3 Brand-New De Bethune DB28s To Celebrate 10 Years Of This Sensational, Now Ultra-Thin Watch With Floating Lugs
De Bethune has a lot of fans. Even if these fans can’t all afford to buy a timepiece this brand makes, it doesn’t stop them from geeking out. Fans including a majority of the Quill & Pad team. And, yep, I’ll admit quite readily that I’m among them.
Since the brand’s launch in 2002, De Bethune co-founder and chief watchmaker Denis Flageollet has been seriously experimenting with new types of balance systems to improve amplitude and rate stability.
These experimentations have included the unusual use of crystalline silicon, platinum, and titanium with the express goal being to improve the performance of the balance using a technological approach. Unlike today, these materials were rare in the watch industry at the time.
De Bethune DB28: sci-fi technology in 2010
The DB28, introduced in 2010, was the ideal showcase for everything Flageollet had been pioneering. Its manually wound 5-day movement included a silicon balance wheel with platinum weights. The wheel’s exceptional lightness offered an ideal inertia/mass ratio and reduced both mechanical friction and positional errors.
The balance spring was topped off by a flat terminal curve, a concept based on Abraham-Louis Breguet’s discovery that the spring’s terminal curve is of utmost importance to its quality performance. The curve helps achieve isochronism and eliminate lateral pressure. While the Breguet hairspring overcoil is bent upward, De Bethune’s silicon balance spring features a flat terminal curve that offers the same benefits but with a slimmer profile.
De Bethune’s balance also features a triple pare-chute bridge, likewise inspired by Breguet, which is a shock absorber system supported by a titanium bridge. This allowed the company to create what it calls the “lightest isochronic oscillating system in the world.” Shock protection shields the sensitive balance spring pivots from undue stress, which could lead to irregularities in rate and potential damage.
“Our studies of the silicon balance spring were done here in-house at De Bethune for the last several years,” Flageollet, the company’s technical director explained to me back in 2010. “It is the logical result of the studies of the titanium-platinum balance with De Bethune’s terminal curve. We chose to use silicon because it is the best material for great precision and perfect control needed for working with numerous laboratories all over the world. This technology has been used for more than 30 years by high-tech industries, adapted for electronics, for example.”
Additionally, the DB28 Caliber DB2115 contained self-regulating twin spring barrels specifically designed to minimize friction and efficiently transfer a maximum amount of energy – and offers six days of power reserve.
As if the technological advances within aren’t enough, the DB28 is extremely comfortable to wear, even on very small wrists, thanks in great part to the surprising lightness of its 43 mm case, which is crafted entirely in titanium, and floating lugs. The latter are a patented attachment system automatically adjusting to the size of the wearer’s wrist.
The futuristic look of the DB28 has always matched its futuristic interior. The dial, crafted in polished Grade 5 titanium, frames a large cutaway revealing the movement components, which include a triangular base plate and visible escapement components underneath an unusual balance bridge.
De Bethune DB28’s 10-year anniversary: DB28XP
In 2020, De Bethune celebrates the tenth anniversary of its groundbreaking icon with three limited edition DB28s taking the model from thin to ultra-thin.
At only 11.4 mm in height, the DB28 was never a “thick” watch, but the new XP models have come down to an incredible 7.2 mm, making it even more elegant and more comfortable.
“We are living in a world of ‘always more’ that is driving us toward disaster,” Flageollet answered in his typically cryptic way the question as to why he felt the need to modify his company’s icon. “I found it is relevant to add a little bit of discretion, subtlety, and introspection.”
Making this groundbreaking timepiece both more elegant and ergonomic makes for a new chapter for the DB28’s existence, but it’s much more than simply a cosmetic alteration.
The DB28XP isn’t thinner for the sake of being thinner: for Flageollet and CEO Pierre Jacques the new models embody an ideal of beauty and elegance derived from absolute purity. The new sizing pushes the limits by distilling the original DB28 even further. And, in truth, the DB28XP bats any old-fashioned notions of what ultra-thin should be right outta the park.
The monochromatic color scheme of the DB28XP references the first version of the DB28, which by the way remains in the collection to this day as the OG. The natural titanium color looks architectural, changing hue with the ambient light.
This DB28XP contains a multitude of textures, shapes, reliefs, and finishes enhancing the play of light, including the brand’s proprietary Microlight finishing visible through the front sapphire crystal as the dial background (on what is in reality the main plate). It contrasts so sharply with the high polish of the triangular delta-shaped bridge front and center (reminiscent of the “Star Trek” logo and perhaps the signature element of De Bethune) that the interplay of these two perfectly executed finishes is alone worth the price of admission.
The only color contrasts are the blued titanium inserts in the hands, the blue of the balance wheel and the ruby-red shimmer of the bearing jewels.
One’s attention has a hard time leaving the dial space, with its multitude of little polished spheres and 12 larger ones combining to form the hour and minute markers; the eye cannot stop encircling the dial, visually playing with them like little pinballs.
The technology of De Bethune’s new DB28XP is similar to previous versions despite a difference in caliber height of 0.7 mm. The original Caliber DB2115 was 4.5 mm high, while this latest Caliber DB2115v6 measures only 3.8 mm in height.
The blued titanium balance wheel, slightly different from previous versions with small white gold regulating weights interplaying with the balance spring and its flat terminal curve, peeks out from underneath the immaculately finished balance bridge armed with triple pare-chute shock absorbers.
Through constant experimentation and adjustment, De Bethune has managed to increase the movement’s power reserve by 20 percent for a new total of six days instead of the previous five: quite an achievement for a thinner movement.
De Bethune DB28’s 10-year anniversary: DB28XP Starry Sky
The tenth-anniversary DB28XP Starry Sky is based on the new DB28XP but outfitted with a full dial leaving only a small opening at 6 o’clock to view the animated regulator.
Inspired by the DB28 Skybridge, the Starry Sky features a “curved” blue sky featuring Microlight-finished titanium reflecting even more light than usual. The deep blue expanse is broken up by “stars,” which are pinpoints of white gold positioned one by one with great care to re-create the magic of a beautiful night sky.
These white gold points are not randomly positioned, either: the placement can be specified by the owner as to the date, time, and geographical location of the sky to be depicted. The artisans at De Bethune then create this miniature sky map accordingly.
Unusually, De Bethune has selected pink gold hands to point to the clear hour numerals encircling the dial, creating a striking contrast with the high-polished titanium case and Microtlight-finished blued titanium dial.
De Bethune DB28’s 10-year anniversary: DB28XP Tourbillon
The final watch in the tenth anniversary trio is a tourbillon model. The added complication raises the stakes – and the height of the case – minimally, as this escapement style requires a little more space.
Its titanium case is therefore raised from the 7.2 mm of the DB28XP to 8.1 mm in height, which is still 1.1 mm thinner than the original DB28 tourbillon.
Caliber DB2009v4 powering the DB28XP Tourbillon measures 5.95 mm in height, down from the 7.05 mm thickness of the previous movement, which is quite an accomplishment.
The aesthetics, clearly inspired by the DB28 Digitale, puts emphasis on the tourbillon in the cutaway at 6 o’clock.
The refined, balanced dial harks back to classic watchmaking techniques while simultaneously bringing them into the twenty-first century. The focus here is the large expanse, cleanly decorated without superfluous ornamentation aside from the beautiful hand-guilloché barleycorn pattern inside of the blued hour track around the periphery.
The De Bethune tourbillon differs from many others on the market for a several reasons. For one, its cage makes one full revolution in just 30 seconds rather than the usual 60 seconds. For another, it beats at a high-speed frequency of 36,000 vph (5 Hz). It also features the lightest cage on the market, coming in at a mere 0.18 gram, despite comprising 63 components.
The case back is an interesting nod to the ten-year history of the DB28: on November 19, 2011 the DB28 won the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève’s highest honor, the Aiguille d’Or. In recognition of that achievement, the solid titanium case back is engraved with the position of the nine planets of our solar system at that exact date and time.
Looking at the solid titanium case back, we note the sun at the very center of the engraving surrounded by the nine ecliptics representing the planets’ paths around the sun; the blue-filled planets are positioned in the exact spots they were on November 19, 2011.
Unfortunately, because of the cancellation of the 2020 fairs and the shelter-in-place situation we are currently in, I have not yet had a chance to try these pieces on or see them in person. But I am told by those that have had that opportunity that they are as stunning as they appear in the photos. One more reason why I cannot wait for life to get back to a semblance of normality again.
For more information, please visit www.debethune.ch/en/collections/db28-collections/xp-starry-sky, www.debethune.ch/en/collections/db28-collections/db28xp-1 and/or www.debethune.ch/en/collections/db28-collections/xp-tourbillon.
Quick Facts De Bethune DB28XP and DB28XP Starry Sky
Case: grade five titanium, 43 x 7.2 mm; floating lugs
Movement: manually wound Caliber DB2115v6 with blued titanium escape wheel with white gold weights, 6-day power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, Triple Pare-Chute shock protection with Incabloc
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: CHF 72,000 excluding VAT
Quick Facts De Bethune DB28XP Tourbillon
Case: grade five titanium, 43 x 8.1 mm; floating lugs
Movement: manually wound Caliber DB2009v4 with 30-second tourbillon in silicon and titanium, self-regulating twin spring barrels, silicon escape wheel, 5 Hz/36,000 vph frequency, five-day power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds (on tourbillon)
Price: CHF 180,000 excluding VAT
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