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De Bethune in search of lost quality
Beginner's Guide

De Bethune in search of lost quality

Thursday, 10 March 2011
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

“The desire to learn is the key to understanding.”

“Thirty years in journalism are a powerful stimulant for curiosity”.

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4 min read

Denis Flageollet and David Zanetta, who set up De Bethune in 2002, will tell you that watchmaking lost its soul in the twentieth century. Now their ambition is to “save the concept of the mechanical watch,” as the recently-unveiled Tourbillon Regulator demonstrates.

Here is a watch that speaks for itself; a timepiece that is “representative of fine classic watchmaking” with its engraved sterling silver dial whose centre is spangled with stars set in blued titanium. Its functions are hours, minutes and jumping seconds, with a power-reserve display at 12 o’clock. De Bethune’s Tourbillon Regulator is the work of an artist while the sophistication of its movement echoes Saint-Exupéry’s thoughts in The Little Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

In this instance, a tourbillon which can be seen only through the case back, and which De Bethune has imagined with the specificities of a wristwatch in mind: “As light as possible, with the highest possible frequency and maximum rotation speed for minimum mass and inertia.” The result is a silicon-titanium tourbillon in a carriage that weighs just 0.18 gram, rotating once on its axis every 30 seconds and with a frequency of 36,000 vibrations/hour. This is, claims De Bethune, the lightest tourbillon carriage on the market. At less than 0.0001 gram, the lightest of its 50 parts barely tips the scales.

Tourbillon Regulator DB25T © De Bethune
Tourbillon Regulator DB25T © De Bethune
"The finest quality watchmaking has been lost"

Such is the essence of the De Bethune Tourbillon Regulator, made in reference to the great watchmakers of the past. The regulating organ alone took more than two years to develop. Everything about this timepiece reflects the brand’s ambition to “save the concept of the mechanical watch,” in the words of David Zanetta, who co-founded De Bethune with Denis Flageollet in 2002. Theirs is a long-term view, addressing each creation with the belief that the most complex parts and the external elements which the industry cannot make be manufactured in-house. Which gives some 3,500 parts produced in De Bethune’s workshops. In a similar vein, De Bethune has integrated an R&D division employing a dozen staff. It has established the brand’s reputation in cutting-edge technology and led to a number of patented inventions, particularly using silicon.

Says David Zanetta: “The last time watchmaking invented anything really new was in the 1950s. Since then, investment in research has dried up, partly because of quartz. We set up De Bethune specifically in response to this, to revive the technically complex watchmaking of the past, drawing on fundamental research and with distinct visual codes. Ultimately, what is watchmaking other than an activity based on mechanical, and consequently mathematical, concepts, underpinned by the work of master craftsmen? Our ancestors knew this, but this culture has faded away. The finest quality watchmaking has been lost for questions of cost and economies of scale. All that matters today is the name on the dial. Cash-hungry companies have done nothing with the magnificent heritage that was ours. The economy of watchmaking today is dominated by points of sale and by getting suppliers to produce at lowest cost for highest margins.”

"Timepieces with soul"

David Zanetta continues, undeterred: “For the past three centuries we’ve been confronted with the same problem of how to improve oscillating systems with a high level of inertia. Fundamental developments were made by marine chronometry, but as pocket watches, always immobile in a waistcoat or on a nightstand, became commonplace, it was easier to forget about past progress. The wristwatch, which is under even greater solicitation, put an end to this, hence why breakthroughs of the past are again taking on their full importance today. We need to instrumentalise the watch based on this fund of knowledge that belongs to the history of mankind. De Bethune represents nothing more than this cultural aspect of watchmaking that we want to keep alive through timepieces with soul.”

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