De Bethune DB28XS Starry Seas Reviewed by Tim Mosso

by Tim Mosso

De Bethune’s DB28 collection is impressive and intimidating all at once. Its uniquely avant-garde appearance and engineering appeal to many, but an equal number find the brashly revealing dials and sheer size to be overwhelming. The 2023 DB28XS Starry Seas meets the brand’s standoff admirers halfway. Still a DB28 in every sense that matters, the new model is smaller in size and more classical in appearance.

De Bethune DB28XS Starry Seas

For DB-curious collectors, the Starry Seas amounts to a bridge from conventional indie brands to the full-bore outré statements of De Bethune’s watchmaking chief, Denis Flageollet. From my vantage point within a business group that owns De Bethune, I’ve had a chance to cross-reference the smallest DB28 with its fellows in the lineup.

Size matters, just not in the “Texas State Fair” sense of the term. In De Bethune’s hometown of L’Auberson, Switzerland, the Starry Seas’ smaller 38.7mm case is big news. Since the original DB28 of 2010, the signature De Bethune model family has lived large. While not heavy – most are titanium – or thick, most DB28s range from 43mm to 45mm in diameter. And that number fails to account for the floating lugs, which occupy additional space beyond the case itself.

Although De Bethune long has offered lugs of different sizes for different wrists, the core case limits how much a DB28 can downsize.

De Bethune DB28XS Starry Seas

The primary goal of the DB28XS was to address collectors’ requests for a smaller version of the watch. Mission accomplished. In the process of simplifying caliber DB2005 to fit a smaller diameter – omitting the standard DB28’s power reserve indicator and moonphase – De Bethune achieved a thinner watch. While the core DB28 “Kind of Blue” measures 11.4mm thick, the XS shrinks that to 9mm.

I measured the thinnest DB28, the ultra-thin “XP,” at 8.7mm. In other words, the Starry Seas is seriously slim by De Bethune standards.

Dial architecture addresses objection number two; the standard DB28 is too weird. Open dials are an acquired taste, and most DB28s redouble the effect by placing barrels, bridges, balance, and escapement on the dial side. Some of the form factors can appear sci-fi adjacent. The DB28XS replaces these love/hate elements with a more diplomatic solid dial. Because this is still a De Bethune, the company’s signature fired blue titanium takes center stage.



The usual DB28 dial conventions are discarded in favor of a new random guilloché. The process, which adds visual distinction to the expanse of blue metal, is a world premiere. While all dials include sea-like waves and applied gold “stars,” no two passes from the same engine will produce the same cuts.

The tiny gold ‘stars’ on the dial of the De Bethune DB28XS Starry Seas can be customized to depict any constellation

In addition, the specific position and relative size of the stars employed can be selected to reflect a specific night’s sky above a specific part of the Earth on a specified night. For example, you can request the sky over your hometown on the night of your birth – or any other occasion of note.

De Bethune takes pride in controlling the factors of production. While most brands producing cases, dials, and movements in-house are large industrial operations, DB localizes these crafts – and a few others like engraving and small parts manufacture – under its own roof.

Movement of the De Bethune DB28XS Starry Seas

As with Montres Journe, the idea is less about compounding profits and more about the freedom to produce low volumes; most industry suppliers have no interest in producing dials for the kind micro-editions common at De Bethune. Many DB models are produced in double or even single-digit quantities per year, so low volumes are the rule rather than the exception.

Mechanically, the DB28XS is a full-fledged DB28. Its manual wind movement endows the smallest ’28 with the same six-day power reserve as its largest siblings. Patented self-adjusting barrels include a slipping mainspring to remove the hazard of over-winding.

Patented regulator of the De Bethune DB28XS Starry Seas

No gimmicks are played with balance size or beat rate to achieve the 144-hour reserve. The oscillator runs at a conventional 4Hz and a large blue titanium balance wheel features massive white gold pods in its rim.

This balance design is the tenth that Flageollet has patented. Each iteration strives to maximize the percentage of total mass in the rim, reduce the impact of temperature on timing consistency, and diminish the energy – however slight – lost to aerodynamic resistance. While DB does not create its own hairspring alloys, the company’s patented hairspring geometry is applied in-house.

Special patented bend in the De Bethune hairspring

The outer curve of the flat hairspring is severed from the inner spiral, shaped by hand to an irregular “kink,” and reconnected to the inner spiral by a micro-clamp. As a result, the hairspring retains the thinness of a flat hairspring while exhibiting the centered mass and positional stability of an overcoil.



“Triple Pare-Chute” shock protection for the balance provides both insurance against damage and improved chronometry. Regarding the former, my internal access to the brand has included follow-up inspection of DB28s used in professional tennis matches, and the watches in question were no worse for the experience.

Part of the De Bethune patented “Triple Pare-Chute” shock protection visible at top right of the image

Regarding the relationship between chronometry and shock protection, the essence of the principle is that the additional shock absorbers can maintain the pivot of the balance staff in its cup jewel for more total time than a single Incabloc spring can accomplish under identical impacts.

Artisanal decoration of De Bethune models varies by collection. The entry-level DB27 is the most basic. Certain automatic movements blend traditional finish juxtaposed for effect against calculated “industrial chic.” But the DB28’s DB2005 and derivatives always get the full-fat French Swiss lily-gilding.

Massive mirror polished barrel bridge of the De Bethune DB28XS Starry Seas

Start with the steel barrel bridge cap. It’s mirror-finished in fashion often described as “black” polish; from most angles, the optically flawless surface reflects no light. Most movements from most brands apply this treatment to regulators, stud holders, or screw-size components; De Bethune goes poli noir on full bridges. The edges of the polished barrel cap are broad, round, and mirrored in the fashion of the finest anglage. Jewel sinks are reamed and smooth.

Don’t take my word for it; the photos tell the story.

Movement of the De Bethune DB28XS Starry Seas

Oddly, the primary barrel bridge, although mostly covered, exhibits a full set of côtes De Bethune; this can be seen in photos just below the bridge for the shock protection springs Also of note, the ratchet wheel above and to the right of the balance includes teeth with micro chamfers.

“Microlight” engraving of the DB28XS Starry Seas

De Bethune caps the base plate with a decorative disc engraved with the company’s “Microlight” engraving. It’s similar to guilloché in the sense that Microlight is a reductive engraving by engine, but the tightly spaced texture is finer in detail and better suited to the modernist ethic of the watch. De Bethune’s philosophy of applying Microlight is to amplify the contours of a form or arc of line, and that’s evident in the DB28XS’ radiating ripples around the barrels and balance wheel.

De Bethune DB28XS Starry Seas regulator/balance assembly

The balance assembly itself is a case study in obsessive detail. Above the oscillator, a large steel bridge extends itself to the top of the barrel cover. All parts of this fired blue bridge are mirror polished, but the fine beveled edges speak to the time lavished on this mostly ornamental addition. The unfired steel bracket immediately above the balance is more functional and serves as the anchor of the Triple Pare-Chute flanking springs. A Greubel-worth balance bridge of continuously rounded and specular polished steel is the chef d’oeuvre of the entire caseback.

De Bethune DB28XS Starry Seas

De Bethune’s Starry Seas isn’t designed to be the “affordable” DB28. Its shape, extensive use of blued titanium, and top-shelf movement banish any notion that the XS is an “entry level” De Bethune in any sense. But with size, style, and an image that’s more approachable to conservative tastes, the DB28XS is the company’s definitive “point-of-entry” for brand-curious collectors hitherto on the sidelines.

For more information, please visit

Quick Facts: De Bethune DB28XS Starry Seas
Edition: Since 2023
Reference Number: DB28XSTIS3
Case: 38.7mm in grade five titanium; 9mm thick; variable geometry floating lugs with range from 44.8mm to 48.9mm; 30-meters water resistant
Dial: Silver hour and minute track framing heat-blued grade five titanium with random guilloché pattern and applied gold stars; polished titanium hands
Movement: DB2005, manual wind with 144-hour power reserve; twin barrels; 4Hz beat rate; triple shock protection for balance staff; 30mm diameter; 27 jewels
Functions: hours and minutes
2024 Retail Price: $90,000

* Tim Mosso is the media director and watch specialist at Watchbox. You can check out his very comprehensive YouTube channel at Watchbox is the majority owner of shares in De Bethune.

You might also enjoy:

De Bethune DBD Re-Edition Evergreen Reviewed by Tim Mosso

De Bethune DB28 Tourbillon Deadbeat Seconds reviewed by Tim Mosso

Watches I Love by Tim Mosso – Part 1: How I Got Into Watches and My First Watches

Watches I Love by Tim Mosso – Part 2: The Jaeger-LeCoultre Years

De Bethune DB28: How I Launched It, Why I Bought It, And Why It’s The Perfect ‘One Watch’

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *