Monochrome Watches
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The Collector's Series

Kelvin Sa and his De Bethune DBS

Collector Kelvin Sa: ‘I actually fell in love with my DBS after I had bought it!’

| By Frank Geelen | 9 min read |
De Bethune DBS

In this week’s installment of The Collector’s Series, we’re talking with Kelvin Sa about his amazing De Bethune DBS. Kelvin, one of the founding members of the Shanghai Watch Gang (@shanghaiwatchgang), knows a lot about the watch that we discuss today and meeting fellow watch enthusiasts certainly contributes to this. Kelvin Sa, or Mr_Kelvinator on Instagram, is a watch collector from Shanghai, China, who is self-employed in Tech & Finance, and he tells us everything about his stunning De Bethune DBS! 

De Bethune DBS

On a side note, clubs for watch collectors, like the Shanghai Watch Gang, are instrumental in learning about watches, brands, history, technology and of course for sharing the passion! Until a decade or two ago, all information about watches came to us though print magazines. Slowly the digital age commenced… Some two decades ago, forums were founded and blogs started. This offered new opportunities! Because like-minded watch enthusiasts met one another digitally, on forums or (only in the past few years) on Instagram, slowly but gradually meetings and gatherings IRL were organized. And that’s probably the best way to share passion and exchange information and knowledge. Plus, it’s fun!

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Shanghai Watch Gang
Photo: Europa Star

Do you remember when you discovered the De Bethune brand?

It caught my eye quite a few years ago on one of the online articles, talking about this Star Trek inspired design. Then, once I started digging a little deeper, the brand and its products started to really resonate with me.’’

Why was that?

What I admire in De Bethune watches are in no particular order, Design, Beauty, Innovation & Quality. I’ve always been a sucker for avant-garde design. In the horological world, a few brands really catch the imagination – Vianney Halter, Greubel Forsey, Urwerk, and none the less De Bethune. In a world where most brands are accustomed to being lazy & busy with either marketing or pulling out old designs from the attic, brands such as De Bethune make something rare, something aesthetically captivating while at the same time consistently pushing the boundaries of innovation. From the design cues of the famous Star Trek logo (e.g. DB’s very own Delta Bridge) to a whole “WTF is that?!” fire blue case and lugs; from the first ever 3D moonphase to the world’s lightest tourbillon, we have to all agree that Denis Flageollet is a watchmaking genius, maybe a “Breguet re-born” even. How can one not at least own one of their beautiful creations?

Deb Bethune DBS-W

I understand. And why did it have to be this particular watch?

The DBS, I felt, is the “turning point” watch of the De Bethune’s philosophy and product story. Prior to the DBS, from 2002 – 2005, from the DB01 (powered by THA’s very awesome monopusher chrono) to their DB15/17 Perpetual & Minute Repeater, De Bethune was still very traditional in both watchmaking & design. Somehow, they took a turn with the DBS and started a whole new design language, both mechanically & design wise, for example with their trademark “Delta”, which many in the industry call the Horse Shoe design, although the guys at De Bethune insist on calling it the “Delta” that is supposed to resemble rocket / space age / Star Trek (logo). Interestingly, the co-founder David Zanetta was actually a horse-breeder.

Then you have the awesome 3D sphere and 120 year accurate moonphase, and the twin barrel 8 days power reserve with constant power. It was the start of an obsession with creating various types of balance wheels / tourbillons to increase efficiency, power and accuracy. The base caliber of the DBS would pave the way for all the other later De Bethunes. The DBS was, in its own way, a bold and unique expression from De Bethune at the time. Although, today in 2021, the DBS is not as classic as a DB01 or 17, nor as modern as a DB28.

De Bethune DBS-W

When did you buy the watch, and where?

The DBS wasn’t a watch that I wanted, researched, yearned and longed for, and then bought. The whole story was actually quite interesting. Back in 2013, I was looking to buy this FP Journe from this one collector, and he was wearing a DBS while he was showing me the FPJ chronometer in blue. Prior to that meeting, I’d only ever seen a De Bethune online, never in real life. Actually, back then I knew very little about the brand. I casually asked if it was a De Bethune, and he couldn’t stop waving about the DB, how great the watch was, and how it was different to the FPJ and blah blah blah, to be honest, I didn’t manage to remember much.

About a year later, I flew to Israel to buy an URWERK from another collector, in the mix of watches he was letting go, he also had a DBS there on the table. Although by then I had got to know a little bit more about the brand, and had set my eyes on a DB28, this was one of those “in the moment” kind of things. A) at that time, I had given up on finding the right dress watch, I guess the classic look was or still isn’t for me, and B) the owner made me crazy with a bundle deal that was too good to reject. So buying the DBS was a pure impulse, and, to be honest, it’s the first watch that I actually only studied after buying it, and fell in love with. Of course, we can talk about the fact that it’s an S (Special Series) instead of the numerical. It was one of the same series of pieces that were created for the 2004 Only Watch Auction. And it happens to be my wife’s favourite watch from my collection, her only complaint was that it didn’t have any sapphires, so that she couldn’t wear it more often.

De Bethune DBS-W

Do you wear the watch a lot?

It is my suit watch, and sometimes smart casual. However, these days I’m not often in a suit anymore. You know, I think,sometimes the watch we choose to wear at any moment is what and who we want to be at that moment. And that particular moment of choosing what watch to wear is like a journey of self-discovery. Most of the time, we put on a watch simply because we want to, but very few watches can reminds us of who we want to be.

How do other people react to your watch?

As expected, to the majority of the “public” it’s just another watch, although I have been told that even though they know nothing about the watch, it looks expensive. The DBS is my wife’s favorite, and actually she thinks it is the most beautiful watch aesthetically. But it doesn’t get the WOW factor like a full blue DB28, or the URWERK, RM (Richard Mille), certain bling models of Rolex. You can’t see much of the movement, but even if you could, it doesn’t have movement finishing like a LF (Laurent Ferrier), FPJ (F.P. Journe) or a Datograph. But everything one needs to see is there, it has that Delta dial with Geneva stripes finishing that even at low light reflects like a well cut & polished diamond. An ingeniously designed moonphase which always makes people ask “What is that?” And it has a distinctive case shape that makes the owner look more of a connoisseur than he or she maybe actually is.

Do you know the current market value of the watch?

I’ve seen a DBS in white gold transacted in the Auction market for about 26-35k USD, a platinum one would fetch a lot higher. There are several versions with different material/color/balance wheel, that only have been on the market recently, and go for between 25-28k USD for a used watch, some “relic” new never used ones go at about 32-35k USD.

I think I paid a good price for the watch, and I don’t think I’d be selling it. Current value only reflects just that – current value. I don’t know if the watch will go up or down in value, but I believe true beauty always stands the test of time. And it needs time for people to look back, discover and appreciate. I remember the not so distant past where nobody wanted a narrow body Countach, or a 206GT Dino, even the mighty McLaren F1 was struggling to find buyers. As long as the brand keeps its track and course, ride the right opportunities and momentum, the DBS has the potential to be a future classic.

Are there any more watches you would like to buy?

Yes, I do have a list!

  1. Shanghai Watch Gang collaboration editions with brands, that I help to participate in the design process.
  2. A birth year IWC IW3702
  3. A full white ceramic URWERK 210 with a skeletonized DB28 movement and a bracelet? OK, I’m dreaming
  4. A nicely made Chinese Watch with Chinese elements and culture

With you experience, could you give some collecting tips?

I would suggest that people should ask owners what their honest opinions are about the watches they’d like to get. I can find 5 things I like and dislike about any of the watches I have, maybe the things I dislike are things that are really important to you, or something I like maybe is something you don’t like.

Another advise would be: know a good doctor that takes care of you, know a good & competent watchmaker that can take care of your watch. I prefer to buy from the owner directly, pay for a creditable watchmaker for a thorough PPI, alternatively, buy from reputable dealers not some “photograph” reseller.

Building a relationship with other watch lovers goes a long way for everyone’s watch journey. So find a few good watch groups and join their GTGs and events. Not only is it a great way to source or letting go of watches, it also amplifies your passion for your own watch, if the right people appreciate your taste and choice. Just don’t follow the hype, take a grain of salt with brand marketing statements, find your own style of collecting and taste. Learn to not care about what haters say. Haters will always be haters. Just do proper research, discover the beauty beyond the watch itself, not just how many likes or hashtags the watch has on IG.

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