It has taken just eleven short years for two watchmaking devotees to build what history will doubtless view as the foundations of 21st century horology.
In 2002, when David Zanetta, a collector with a passion for art, history and timepieces, decided to join forces in founding De Bethune with Denis Flageollet, the son, grandson and great-grandson of watchmakers, they were both keenly aware of sharing the same vision of tomorrow’s watchmaking.
A subtle blend of time-honoured skills and the latest scientific breakthroughs, devoted to the service of extreme chronometric precision. The quest for fine craftsmanship pushed to its very limits, to the point where aesthetic and technical aspects meet and merge, where form marries function in the pursuit of perfection.
De Bethune is above all a research and development tool, a laboratory making use of cutting-edge technologies implemented in the spirit of the great 18th century masterwatchmakers, where all parts are designed and produced one by one, while lavishing particular attention on every detail. A place where all that counts is time measurement, but where time is never counted. The workshops of the Manufacture are tinged with a sense of adventure reminiscent of the epic intellectual endeavours of the Age of Enlightenment.
The field of possibilities appears virtually unlimited to these modern-day explorers of the infinitely small, the infinitely precise, as they bend intently over their workbenches. Passion is at once the watchword, the winning formula and the reward for the constant personal commitment of these exceptional men. How else could one explain the nine patents, thirteen calibres and fifteen world première innovations to which the Manufacture has treated watch aficionados in just eleven years of existence?
Naturally, this has been achieved by associating Denis Flageollet’s knowledge, scientific background and insatiable curiosity with David Zanetta’s vast historical and artistic erudition, as well as his aesthetic flair and his passion for beauty. It has also and above all implied the inestimably precious expertise of the expert hands whose ever accurate and constantly repeated gestures convey the heritage of time-honoured experience. The Manufacture has succeeded in bringing these golden hands together like an array of unique pearls.
Each year for a few hundred fortunate connoisseurs around the world, De Bethune offers models enshrining the quintessence of mechanical horology. The apparent simplicity of the lines, their finesse and their elegance at once conceal and magnify the extraordinary complexity of the materials and processes involved. The purity of the cases, together with the exquisite delicacy of the dials and hands that appear to be floating weightless over the movements, testify to a combination of extreme technical mastery and artistic genius.
Not doing more, but instead doing better; drawing inspiration from the past in order to constantly reinvent it; creating bridges between the various fields of knowledge: such are the principles guiding the elaboration of the mechanisms. The pioneering work of De Bethune is accomplished by consistently forging new paths in order to reduce to the utmost the two historical enemies of precision: weight and friction.
Where necessary, these gifted individuals are prepared to adopt the personae of modern-day alchemists in order to mix the most exceptional materials within their unique crucible and to shape them in the spirit of the Manufacture. If needed, they play the role of architects in chiselling steel, platinum and titanium to create sculptures dedicated to the glory of time and of equilibrium.
Builder of 21st century horology and custodian of the grand tradition; with its feet firmly planted in history and its head resolutely turned towards the future, De Bethune received a major token of recognition from its peers in November 2011. The Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix awarded it the famous “Aiguille d’Or” or Golden Hand, its most coveted title, thereby honouring its exceptional approach at the very crossroads of art and science.
David Zanetta and Denis Flageollet, now masterfully accompanied at the head of the company by Pierre Jacques, are well aware that this crowning award is only the start of an adventure: that of horology in the third millennium.
Exploring the third dimension
De Bethune draws nurture and inspiration from several centuries of history in forging its vision of 21st century watchmaking art, profoundly rooted in contemporary culture. Each development is governed by a constant quest for aesthetic excellence, subtly interacting with the pursuit of high technical standards. The architecture of objects is driven as much by its beauty as by its sturdiness or its function, without any one factor outweighing the others. Like the classic chef d’oeuvres of historical master-watchmakers, De Bethune creations are authentic sculptures in which every component is designed to occupy all three spatial dimensions.
The De Bethune spherical moon epitomises this vision by providing a poetic and yet highly technical display of the motion of this heavenly body. Inspired by a longstanding tradition stemming from astronomical clocks, this depiction of the moon is also a tribute to Leonardo da Vinci, whose sketch of it appeared in the Madrid Codex. Composed of two hemispheres, one in flame-blued steel and the other in palladium, carefully assembled using a push-in technique, the sphere is driven by an extremely precise mechanism and requires adjustment only once every 122 years. Delicately detached from the dial as if floating in a weightless state, the De Bethune spherical moon opens a symbolic window onto the cosmos.
The hands also contribute to reconquering the third dimension. De Bethune achieves the impressive feat of giving them authentic volume while preserving their slenderness and their readability. Sculpted in steel, titanium, silicon, gold or sapphire, they testify to the expertise of the Manufacture. The subtle nature of their design, which is reinvented for each new creation, reveals the delicate treatment of the materials and the audacious touch of their designers. The blued steel rims of the sapphire hands, achieved by differential thermal treatment, is a unique accomplishment within the watch industry, thereby striking a refined balance between their daring aesthetic and the need to ensure their lightness, accuracy and readability.
For De Bethune, exploring space does not stop inside the case. It encompasses the watch as a whole, particularly when it comes to combining wearer comfort and timing precision. In order to enable the timepiece to mould the shape of the wrist and naturally follow its movements, De Bethune has developed a unique system of titanium floating lugs. An integrated drawback-spring automatically directs them towards the ideal position, thereby guaranteeing optimal hold and a reduction in undue impacts.
Grand traditions meet futuristic materials
A pioneer in the use of titanium and silicon within the watch industry, De Bethune has acquired perfect mastery in this field, ably combining state-of-the-art manufacturing technologies with fine traditional skills.
Expert hands constantly reinvent and enhance age-old gestures so that each part is given full attention, right down to the smallest details. The noblest finishes and decors are interpreted through new materials and revisited to ensure an harmonious match with the specific De Bethune creative codes.
The Manufacture has for example transposed to titanium its expertise in the time-honoured techniques of bluing steel, thereby giving it a unique colour while optimising its surface resistance and its stability.
Using new materials in horology
In its quest for mechanical perfection, De Bethune constantly explores new horizons and frequently makes use in its creations of materials that are new to the watch industry.
These materials are selected according to extremely strict criteria bearing no relation to ephemeral trends. Each is used for its specific properties, and always with a view to improving the precision and reliability of the fundamental watch components devised over the centuries. Titanium, for example, is an extremely light, sturdy and stainless material. De Bethune uses it to make parts such as balance-wheel centres, bridges and screws. Its exceptional properties are also put to good use in creating cases, floating lugs, dials and hands. De Bethune oscillating weights boast a unique combination of titanium and platinum.
De Bethune has also developed and patented the world’s first balance-wheel to incorporate silicon. This highly robust and flawless material considerably improves movements’ efficiency and appearance. Its physical properties, its extreme lightness, its elasticity and its suitability for various treatments have also enabled the Manufacture to create parts requiring extreme precision, such as escape-wheels, balance-springs, hands, bridges and collets. They are machined in a particle accelerator by a deep reactive ion etching (DRIE) operation performed within a complete vacuum and at a temperature of around -273°C.
Developed by a highly qualified multi-disciplinary research group, the patented De Bethune balancespring represents a breakthrough evolution of the Breguet overcoil balance-spring.
Thanks to a unique shape and material, its flat terminal curve enables free concentric development of the spring, as well as a noticeably thinner construction. It also avoids any distortion of the coils in case of impacts thanks to the specific study of its elasticity at its point of attachment. Finally, the smooth assembly of the balance-spring avoids any potential damage to its resilience during fitting, thereby guaranteeing optimal rate performance.
The perfect balance
De Bethune is one of the rare watch manufacturers to use its very own patented balance-wheels. They stem from ongoing research and are designed to be as light as possible while maintaining the highest possible level of inertia.
The titanium/platinum balance achieves an ideal mass/ inertia ratio. Its extreme lightness makes titanium ideal for the central part of the balance, while the optimally aerodynamic external weights are made from platinum. The latter metal, which has one of the highest densities, serves to increase the inertia of the regulating organ. This makes it possible to achieve a 20% lower weight, while maintaining high inertia. The resulting reduction in friction also entails substantial energy savings. Two gold adjustment weights facilitate the dynamic rating.
Shifting up a gear in its quest for the perfect equilibrium between lightness and inertia, De Bethune unveiled in 2010 its annular balance made from silicon and a gold/palladium alloy. The Manufacture brilliantly exploits the exceptional characteristics of these materials, since palladium features the lowest density of all metals, while nonetheless providing a sufficient counterweight for silicon.
Ultimate shock resistance
As a loyal companion for contemporary individuals, the wristwatch is subjected to an increasingly wide range of stresses and strains. Shock resistance is an essential prerequisite to which De Bethune has responded by two major innovations, the triple pare-chute anti-shock system; and the oscillating weight shock-absorber system.
The triple pare-chute
The only system of its kind used in the watch industry, the triple pare-chute protects the heart of the movement thanks to a titanium bridge secured by a spring-based system. Three jewels connect the various elements, thereby not only absorbing shocks but also ensuring precise repositioning of the bridge after a displacement.
Oscillating Weight Shock Absorber
The oscillating weight guard device is also a world premiere. A steel shock-absorbing device with 4 small spring feet and 12 jewels maintains the smooth motion of the titanium/ platinum oscillating weight. In case of substantial or repeated impacts, the spring feet of the shock-absorber may be deformed along several axes, therefore avoiding any damage to the oscillating weight itself. The jewels contribute to reducing friction.
The peak of timing precision
The DeBethune Escapment
The Swiss 20-toothed lever escapement has been entirely updated by the De Bethune R&D department. In order to improve efficiency, the angles of the escapement locking and impulse planes are substantially different from the usual norms.
Thanks to an exclusive De Bethune process, the escapewheel is thinned down as far as possible to achieve minimum inertia, thus ensuring optimal running and reducing wear. The alternate bevels on each tooth, one on top and the next below, help ensure an even spread of the lubricant and cut the wear on the lever pallets in half by doubling the contact surface.
The lever is poised so as to cancel out the effects of gravity and ensure improved rating in the various watch positions. This involves an exclusive process in which the pallets are clamped in place rather than cemented.
The laws of physics are absolutely clear: in order to compensate for the violence of wrist movements, the tourbillon carriage must be as light as possible and endowed with a maximum frequency and rotation speed, along with minimal weight and inertia. After two and a half years of research, De Bethune developed the first tourbillon ever truly designed to be worn on the wrist. Thanks to the use of new technologies, this silicon/titanium tourbillon beats at a frequency of 36,000 vibrations per hour, within a carriage that rotates once every 30 seconds. The latter is the lightest ever introduced on the market and comprises 64 parts weighing 0.18 grams in all, meaning four times less than a conventional carriage.
Chronometric Setting System
The chronometric setting system, a world-first innovation from De Bethune, enables each user to easily adjust the rate of his watch by simply pressing one of the two pushpieces on the back of the watch. To ensure optimal use, the limits of such adjustment are indicated in red through an aperture.
Fundamental Research: Constraint-Free High Frequency
After two years of study conducted by the engineers and physicists of the De Bethune laboratory, under the guidance of Denis Flageollet, a new fundamental principle of mechanical horology has been developed. Dubbed “mechanical resonics”, this discovery is based on the successful synchronisation of a sound frequency oscillator and a magnetic escapement rotor within a mechanical watch. It thereby paves the way for a whole new discipline. Free of any balance and spring assembly or traditional escapement, and composed of a minimum number of parts, the mechanism thus invented by De Bethune shows every promise of achieving the highest levels of precision while eliminating the traditional constraints represented by wear, shock resistance and lubrication.
Self-regulating Twin Barrel
All De Bethune calibres are equipped with a self-regulating twin barrel ensuring maximum constant power reserve. Moreover, De Bethune has developed an exclusive frictionreduction technology by means of six jewelled blades placed on either side of the spring in order to ensure optimal transmission of maximum energy to the balance-wheel.
Winding-speed Regulatting System
This unique system developed by De Bethune enables the wearers to adjust their watch according to the quantity and speed of their movements. A crown-operated lever offers a choice between three automatic winding speeds: sports (H), medium (M) or low (L). Whatever their usual pace, users can thus adjust the quantity of energy transmitted to the barrel and thereby optimise the tension of the spring as well as the movement’s performances.
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