DE BETHUNE The Great­est Watch Brand You’ve Never Heard Of

Es­chew­ing high-profile mar­ket­ing cam­paigns, De Bethune has re­mained true to its found­ing ethos — to fo­cus on re­al­iz­ing tech­ni­cally in­no­va­tive watches that al­ways bring some­thing new and beau­ti­ful to the world of horol­ogy. Rev­o­lu­tion casts the spot­light on

Revolution (Hong Kong) - - CONTENTS - TEXT BY WEI KOH

Why did you and David Zanetta es­tab­lish De Bethune in 2002? We wanted to cre­ate an all-new type of watch­mak­ing. At the time, most brands were blocked from tech­ni­cal ad­vance­ment be­cause they had to use the es­cape­ments that were avail­able from Ni­varox. No one was re­ally making their own move­ments. We wanted to be able to achieve our wildest dreams by unit­ing the aes­thetic and tech­ni­cal vi­sions of the brand. If David [who is the brand’s de­sign mas­ter­mind] tells me that he wants to do some­thing, I will al­ways say: “Let me try to find the way.” Tell us about the in-house bal­ance wheel you in­tro­duced in 2004. With a bal­ance wheel, you want the great­est in­er­tia com­bined with the light­est weight. This is good for chronom­e­try as well as power re­serve. I cre­ated a de­sign with four arms in ti­ta­nium, and then I re­moved the rim of the bal­ance and placed a weight at the end of each arm, which can be ad­justed to get the best re­sult. When I tested it, it achieved a 20 per­cent higher qual­ity fac­tor than a tra­di­tional bal­ance. Since then, there have been mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the form to im­prove man­u­fac­tur­ing pre­ci­sion and qual­ity. For ex­am­ple, I flame-blued the ti­ta­nium arms to sta­bi­lize them.

We are con­stantly evolv­ing the de­sign of the bal­ance wheel. Take, for ex­am­ple, the one in the DB25 World Trav­eler. It is a ti­ta­nium wheel with gold weights poised on it that act like the holes in a golf ball, in that they start to gen­er­ate their own mo­men­tum when in mo­tion. The re­sult is a beau­ti­ful bal­ance wheel with greater aero­dy­namic pen­e­tra­tion and bet­ter qual­ity fac­tor. We did experiment with silicon, but we con­cluded that we pre­ferred a metal hair­spring with a very par­tic­u­lar ter­mi­nal curve.

What is the idea be­hind your ter­mi­nal curve? First, we wanted to achieve what the Phillips ter­mi­nal curve does, but on a flat spring avoid­ing the need for ex­tra height. Se­condly, I don’t like the idea of bend­ing the hair­spring — if this is not done per­fectly, the per­for­mance is com­pro­mised. In­stead, by work­ing on the out­side of the curve, I can have the fi­nal part of the spi­ral slightly thicker, which is the same as hav­ing a greater ac­tive length to the spi­ral. By work­ing with the profile and thick­ness of the outer curve, we can have a hair­spring that breathes con­cen­tri­cally and re­tains its cen­ter of grav­ity per­fectly.

Also, be­cause a tra­di­tional stud re­tains the hair­spring be­tween two pins, there is al­ways some de­for­ma­tion at this point as the hair­spring shakes be­tween these two pins. When the watch is ver­ti­cal, this shake causes the watch to lose am­pli­tude and slow down. Our de­sign al­lows the hair­spring to be fixed rigidly us­ing a sin­gle screw on one side only, which elim­i­nates this prob­lem.

The spi­ral is made of a nor­mal [nickel-iron] metal like that you would get from Ni­varox; how­ever, the ma­te­rial for the end curve is some­thing we don’t tell any­one. Were you the first brand to use mir­ror-pol­ished ti­ta­nium cases? Yes. There were brands that had made ti­ta­nium cases. But they were all us­ing grade 2, which is an in­dus­trial grade. I’d al­ready tried pol­ish­ing grade 2, but there were vis­i­ble holes and other ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties on the sur­face. In con­trast, grade 5 ti­ta­nium was cre­ated for med­i­cal pur­poses and can be pol­ished to a mir­ror fin­ish be­cause of its pu­rity.

When did you start cre­at­ing heat­blued ti­ta­nium cases? We were ex­per­i­ment­ing for 12 years, ap­ply­ing this tech­nique to dif­fer­ent parts, such as the lugs, un­til the en­tire watch be­came blue. We started to apply the blue ther­mic treat­ment to our pol­ished ti­ta­nium around 2012. We are now start­ing to do the cases our­selves, but it has been a steep learning curve.

The blue is an ox­ide that de­posits on the ti­ta­nium when you heat it to a cer­tain tem­per­a­ture, which also makes it more sta­ble. The ini­tial in­tent was per­for­mance and not aes­thetic, but I al­ways like it when some­thing func­tional is also beau­ti­ful. The blue does patina when you wear it and it can be scratched, but we can al­ways re­pol­ish the case or the lugs and redo the treat­ment. What was the first watch you cre­ated us­ing Grade 5 ti­ta­nium? It was the Maxi­chrono in 2006. It was the first watch in pol­ished grade 5 ti­ta­nium and with our sig­na­ture mo­bile lugs. It also had a chrono­graph move­ment that beat at 10Hz with a 30-sec­ond chrono­graph fea­tur­ing three col­umn wheels. It took a while for us to come to mar­ket with the watch be­cause we had to en­sure the re­li­a­bil­ity of ev­ery as­pect.

The pro­duc­tion model of the Maxi­chrono dif­fers from the pro­to­type in that it is 5Hz and is a tra­di­tional 60-sec­ond chrono­graph as op­posed to a 30-sec­ond chrono­graph, which peo­ple found a bit con­fus­ing to read. The other thing we changed was the clutch sys­tem. The pro­to­type had a ver­ti­cal clutch, which has cer­tain weak­nesses, so the pro­duc­tion model ended with what we call the “Ab­so­lute Clutch” or the “De Bethune To­tal Clutch Sys­tem”. We patented this sys­tem in 2015. What is the De Bethune To­tal Clutch Sys­tem? The chrono­graph has three ma­jor parts: the hour counter, the minute counter and the sec­onds counter. Each one of these has a col­umn wheel and each uses a dif­fer­ent type of clutch. Ver­ti­cal-clutch chrono­graphs are con­structed for the clutch to be run­ning all the time and for the per­for­mance of the chrono­graph to be chrono­met­ric, but this means that when the chrono­graph is not ac­ti­vated the watch is not as pre­cise.

In our sys­tem, the clutch and chrono­graph train are not nor­mally run­ning. Only when you en­gage the chrono­graph does it start to run. But the im­por­tant thing here to un­der­stand is that the clutch is off­set and runs at one rev­o­lu­tion per two min­utes. So you lose much less am­pli­tude driv­ing this than a nor­mal one. Here, pre­ci­sion is dou­bled be­cause it goes two times slower. And if there is a small fault in am­pli­tude, it is less im­por­tant. The sec­onds wheel is de­cen­tral­ized and drives the chrono­graph wheel, which makes one rev­o­lu­tion ev­ery minute. Even bet­ter, this sys­tem is easy to as­sem­ble and easy to re­pair and ser­vice. We al­ways think about sus­tain­abil­ity. What watch do you con­sider to be most em­blem­atic of De Bethune? We have the clas­sic DB25 line and the con­tem­po­rary DB28 line. In terms of de­sign and tech­nol­ogy, the DB28 is the most em­blem­atic as it rep­re­sents many of our sig­na­ture in­no­va­tions — the bal­ance wheel fac­ing the front of the watch with the bal­ance in silicon and a ring of plat­inum, the in-house hair­spring with patented ter­mi­nal curve, and the triple para­chute anti-shock sys­tem. The watch also fea­tures our 3D moon­phase in­di­ca­tor crafted from a ball of pal­la­dium and flame-blued steel. Fi­nally, the case fea­tures our mo­bile lugs of­fered in two sizes and in a va­ri­ety of ma­te­ri­als. Tell us about the 3D moon­phase in­di­ca­tor. The idea has been around for many years — you see it in beau­ti­ful old clocks. When we were de­sign­ing our first per­pet­ual cal­en­dar, we made a small moon­phase in­di­ca­tor and David hated it. He was right. If you put a tra­di­tional moon­phase in­di­ca­tor in a big dial, it can be very nice. But on our dial, it wasn’t. David said: “OK, let’s make a spher­i­cal moon­phase in­di­ca­tor just like in the horol­ogy we re­ally love.” I wasn’t sure we could be­cause the mech­a­nism of the per­pet­ual cal­en­dar is flat, but even­tu­ally I man­aged to find a tech­ni­cal so­lu­tion. If I hadn’t, I don’t think David would have al­lowed us to cre­ate a per­pet­ual cal­en­dar. I can’t think of any­one that is like him in this re­gard.

The moon­phase started to ap­pear in more of our watches and even­tu­ally, we de­cided to place it in the DB28. Although this watch wasn’t a per­pet­ual cal­en­dar, the moon had be­come an ob­ject of beauty in it­self. As ev­ery­thing in De Bethune has to be func­tional even if its pri­mary pur­pose is to cre­ate emo­tion, this moon­phase in­di­ca­tor is ac­cu­rate to 122 years. And what’s spe­cial about your tour­bil­lon? We did not want to make just an­other tour­bil­lon. I re­al­ized that for a tour­bil­lon to be least af­fected by the mi­cro-shocks that are char­ac­ter­is­tic of the life of a wrist­watch, it had to have an el­e­vated vi­bra­tional speed. So I thought of 5Hz. All the parts in­side the tour­bil­lon had to move at the high­est speed pos­si­ble to give them greater au­ton­omy from changes in po­si­tion, so I thought of a 30-sec­ond tour­bil­lon. This meant that all the parts had to be as light as pos­si­ble, but I didn’t want to re­duce the di­am­e­ter of the bal­ance wheel be­cause this would be less op­ti­mal.

I con­cluded that the tour­bil­lon could func­tion well as long as it weighed less than 0.2g — a chal­lenge as there were 63 com­po­nents. For us to achieve this, we had to re­move the three arms of the cage and con­struct them from ti­ta­nium. We had to struc­ture of the cage in a way that was min­i­mal­is­tic and monobloc, yet had steps in it to make it more rigid. Also, the cage and ev­ery­thing in it had to be to­tally bal­anced. It is the sum of all of these that was the chal­lenge. My ‘Kind Of Blue’ Tour­bil­lon is both ac­cu­rate and vis­ually stun­ning. Is it a pri­or­ity at De Bethune to cre­ate time-telling ob­jects of art? Ev­ery­thing we do is to in­crease per­for­mance, im­prove func­tion and hope­fully, cre­ate some­thing beau­ti­ful. From the be­gin­ning, we wanted to make some­thing that was miss­ing in watch­mak­ing — to help con­tinue the beau­ti­ful story of watch­mak­ing. Noth­ing we do is with­out a per­for­mance pur­pose, but it is al­ways ex­pressed in a way that is po­etic and beau­ti­ful to be­hold. This makes our watches si­mul­ta­ne­ously time­pieces and ob­jects of art. So when we launch a minute re­peater one day, it has to bring some­thing mean­ing­ful in terms of per­for­mance, sound and beauty. It has to be real watch­mak­ing.

The De Bethune DB28T 'Kind of Blue' Tour­bil­lon

De Bethune has been ex­per­i­ment­ing with var­i­ous bal­ance wheel con­fig­u­ra­tions since 2004 in at­tempts to max­i­mize pe­riph­eral in­er­tia — as in the case of these un­usual os­cil­la­tors that com­bine light ti­ta­nium frames with heavy gold weights

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP ABOVE The move­ment of the DB29 Maxi­chrono Tour­bil­lon; the DB28 Maxi­chrono in rose gold and zir­co­nium; the DB28 Dig­i­tale; the DB28ST Tour­bil­lon with Jump­ing Sec­onds

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