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Watches: Evolution Theory

James D. Malcolmson

De Bethune’s latest watch models could be viewed as a bow to the modern, technical designs that now are in vogue among Swiss watchmakers. With asymmetrical angles and multipart dials, the new timepieces stand in stark contrast to the decidedly classical collection with which De Bethune debuted only three years ago. Company founder and president David Zanetta, a 59-year-old collector who once was hired to acquire watches for the private Cartier collection and for the now-defunct Time Museum of Rockford, Ill., claims the brand’s transformation reflects his original mission to “bring the sense of artistic and technical research back into watchmaking.”

 

De Bethune’s technical director, Denis Flageollet, has engineered movements that allow Zanetta to create more artistic watch designs. Flageollet’s virtuosity is evident in the new DB21 Maxichrono, a chronograph that displays elapsed hours, minutes, and seconds in legible
concentric rings instead of with subdials. A three-column-wheel chronograph mechanism controls the watch’s five hands, which are mounted coaxially.

“The look of these watches comes from my interpretation of Denis’ mechanics,” says Zanetta, who conceived the dial, hands, and case detailing for all of De Bethune’s watches, including the new Power model, an automatic with power reserve display, and the DB20 GMT watch. “In the case of Power,” adds Zanetta, “many of the details come from Denis’ balance bridge.” Flageollet designed this supporting structure for the watch’s regulating mechanism as two sets of angled struts made of blued titanium. Zanetta modeled the hands and rotor after the shape of the bridge and used its form as a pattern for the top plate engraving and the shapes of the twin power reserve indicators. The center of the dial, which is also the baseplate of the movement, is made from the same blued titanium. The metal was engraved to a depth of .067 mm, and its surface was coated to produce a subtle moiré effect that Zanetta describes as “21st-century guilloche.”

 

De Bethune’s departure from conventional designs actually began in 2004, with the DB15, which contained the company’s first in-house-built movement. The watch was distinguished by an odd spherical moon phase display and by the movement’s shield-shaped top plate and bullet-shaped balance wheel. Flageollet has since modified the design and added an original hairspring made with a fusion of silicon and metal. This entire balance assembly, which was later modified again to include Flageollet’s triple-parachute antishock system, is now a standard component of all the company’s new calibers.

Zanetta dispensed with virtually all the classical design hallmarks of his earlier models when creating 2005’s DBS, an asymmetrically shaped watch with a 26-piece multilevel platinum dial appointed with semispherical blued steel hour markers. The watch’s popularity indicated that Flageollet’s unconventional mechanisms are best showcased in a suitably audacious case. 

De Bethune is making significant investments—including the recent purchase of a case manufacturer—to enable it to produce most of its dials, cases, hands, and other aesthetic components in-house. While the company’s use of unusual metals and complex dials can pose manufacturing challenges, such details also distinguish its watches from those of other brands, many of which are applying PVD coatings to parts to add technical-looking flair.

Zanetta rails against the flagrant design plagiarism he observes in Switzerland today, though his debut collection might not withstand the same scrutiny. Since releasing those initial watches, however, he has established novel design codes while amassing mechanical patents, for this onetime professional collector is keenly aware that the combination of novelty and authenticity is difficult to resist.

De Bethune
212.729.7152
www.debethune.ch

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