De Bethune: Up-to-the-minute Tradition

SLIDESHOW: Here we see a De Bethune craftsman setting up the hands on a DB25 Tourbillon Regulator. Click the slideshow for more pictures of our visit to De Bethune’s manufacture.

This respected independent watchmaker’s goal is to transmit the passion of major historical timepieces into the 21st century.

It is late January in Switzerland and there is a cold briskness in the morning air as the train we are on pulls into Yverdon-les-Bains, a municipality so small that the announcers don’t even list it as a stop on the route until we arrive. Just outside, Martial, a master watchmaker who takes care of De Bethune’s after-sales services, is waiting to take us up the mountains to the even smaller village of L’Auberson in the Jura Mountains where De Bethune’s manufacture is located.

The drive up the snow-capped mountains is long but the amazing scenery through the winter wonderland more than makes up for it. The inviting smell of coffee and freshly baked croissants welcomes us as we reach our first destination: a little building that houses De Bethune’s research and development team. The building in itself is fascinating, all quaint and charming with its rickety stairs and wooden doors. And yet, the work that goes on inside is decidedly modern. As one of the younger brands in the world of horology, De Bethune represents contemporary watchmaking at its best.

The setting, in many ways, makes a lot of sense given De Bethune’s vision of drawing inspiration from past knowledge in order to reinvent horology for today. “We chose this specific region near the French border in Switzerland because the area has preserved the historical heritage of watchmaking, music box and automata,” reveals its technical director Denis Flageollet, who co-founded the brand with David Zaneta. “Our goal was to create products that are able to transmit the passion of the major historical timepieces from the 18th century, into the technical and technological environment of the 21st century that we live in today.”

The research and development facility at De Bethune isn’t necessarily the biggest but it clearly works as a laboratory of ideas and cutting-edge technologies. After all, by 2012, De Bethune had already registered nine patents and 15 in-house calibres — not bad considering that this is, in the watch world, still considered a very young brand.

Our host then takes us to another property that turns out to be De Bethune’s production building. This, it seems, is where much of the magic happens. Nearly every part (apart from some screws and straps) is produced in-house by De Bethune and everything is done by hand. “Each product is thought about and realised with special care,” adds Flageollet. “Attention to detail is our priority and it is understood and appreciated by watch aficionados and collectors. A precise, hand-made product easily inspires a real aesthete.”

There are about 50 staff working across the two buildings — polishing, decorating, setting, cleaning and checking — who between them produce about 350 timepieces each year. It is evident that the people take real pride in their work.

On the second floor of the mechanical building, there is a man hard at work on painstakingly heating what will become the spherical moon (designed as a tribute to Leonardo da Vinci), which has become a signature of De Bethune. One half of the ball in mirror-polished steel has flame-bluing, which represents the hidden part of the moon; the other half is in mirror-polished platinum. The first time, it doesn’t work; the steel for some reason does not want to turn blue. Undaunted, he tries again, only this time, he is successful. A satisfied smile lights up his face and a small cheer goes off throughout the space. There is a heart-warming, convivial sort of togetherness in the room. “The fine workmanship is transmitted by the experience and the savoir faire, but the excellence is driven by the man’s passion, inspired by a convivial and familial atmosphere,” Flageollet explains. Martial pokes his head around to look at the now-complete moon. “This [heating the steel] is difficult work,” Martial says. “There is only a small window of time where the steel goes blue; sometimes it never happens; and sometimes it’s gone before you have time to take it off the heat.”

The moon will eventually go into one of the watches like the DB28 Skybridge that De Bethune launched at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie this year. The DB28 Skybridge is an update on the DB28 — the model that won De Bethune the golden hand Aiguille d’or of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2011. The Skybridge features a slew of shimmering effects that represent a star-studded sky, two flame-blued and mirror-polished steel hands and, of course, the spherical moon-phase display, which is highlighted by an arrow-shaped bridge that looks as if it is pointing towards infinity. It is a stunning watch, encapsulating within it all that showcases just why De Bethune is currently seen as one of the rising stars in the watch-making industry. “Just hold the Skybridge in your hands,” says Flageollet, when asked about why it is so special. “And if you’re not convinced, at least you will feel something different.”

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SLIDESHOW: Click the image above for a close-up look at some of the novelties De Bethune presented during SIHH 2013, including the DB28 Skybridge (pictured).

SLIDESHOW: Here we see a De Bethune craftsman setting up the hands on a DB25 Tourbillon Regulator. Click the slideshow for more pictures of our visit to De Bethune’s manufacture.

De Bethune Factory Visit

A craftsman setting up the hands on a DB25 Tourbillon regulator.

A craftsman setting up the hands on a DB25 Tourbillon regulator.

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De Bethune Factory Visit

Checking of a watch train.

Checking of a watch train.

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De Bethune Factory Visit

A drawing of the DB2024 calibre at De Bethune’s technical office (the research and development department).

A drawing of the DB2024 calibre at De Bethune’s technical office (the research and development department).

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De Bethune Factory Visit

A drawing of the DB2024 calibre at De Bethune’s technical office (the research and development department).

A drawing of the DB2024 calibre at De Bethune’s technical office (the research and development department).

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De Bethune Factory Visit

An example of a calibre description: De Bethune has 15 different in-house calibres.

An example of a calibre description: De Bethune has 15 different in-house calibres.

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De Bethune Factory Visit

Some trimming tools.

Some trimming tools.

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De Bethune Factory Visit

High-precision tools at De Bethune’s mechanical department. Pictured: CNC machine.

High-precision tools at De Bethune’s mechanical department. Pictured: CNC machine.

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De Bethune Factory Visit

Oiling takes place in De Bethune’s mechanical department.

Oiling takes place in De Bethune’s mechanical department.

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De Bethune Factory Visit

Decoration department: circular graining.

Decoration department: circular graining.

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De Bethune Factory Visit

A watchmaker practicing his craft.

A watchmaker practicing his craft.

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De Bethune Factory Visit

A watchmaker practicing his craft.

A watchmaker practicing his craft.

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De Bethune Factory Visit

A watchmaker practicing his craft.

A watchmaker practicing his craft.

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De Bethune Factory Visit

Decoration department: polishing a case.

Decoration department: polishing a case.

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De Bethune Factory Visit

Oiling of a DB28 movement.

Oiling of a DB28 movement.

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De Bethune Factory Visit

After sales service department: working on a DB24 Vetrois.

After sales service department: working on a DB24 Vetrois.

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De Bethune Factory Visit

Some watchmaking tools in focus.

Some watchmaking tools in focus.

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De Bethune Factory Visit

A snapshot of De Bethune’s after sales service department

A snapshot of De Bethune’s after sales service department

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De Bethune Factory Visit

Decoration department: flame-bluing hands.

Decoration department: flame-bluing hands.

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De Bethune Factory Visit

Decoration department: flame-bluing a moon is an extremely difficult process as there is only a small window of time where the steel is blue.

Decoration department: flame-bluing a moon is an extremely difficult process as there is only a small window of time where the steel is blue.

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De Bethune Factory Visit

Decoration department: flame-bluing a moon is an extremely difficult process as there is only a small window of time where the steel is blue.

Decoration department: flame-bluing a moon is an extremely difficult process as there is only a small window of time where the steel is blue.

View Less
De Bethune Factory Visit

Decoration department: flame-bluing a moon is an extremely difficult process as there is only a small window of time where the steel is blue.

Decoration department: flame-bluing a moon is an extremely difficult process as there is only a small window of time where the steel is blue.

View Less
De Bethune Factory Visit

Decoration department: flame-bluing a moon is an extremely difficult process as there is only a small window of time where the steel is blue. Pictured: a succesfully flame-blued moon.

Decoration department: flame-bluing a moon is an extremely difficult process as there is only a small window of time where the steel is blue. Pictured: a succesfully flame-blued moon.

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De Bethune Factory Visit

Watch-parts of the QP movement.

Watch-parts of the QP movement.

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De Bethune Factory Visit

A snapshot of the decoration department.

A snapshot of the decoration department.

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De Bethune Factory Visit

A watchmaker hard at work at De Bethune’s watchmaking department.

A watchmaker hard at work at De Bethune’s watchmaking department.

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De Bethune Factory Visit

De Bethune’s watchmaking department manager, Sébastien.

De Bethune’s watchmaking department manager, Sébastien.

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De Bethune Factory Visit

A stunning view of the Swiss Jura.

A stunning view of the Swiss Jura.

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De Bethune

DB28 Skybridge: An upddate on De Bethune’s award winning DB28 model, the Skybridge features a slew of shimmering effects that represents a star-studded sky, two flame-blued and mirror-polished steel hands and of course, the spherical moon-phase display which is highlighted by an arrow-shaped bridge that looks as if it is pointing towards infinity.

De Bethune

DB28 Skybridge: An upddate on De Bethune’s award winning DB28 model, the Skybridge features a slew of shimmering effects that represents a star-studded sky, two flame-blued and mirror-polished steel hands and of course, the spherical moon-phase display which is highlighted by an arrow-shaped bridge that looks as if it is pointing towards infinity.

De Bethune

DB28 Skybridge: An upddate on De Bethune’s award winning DB28 model, the Skybridge features a slew of shimmering effects that represents a star-studded sky, two flame-blued and mirror-polished steel hands and of course, the spherical moon-phase display which is highlighted by an arrow-shaped bridge that looks as if it is pointing towards infinity.

De Bethune
DB16 Tourbillion Regulator: pink-gold case, mechanical hand-wound movement, silver-toned, sunburst guilloché motif,
with apertures indicating the day of the week at 9 o’clock and the month at 3 o’clock; 6 o’clock dial indicating the day of the month on the dial.
De Bethune

DB16 Tourbillion Regulator: pink-gold case, mechanical hand-wound movement, silver-toned, sunburst guilloché motif, with apertures indicating the day of the week at 9 o’clock and the month at 3 o’clock; 6 o’clock dial indicating the day of the month on the dial.

De Bethune

DB16 Tourbillion Regulator (caseback).

De Bethune

DB16 Tourbillion Regulator (caseback): retrograde age of the moon indicator.

De Bethune

DB25s Jewellery: mechanical hand-wound movement, De Bethune sperical moon-phase (set in diamonds and sapphires) at 12 o’clock, white gold and diamond stars and hand-polished flame-blued steel hands.

De Bethune

DB28TIS5 C3PL: mechanical hand-wound movement, grade 5 titanium with a distinctive shape and attached with floating lugs.

De Bethune

DB25RS1: drum-shaped case with hollowed lugs fitted with mechanical self-winding movement.

De Bethune

DB25RS1: drum-shaped case with hollowed lugs fitted with mechanical self-winding movement.

De Bethune
De Bethune