"The idea behind the project that David Zanetta and I initiated was to create watches that would allow people to discover the great history of watchmaking"
By the turn of the century, the Baumgartners and Halter were already far along the paths that would make them significant independent watchmakers. Their former colleague, Denis Flageollet, however, was still at THA, where he would remain until 2001. That year, he departed the infamous horological workshop to establish De Bethune in La Choux, a five-minute drive from Sainte-Croix. De Bethune’s other guiding light was David Zanetta, an Italian who was one of the world’s most important vintage watch dealers in the final decades of the 20th century.
With Flageollet as the technical genius, Zanetta provided the inimitable aesthetic sensibility that seamlessly melded the classical and avant-garde, a style that would come to define De Bethune.
When De Bethune made its debut in 2002, the brand presented a line up of unusual yet distinctly classical timepieces. Though clearly inspired by French watchmakers to the Royal court - Leroy and Breguet, these timepieces had a distinct case style with short lugs capped by cones that gave them a slightly baroque flair.
The sole exception amongst De Bethune's early releases was the DB15 perpetual calendar with a three dimensional, hand blued titanium moon that was powered by an in-house caliber. This movement was equipped with a delta-shaped barrel bridge and triple pare-chute shock absorbers that has now become a trademark movement of the brand.
The brand’s earliest watches were distinctly old school, a heavy dose of Breguet style with clous-de-paris guilloche dials, Breguet numerals and, powered by “new old stock” movements. But De Bethune swiftly evolved, driven by Flageollet’s imaginative mind and Zanetta’s well-honed taste, resulting in watches that are space age yet accented with classical details – think Roman numerals, Breguet hands, and an expanse of heat-blued titanium. And no doubt encouraged by Zanetta’s eye for the extravagant and elegant, Flageollet also built lavish table clocks and even a smartphone case fitted with a mechanical pocket watch. But De Bethune watches are avant-garde beyond just style, with Flageollet having invented a variety of movement innovations – ranging from silicon and platinum balance wheels to a jewel-lined mainspring barrel – that have been progressively improved over time.
DB25 Perpetual Calendar
Including a perpetual calendar, a spherical double-hemisphere moon-phase display, an in-house shock-absorbing system and a titanium/platinum balance; De Bethune pulled out all the stops when it launched the DB25 Perpetual Calendar in 2011. The elegantly streamlined ogive-shaped lug tips interestingly draw inspiration from De Bethune’s early design language established by the DB3Y and DB10RS1, from 2003 and 2003 respectively.
DB25 Imperial Fountain for The Hour Glass
Reflecting De Bethune’s frequent use of themes from cultures as varied as the ancient Mayans, the DB25 Imperial Fountain was inspired by the famed bronze animal heads of the water clock in Beijing’s Old Summer Palace, each representing an animal of the Chinese Zodiac. With the palace looted by British and French troops during the Second Opium War, the heads were dispersed throughout the world, but have recently made their way back to China, while becoming exceptionally prized cultural artefacts. Each watch of the series features a miniature, hand-engraved replica of an animal head on the centre of the dial, surrounded in turn by a chapter ring depicting all of the animals. All together across the 12 different Zodiac animals, 88 examples of this series were produced.
With its cofounder David Zanetta’s predilection for objets d’art, De Bethune also dabbled in exceptionally lavish table clocks and the occasional accessory, including a titanium iPhone case inset with a mechanical watch. Inspired by both Louis XVI's official clockmaker - Antide Janvier's production of audience table clocks combined with Louis Cartier's mystery clocks of the 1920s, this De Bethune Stellar table clock is an eight-day timekeeper covered in an 18k gold case and executed in a 19th century Egyptomania style. The Stellar clock indicates the time with “floating” hands on a concave dial made of blued titanium and studded with solid-gold stars and diamonds, along with a spherical moon phase also found on De Bethune wristwatches.
Dream Watch 5 Piece Unique
Echoing the form watches made by Cartier in the 1920s – long a favourite of David Zanetta – the Dream Watch 5 was originally launched in a compact form, but has been enlarged, while retaining its sleek, seamless form and disc-based time display.
DB28 Kind of Blue Meteorite Piece Unique
Now the quintessential De Bethune wristwatch, the DB28 is a large wristwatch made easily wearable with “floating” lugs – a pair of skeletonised strap attachments pivoted on the case at three and nine o’clock respectively, allowing the watch to cling to the wrist in a unique manner. The dial is produced with a single piece of meteorite that can also be found on the unique execution of the Dream Watch 5.
DB25 Starry Varius Tourbillon #000
Despite the plethora of inventions devised by Denis Flageollet, one of De Bethune’s signature features is a material – blued titanium. Created by heating the alloy to 700°C to create a blue oxide layer on its surface, blued titanium was first used for watch dials in 2006, and eventually made its way to the rest of the watch. This resulted in timepieces like the DB28 Kind of Blue, with almost every visible component rendered in a brilliant, glossy blue. Though launched only in 2018, the DB25 Starry Varius harks back to the earliest models with dials in blued titanium, often combined with gold studs to create a serene abstraction of the night sky.
DB25 Maxi Chrono
A remarkably complicated take on the chronograph, the Maxi Chrono exemplifies Denis Flageollet’s inventive mind. Controlled by a single button within the crown, the movement consolidates all of the chronograph registers – hours, minutes, and seconds – onto the central axis, eliminating the need for sub-dials. At the same time, the conventional chronograph movement has been rearranged such that each of the chronograph hands is driven by its own column wheel and clutch.
Flageollet’s versatile creativity stands out, even amongst his talented peers, for encompassing more than just watch movements. One of his creations is De Bethune’s signature wristwatch, the DB28 that is defined by its sprung, pivoted lugs that allow the large case to sit lightly and snugly on the wrist.
Reminiscent of the bioluminescent light emitted from ultra-deep sea creatures, De Bethune’s dive-ready DB28GS comes equipped with a mechanical dynamo that powers a set of tiny LED lamps. Activating the pusher found at 6 o’clock releases a small, secondary gear train connected to one mainspring, which drives a dynamo under the dial – essentially causing a magnet to rotate near a coil, generating an electric current.
DB28 Steel Wheel for The Hour Glass
Awarded the “Aiguille d’Or” (Best Watch of the Year) at the 2011 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie (GPHG), the bestselling DB28 received a blued-out transformation in celebration of The Hour Glass’ 40th Anniversary. The oxidised-blue grade 5 titanium case, floating lugs, delta-shaped bridge and case back stand in contrast to the superbly finished open-worked dial. Resulting in a highly unique watch that combines bold aesthetics with exceptional mechanics
DB28 Piece Unique
One of the first production DB28s, this unique execution with an 'Imperial' mirror finish on the dial side movement bridge was produced on request of the client and signed off by the two co-founders David Zanetta and Denis Flageollet.
The DB28 is versatile enough to have been iterated into a variety of models, ranging from the ultra-slim DB28XP to the DB28GS diver’s watch, the floating-lug design still manages to subtly incorporate the brand’s founding design with a tiny cone at the end of each lug.