbillon unveiled during Geneva Watch Days in August 2020, De Bethune has created an even more tantalising view of the dial and combined it with greater technical complexity thanks to the presence of a tourbillon. The incorporation of translucent blue sapphire on the bridge not only enhances the spectacle but also adds an ethereal touch to a watch that is already out of this world.
Blue is a colour we all associate with De Bethune, particularly the intense electric blue of heat-blued titanium that Denis Flageollet discovered by accident in the workshop. Now crafted from blue sapphire crystal, the characteristic delta-shaped bridge in the centre of the dial rises to meet your gaze. Not transparent but rather translucent, the blue sapphire adds an element of intrigue. Like the first DB28 Steel Wheels of 2018, the central area of the triangular bridge has been removed to reveal parts of the movement. Underneath the sapphire bridge, you can see the two barrels with their drum covers also protected by a thin layer of blue sapphire.
All the blue sapphire glass components are designed by Denis Flageollet, the founder and master watchmaker of De Bethune. The sapphire is then cut by laser and framed with polished titanium, a contemporary interpretation of the art of stained glass windows. Just to give you an idea of the work involved, each sapphire crystal component varies in thickness: the bridge, for example, is 1mm thick and framed with polished titanium, while the barrel covers are just 0.3mm thick and encircled with a delicate frame of blued titanium.
The hour and minute hands are also openworked and are made in-house, by hand, in De Bethune’s workshop in l’Auberson. The hour hand is a work of art combining sandblasted steel, titanium and blued titanium to match the blue palette of the watch.
Replacing the traditional spherical moon of the DB28 is a fast-spinning, ultra-lightweight 30-second tourbillon held in place by an openworked bridge. An ardent admirer of traditional watchmaking, Denis Flageollet pays homage to Breguet’s tourbillon with a contemporary take on the whirlwind device. To compensate for kinetic forces on the movement, the cage must be as light as possible and operate at maximum frequency and speed of rotation with weight and inertia kept at a minimum. Made from titanium and silicon and comprised of 63 components, the tourbillon beats at 36,000 vibrations per hour, and the lightweight cage rotates on itself every 30 seconds. With a weight of just 0.18 grams, the cage makes this the lightest tourbillon cage ever created.
Another distinguishing feature of the DB28 is the fascinating sense of depth created on the dial. The sloping titanium hour ring with tooth-like indentations for the minutes is placed on the flange and features spherical polished titanium hour markers that rest on a blued titanium ring. By keeping the hour markers on the periphery, the rest of the space on the dial can be used to stage the show. The dial plays with different heights, shapes, finishings and volumes to create a dynamic stage. The elevated central bridge hovering over the movement, the openworked bridge holding the tourbillon in its deep well, the areas that literally drop into a void, the beautifully finished and defined teeth of the gear train and barrels, and the contrasting materials create a dial of extraordinary interest.
Trajectory of the DB28
Introduced in 2010, De Bethune’s DB28 model is the backbone of the brand characterised by its floating articulated lugs, the delta-shaped bridge on the dial, the crown at 12 o’clock and its futuristic looks. The DB28 won the coveted Aiguille d’Or just one year after its birth at the 2011 edition of the GPHG. It has adopted various guises over the years from the Kind of Blue Tourbillon version of 2018 with a cosmic blue suit to the 2018 Steel Wheels with a skeletonised movement; from the 2015 Black Matte version to the sporty DB28GS; from the all-black Dark Shadows to the somewhat anachronistic digital version in 2014, the DB28 Digitale. In 2019 we met the blonde bombshell Mellow Yellow, and in 2020 three ultra-thin models known as DB28XP were produced to celebrate its tenth anniversary followed by an openworked Steel Wheels model with a blue sapphire delta bridge and tourbillon.
The Shape of Things to Come
The case of the DB28 is a triumph of futuristic design, but it also pays homage to certain traditions of classical watchmaking that are dear to Denis Flageollet. The crown’s position at 12 o’clock is a nod to traditional pocket watches, and the flawless finishings associated with traditional métiers d’art, or artisan craftsmanship, can be appreciated throughout.
The architecture of the case is unique and defines the personality of the DB28. From the aerated sections to the hollowed-out areas of the lugs, everything suggests lightness and mobility. Made from grade 5 titanium, the superlative mirror polish gives it a gleaming reflective surface, far more vibrant and bright than stainless steel. To achieve the fascinating reflections and play of light, the titanium is mirror-polished by hand for days at a time with a boxwood grindstone and diamond paste. The case is wide with a 43mm diameter, but the height is relatively slim at 9.80mm. Thanks to the use of titanium, the watch is feather-light on the wrist, and despite its width, the mobile lugs (with variable geometry) mean that the watch adapts perfectly to the wrist. Entirely redesigned last year, beady-eyed fans of the DB28 will notice that the tips of the spring bars that hold the strap in place are bullet-shaped to recall the first De Bethune collections. The finishing touch is the elegant extra-supple black alligator strap with a polished titanium buckle.
The reverse side of the watch offers a very different panorama. Impeccably decorated with circular graining, the bridges shield much of the view. You’ll also spot a blue hand which corresponds to the linear power reserve indicator in blued steel around the movement. Powered by De Bethune’s manual-winding calibre DB2019V5, the twin barrels ensure a robust 5-day power reserve. As mentioned, the tourbillon is fitted with a silicon escape wheel and beats at 36,000vph.
Availability & price
The De Bethune DB28 Steel Wheels Sapphire Tourbillon is limited to 10 pieces and retails for CHF 195,000. More information at De Bethune.