De Bethune DB28: How I Launched It, Why I Bought It, And Why It’s The Perfect ‘One Watch’
by Ian Skellern
De Bethune celebrates the tenth anniversary of its groundbreaking DB28 in 2020 and, as my relationship with the model goes back the full decade, it seems an appropriate time to share the story of how I came to launch the DB28, own a DB28, and what I think of the DB28 after wearing one regularly for seven years.
When visiting any watch fair or exhibition, one of the best places to spot prototypes and not-yet-launched watches is by paying close attention to the wrists of CEOs and senior watchmakers.
And so it was that while wandering a hall in Baselworld 2010, I chanced across De Bethune’s then CEO David Zanetta and chief watchmaker Denis Flageollet. De Bethune was not exhibiting that year and the co-founders were just casually strolling around enjoying the fair.
After chatting for a few minutes, my eye caught a glint of something shiny on Zanetta’s wrist and I asked to take a look. He slowly pulled back his cuff to reveal one of the most beautiful watches I’d ever laid my eyes on, either before or since.
How I launched it: De Bethune DB28
I knew that it was a model that De Bethune hadn’t yet presented, but there was an empty table nearby and I had my camera gear so I asked if I could shoot the watch. And they agreed.
When I finished taking a few photos, I asked Zanetta when they planned to launch the watch and he replied, “When you publish your photos.” I explained to Zanetta that, while I was honored by the vote of confidence, that was not likely to be the most effective way to launch a new model. But he didn’t care and told me to go ahead.
At the time I was a moderator on Horomundi.com, Revolution magazine’s now-defunct online watch discussion platform, and I wrote a (long-lost) article titled along the lines, “The Best Watch I Saw At Baselworld 2010 Wasn’t Even Exhibited At The Fair.”
And so the De Bethune DB28 was launched.
Why I bought it: De Bethune DB28
I’m not a collector. While I have been very fortunate in being able to acquire a few special wristwatches, I’ve never set out to become one or had any collecting strategy. I’m happy to admire and appreciate nice watches without feeling any compulsion to own them.
That said, there have been very few occasions when I fell head over heels in love with a watch. And seeing the DB28 was one. Over the following weeks, after seeing the De Bethune for the first time, I couldn’t get it out of my mind and I desperately wanted to have one of my own.
There was one major problem, though, one that I’m sure the vast majority reading this will be very familiar with: I couldn’t afford it!
Owning a DB28 was a fantasy for me: the price was way beyond what I could afford. It was nice to dream, but time to get back to the real world, for a while at least but I thought, what if . . . ?
So I went and saw Zanetta again and told him that as much as I would have loved to buy a DB28, it was way out of my league. But I thought that if I work my butt off for two years, I just may be able to do it. “See you in two years then, Ian,” Zanetta replied.
It ended up taking me three years, not two, but in January 2013, I visited De Bethune at the Four Seasons hotel in Geneva, where the team was exhibiting during the SIHH, and picked up my DB28. The smile hasn’t left my face since.
As I’m borrowing GaryG’s “Why I bought it” article format, I’d be remiss not to mention his friend Terry’s collection taxonomy of fun, foundational, and patronage in the sense that when considering a new watch purchase it should fit into one (or more) of those broad categories. Which only goes to highlight the fact that while I have been extremely fortunate in acquiring a small few nice watches, I am in no sense of the word a “collector.”
Though not being able to get what I wanted, which made me wan it even more, is one of the hallmarks of a collector (and a little boy).
The DB28 is far too expensive for me to consider a fun watch; I’ve no inclination to build a collection that requires a foundational watch; and while I’m happy to support independent watchmakers and brands in other ways, this type of patronage isn’t one of them.
My buying decision was simply that of a little boy wanting a shiny new toy badly enough to do errands for three years until he could afford it.
It’s also worth noting that I wasn’t alone in thinking the DB28 was a sensational wristwatch: the international jury of the 2011 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) thought so too and awarded it the Aiguille d’Or, the top prize for the best of the best.
Why I love it: De Bethune DB28
Its looks: I’m a movement guy and I like being able to see the movement dial side without having to take a watch off and turn it over (another dream watch of mine in a similar vein is the Akrivia AK-06 – one day, Rexhep).
Unparalleled comfort: I’ve got very small wrists, and at 43 mm the DB28 should be far too large for me to wear comfortably. Large watches tend to roll around my wrist.
However, the DB28 is supremely comfortable because: 1) thanks to its titanium case and slim height, it is not just light for its size, it’s a relatively light watch; and 2) those articulated lugs wrap snugly around the wrist, and it doesn’t move at all. It’s by far the most comfortable watch I’ve ever worn.
It’s worth noting that not long after picking up my watch, I showed it to a very well-respected independent watchmaker who, while admiring the innovative design of the lugs, wondered if they would prove to be robust over time. I’ve now been wearing my DB28 regularly for more than seven years and the lug hinges and springs feel just as solid and precise (no play) as they did when I first strapped it on.
Another issue that I have with most large-diameter watches on my small-diameter wrist is the crown digging into my skin. With its crown at 12 o’clock, that’s not a problem with the DB28.
Discretion: I’m not a flamboyant person (as anyone who knows me is very well aware), and the DB28 is a watch that tends to get noticed. In fact, I’ve never worn another watch by any brand that’s been noticed and remarked on by total strangers and people who know nothing about watches.
But there are times and places where having a big shiny watch on your wrist isn’t a good idea. Those spring-loaded, articulated lugs make it very easy to simply roll the watch around the wrist where it again sits snugly and securely until you want to roll it back again.
Legibility: One common issue with dial-side open movements is that it can be difficult to read the time as the hands get lost in the movement. However, with the large mirror-polished “Star Trek logo” plate in the center and vertical Geneva stripes covering the rest of the top movement plate, the skeletonized blued steel hands are always easy to see.
Reliability: As is evident by the abundantly scratched case, I’ve worn my watch regularly and in many situations that I’m sure, had they known, would have the brand team members sobbing. But it’s never missed a beat. I had it serviced after five years, but that’s it. I’ve found it reliable, robust to shocks, and as water resistant as any sports watch I’ve worn.
Long five-day power reserve: My model has a power reserve of five days (the new DB28XP has six days), and while I normally do not find the regular winding of a watch every couple of days a chore, a five-day power reserve means that I can wind it up before most big watch fairs, strap it on, and forget about it for the duration.
Regulator and balance wheel in silicon: I like the fact that the DB28 doesn’t just look space age, it has the technology to back up its looks. De Bethune was one of the pioneers of using silicon in its regulators. The balance wheel is actually an extremely thin, flat plate rather than traditional spokes with a band of palladium around its circumference. And as somebody who is not particularly careful while wearing my watches, I appreciate (and have no doubt benefited from) De Bethune’s patented triple pare-chute shock-absorbing system.
Denis Flageollet: Not only is De Bethune’s co-founder one of the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure to meet, he is also one of the best and most innovative watchmakers I’ve had the pleasure to meet. And I’ve met most of them.
And you don’t have to take my word for that, Urwerk’s Felix Baumgartner, a great, innovative watchmaker himself, once told me he considered Flageollet the best contemporary watchmaker, bar none. That thought not only gives me a sense of reassurance regarding the quality of the watch, it provides a pleasurable connection to one of the best watchmakers of our time.
Long five-day power reserve: As with all things in life, strengths and weaknesses are two sides of the same coin. While that long power reserve is great when the watch is fully wound, it does take a long time to wind it. I have often wondered while winding and checking the imperceptibly advancing back-mounted power reserve indicator if it’s working at all.
Silicon balance wheel: Because the DB28 has no second hand and the balance wheel is a flat plate without spokes, it can be difficult to see if the watch is running. You have to look closely, tilt at the right angle, and check if the fine hairspring is breathing in and out. No hardship, but it takes thought rather than just a casual glance.
Spherical moon phase: While the blued steel/platinum spherical moon phase indication seems like a cool complication to have, I have never set it (though that’s easy with the flush case band pusher) in seven years. I’d be happier to forgo the moonphase and (hopefully) pay less.
It is worth noting that the recently launched new-generation DB28XP is even thinner (7.2 mm down from 11.4 mm), has a longer power reserve (six days instead of five days), and is around CHF 10,000 cheaper at 72,000 Swiss francs – a (relative) bargain!
After seven years of ownership with very regular wear, and I mean very regular wear, not just to the air-conditioned office and back, I’m not only extremely happy with my DB28, if I had to choose just one watch to wear it would be this one. It’s a keeper and has that most essential quality of all that I’m looking for in any watch: it makes me smile!
For more information, please visit www.debethune.ch/en/collections/db28-collections.
Quick Facts De Bethune DB28 TIS5
Case: grade five titanium, 42.6 x 11.4 mm; floating lugs
Movement: manually wound, twin spring barrels, silicon balance wheel with palladium rim, five-day power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, triple Pare-Chute shock absorber
Functions: hours, minutes; power reserve, spherical moon phase
Price (2013): CHF 83,000 excluding VAT (current DB28XP: CHF 72,000)