De Bethune DB28 Steel Wheels Sapphire Tourbillon: Let There Be (Blue) Light!
De Bethune first came out with its DB28 Steel Wheels in 2018. As Joshua Munchow put it at the time, it represented a distillation of everything great about the award-winning DB28, highlighting the most significant components and placing more meaning upon them.
“Great artists and designers are constantly seeking to distill emotion and experience into a single artwork,” he wrote at the time.
What none of us ever anticipates, no matter how long we’ve been acquainted with the brand, is that De Bethune is able to top itself time and time again with the next watch, the next iteration, the next variation. Every time.
The essence of De Bethune
The ever-so-subtle “re-launch” of De Bethune under new ownership became obvious during SIHH in January 2018 with the introduction of the DB28 Steel Wheels. This watch formed a new take on the brand’s truly iconic DB28, a watch that had managed to stay fresh with every new iteration since its launch in 2010.
And no surprise it has stayed fresh: it was co-founder and head watchmaker and inventor Denis Flageollet’s vision of the future of watchmaking. But here and now in the present.
The DB28 Steel Wheels distilled the essence of De Bethune into one watch by using features found in various timepieces from across the history of the brand.
And just two months later at Baselworld 2018 De Bethune debuted an even more limited – and in my view much more attractive – edition called the DB28 Steel Wheels Blue.
As you may guess, it was almost entirely blue. That deep, deep De Bethune blue just bursting with pure emotion.
Oh, that De Bethune blue: it is something that almost single-handedly defines De Bethune. It is rich, cool, vibrant, and deeply mysterious all at the same time. It is the cherry on top of the De Bethune cake.
When we think of De Bethune we generally think of articulating lugs; a spherical moon phase; a titanium balance wheel; polished spherical markers; the delta-shaped bridge that every Star Trek fan just drools over; a triple shock-absorbing balance bridge; outstanding hands; a silicon escape wheel; and, perhaps most of all, high-polished and heat-blued titanium. The DB28 Steel Wheels Blue featured all of these signature elements.
But what would become of Flageollet’s De Bethune if he didn’t strive to constantly one-up his own achievements? I shudder to think of it.
Luckily, no such questions arise now. In typical Flageollet manner, the DB28 Steel Wheels Sapphire Tourbillon takes everything we knew about the DB28 before and lifts it higher toward the heavens.
Transparency and light
It really is all in the details, as it always is at De Bethune. The eye never knows where to look first; to drink it all in at once is such exquisite pleasure that it seems a shame to break it down. But break it down we must.
The visual feature of the Steel Wheels models making them different from the other DB28 models is the openworked dial exposing gearing underneath, something exceedingly rare for De Bethune even though it would feel right at home with the brand’s style. The layering of the details makes it feel sculptural, unique, and complicated without becoming busy.
What usually attracts the eye first on a De Bethune watch with any exposed mechanics is the delta-shaped bridge, generally beautifully finished with a perfect high polish. Next the eye flits to an opening at 6 o’clock for the regulator and, if we’re really lucky, a spherical moon phase.
But the Steel Wheels models are more open to expose even more of the mechanics, which takes them to another level.
On the DB28 Steel Wheels Sapphire Tourbillon even more of the insides are exposed, and in such an original way. Unfortunately, the tradeoff is that the spherical moon phase would have been too much here, both visually and mechanically. But as you’ll see below, it’s been replaced by something else bound to fascinate the eye.
On the original Steel Wheels models, the mainspring barrels and other wheels are openworked to make the dial feel lighter. This version takes that idea even further by replacing not only the twin spring barrel lids with light blue sapphire crystal, but also leaving the openworked style of the delta-shaped bridge, but now in blue sapphire crystal instead of titanium decorated with the previous “côtes De Bethune” pattern from the Steel Wheels.
The effect of this new bridge is astonishing. It is simultaneously light, airy, and BLUE. It reflects the light back to you in the friendliest of ways. It is De Bethune blue, but it is also translucent to reveal the layers below it. It an architectural fusion of space, light, and – yes – time. It is dynamic and perceptive, and it plays with both light and your emotions in the most entrancing way.
In a word, it is perfect.
The sapphire crystal components here, all of which are framed by titanium, have been precision-cut using a laser and perfectly fitted. Look closely at the spring barrel lids: they seem almost like lace in the complexity of the many tiny pieces of corundum fitted over them.
Each of the little pieces of blue corundum has different measurements according to its position. The bridge parts are one millimeter in height as they need to provide more stability, while those little puzzle pieces decorating the lids of the spring barrels are a mere 0.3 mm high.
Adding just enough blue further away from the center of the happenings, the outside perimeter of the dial is ringed in blued titanium, showing off those natural-color polished titanium hour marker spheres to their full advantage.
And let’s talk about those hands. De Bethune always has interesting hands, varying largely from model to model. This may seem like a detail, but it’s not an unimportant one as the hands, aside from fulfilling their main function of showing the time, must not disturb the beauty of the dial. And for this reason, De Bethune is one of the very few manufactures to craft its own hands.
Take the hour hand on the DB28 Steel Wheels Sapphire Tourbillon, which is composed of four separate elements: a steel frame ensures functionality, while a titanium insert, a matte titanium component on the inside, and a polished titanium outer component complete the desired look that does not disturb the dial but also offers direct visibility of the hour. Each component is crafted and hand-finished separately at the manufacture in La Chaux l’Auberson. The result is probably the most unique hour hand on the market today.
No spherical moon phase – but a 30-second tourbillon instead
While the main differences thus far between this and previous DB28 Steel Wheels models are aesthetic, there is one enormous difference in functionality. There is no spherical moon phase at 6 o’clock because Flageollet and his team needed room to replace the “normal” – what is normal in De Bethune’s world anyway? – regulator with the brand’s incredible tourbillon, gifting us along the way with a few more blue accents.
The De Bethune tourbillon differs from others on the market for 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 lightest of those components tip the scale to a minuscule 0.0001 gram!
Flageollet created the De Bethune tourbillon specifically for the modern wristwatch, ensuring its ability to meet the dynamics of today’s needs. Therefore, the tourbillon cage is as light as possible, operating at maximum frequency with an absolute minimum of weight/inertia.
The regulator includes a high-performance titanium balance wheel with white gold weights patented in 2016 keeping a consistent rate. The 2006-patented in-house balance spring with flat terminal curve and the triple pare-chute shock absorbing system keep it from vibrating from shock. The escape wheel is crafted in silicon for perfect geometry, lightness, and resistance.
Other interesting mechanical elements
The self-regulating twin mainspring barrels patented in 2004 – the year De Bethune was founded – provide a healthy 5-day power reserve. This power reserve is shown to the owner – and only the owner and whoever he or she chooses – in a discrete way . . .
The back is much more understated than it probably has a right to be (but then again who would even look at it when there is so much beauty on the front to keep you entertained for years?).
Against the backdrop of a perlage-decorated central bridge we spy the power reserve rack, some springs and wheels, and one very important element for the owner: a power reserve scale engraved into a blued titanium ring and a blued steel hand pointing to reveal the state of the mainspring.
The delicateness of the mechanism is lovely; the long yet thin rack that drives the indicator hand seems to glide across the movement, a testament to the precision inside this De Bethune delicacy.
The DB28 Steel Wheels Sapphire Tourbillon is a window into the soul of De Bethune. And if this soul speaks to you, I can only say one thing: you are as lost as I am in the love of this brand. And for all our sakes, I hope it enjoys many, many more years of success.
For more information, please visit www.debethune.ch/en/collections/db28-collection/db28-steel-wheels.
Quick Facts De Bethune DB28 Steel Wheels Sapphire Tourbillon
Case: 43 x 9.8 mm, polished grade 5 titanium
Movement: manual winding Caliber DB28SWTTIS1 with 30-second tourbillon, self-regulating twin spring barrels, silicon escape wheel, 5 Hz/36,000 vph frequency, five-day power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes; power reserve
Limitation: 10 pieces
Price: 195,000 Swiss francs excl. local taxes