I am attracted to – and collect – two types of watches: vintage and independent.
I love vintage watches because they have had lives of their own and have stories to tell.
I love watches made by small independent artisans because they fully embody the vision of their makers, who have put blood, sweat, and tears into creating them; in fact, I would rather bluntly say these watchmakers lay their cards fully on the table with no marketing fluff: what you see is what you get.
Among the independent brands, De Bethune is most probably my favorite. In fact, there is no probably about it: De Bethune is my favorite.
While most of the rest of the watchmaking industry is about repeating the past, De Bethune is bringing something new to the table by proudly inventing twenty-first-century watchmaking.
In a recent video interview, Denis Flageollet, co-founder and the mastermind behind this brand’s amazing movements, said that watchmaking tradition was innovation. And I fully agree. Were greats such as Abraham-Louis Breguet, Antide Janvier, or Pierre Le Roy alive today they would most likely be making the types of watches that De Bethune is making.
In our ongoing video series answering the questions you had posted, Denis Flageollet our co-founder and master watchmaker talks about "The Philosphy Behind De Bethune"
Posted by De Bethune on Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Just think of everything that De Bethune has invented, pioneered, and/or improved in its short 15 years of existence: the world’s first balance wheel to incorporate silicon; a titanium/platinum balance; a new balance spring and terminal curve permitting free concentric development of the spring, which also avoids distortions; the De Bethune escapement (a more efficient version of the classic lever escapement); use of titanium in the movement; the triple pare-chute and oscillating weight shock absorber systems; self-regulating twin barrel ensuring optimal and constant transmission of energy; three-dimensional spherical moon; and the world’s lightest tourbillon weighing just 0.20 grams!
And the list really does go on.
De Bethune’s designs, philosophy, and mathematical approach to watchmaking can be somewhat on the edge and they are always extreme in every sense. There is no shred of compromise in this boutique brand’s watches and movements. Nothing is accomplished that is just “good enough”; on the contrary, it is always “more than necessary.”
There is an energy in De Bethune’s experimentations and approach that is mind-boggling.
New at De Bethune: customization
De Bethune had been offering customization to some of its top clients, but in the past year it has opened this opportunity to everyone, offering two possibilities: to order a new customized watch or, if existing owners want to customize a watch they already have, they can bring it back to De Bethune and ask for modifications such as dial change, engraving, etc.
The Maxichrono had been haunting me since its launch a few years ago; it is most probably, if not certainly, the most amazing modern chronograph because it actually reinvents the chronograph with its five centrally mounted hands (hours, minutes, chronograph seconds, chronograph minutes, and 24-hour hand) and three column wheels, all activated via the pusher. The crown is placed at 12 o’clock.
Without getting into long technical details, the Maxichrono incorporates what De Bethune calls an Absolute Clutch system, which uses the best of what is found in the horizontal and vertical clutch mechanisms of traditional chronograph movements. This patented element benefits from a reduction in the friction that affects the movement both when the chronograph is running and when it is functioning without the chronograph engaged.
The Absolute Clutch operates in a system engaging the two traditional clutch methods to allow the different chronograph counters to function semi-autonomously; the chronograph seconds are governed by the new Absolute Clutch system, while the minute counter is controlled by a shifting pinion and the hour counter is engaged by a horizontal clutch.
Each clutch is governed by a separate column wheel, which explains why the movement contains three.
The Maxichrono movement also comes with all the other patented De Bethune goodies such as the self-regulating twin spring barrel, the silicon/white gold balance wheel, the silicon escape wheel, and one of the most beautiful hand finishes you will ever set your eyes on with a series of brushed and polished surfaces and angles.
Why I bought the De Bethune DB28 Maxichrono
After close to a year of thought, I finally approached the De Bethune team to discuss a customized Maxichrono and to get Flageollet’s feedback. The DB28 Maxichrono is extremely modern, not only technically but also in the looks department. But as I am also a huge fan of vintage, I wanted to add an element of that into this watch with a “tropical” style brown dial and copper-colored numerals.
Having worked in restoring antique and vintage pieces, Flageollet immediately got my drift and rapidly sent me two propositions with different shades of brown.
Next was the decision on the color of the hands: I was thinking blue, but Flageollet suggested having the same color as the numerals to avoid clashing.
After close to six months’ wait and during a visit to the De Bethune manufactory in Switzerland, I got to see prototypes of the different shades of brown for the dial and the colors for the applied numerals.
It is interesting to note that De Bethune makes everything in-house, including case and dials (the jewels, crystals, and straps are outsourced), and therefore the technicians were able to make a series of dials to choose from.
After a fascinating ping-pong-like discussion with Flageollet, the dial and numerals were decided upon.
The next decision involved the case (De Bethune does not differentiate the price in case materials – other than platinum, I believe – since the brand likes to say that the value of its watches resides in the movements and not the case metal).
I wanted to continue playing with the dichotomy of new vs. vintage, so it was decided to house the watch in a pink gold case for the classic feel and zirconium lugs for the avant-garde touch.
I received the watch two weeks ago and it has not left my wrist since. It is more than I expected, and I just can’t stop staring at it and taking it off to admire the achingly gorgeous finish of the movement with its very unusual architecture.
Kudos to Denis Flageollet and his team at De Bethune, who not only perfectly understood my requests and desires but went one step further in actually preceding many questions I could have had and making me what is not only a crown jewel, but a watch that I can truly say represents twenty-first-century watchmaking at its highest level.
For more information, please visit www.debethune.ch/collections-db28_maxi.
Quick Facts De Bethune Custom DB28 Maxichrono
Case: 45 x 11 mm, pink gold with zirconium lugs
Movement: manually wound Caliber DB2030 with 5-day power reserve; 5 Hz/36,000 vph frequency, patented absolute clutch, patented self-regulating twin spring barrel, silicon/white gold balance wheel, silicon escape wheel, 3 column wheels
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; monopusher chronograph with 24-hour display
Limitation: one unique bespoke piece
Price: the non-customized version available at retail is 200,000 Swiss francs
* This article was first published on July 21, 2017 at How Do You Top The Sensational De Bethune DB28 Maxichrono? By Customizing It, Of Course.