De Bethune DB28: ten years and counting
2020 marks the tenth anniversary of the DB28. WorldTempus had the great honour of interviewing Denis Flageollet, master watchmaker and co-founder of De Bethune.
Denis Flageollet, the son, grandson and great-grandson of French watchmakers, came to Switzerland to train as a watchmaker and micromechanic. He started his career as a watch technician at the museum in Le Locle. In 1989 he co-founded THA (Techniques Horlogères Appliquées) and in 2002 he co-founded another company: De Bethune. To celebrate the tenth birthday of the DB28, the latest models of which were launched this spring, we had the pleasure of interviewing Denis Flageollet (post-lockdown).
Denis Flageollet © De Bethune
What was your initial vision for the DB28, when it was launched 10 years ago?
My idea was to create a distinctive timepiece that would convey a resolutely futuristic vision of the art of watchmaking: something contemporary and innovative, both technically and aesthetically, while respecting the grand tradition inspired by the master clockmakers of the Enlightenment.
How did you hope the piece would evolve over the years?
I certainly didn’t expect it to become the icon it has become: a pillar of our collections, and the starting point for many subsequent versions. We celebrated its 10th anniversary this year with three new models, including an ultra-thin DB28 XP (for extra-plate), which opens yet another new chapter, and a new field of exploration for the DB28.
2020 novelties © De Bethune
One of the many revolutionary features of the DB28 is the floating lugs, which hug the curve of the wrist. Why was this particular feature retained in all the DB28 models that came later?
We started out with one simple question: was it possible to further improve the comfort and ergonomics of a wristwatch? By replacing the traditional lugs with a patented mechanism comprising mobile cradles that pivot around the watch’s central axis, we invented a simple and effective solution to free up the fixed lugs. The watch sits naturally on the wrist, the bracelet has a better drape, the crown is positioned at 12 o’clock, away from the crease of the wrist, the flat back of the watch case is no longer a problem, and it is incredibly comfortable.
DB28 XP Tourbillon © WorldTempus/Jordy Bellido
Of all the DB28 models, which has been the most well received by the public? Which was the most stressful model to launch? And which model were you the most excited to release?
The award of the Aiguille d’Or at the 2011 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève for the first DB28 is something I will never forget. It represented recognition for our efforts and our vision. With every new model, we continuously question our assumptions, improving the things that need to be improved, even if they are tiny changes that no one can see.
Some people say that making ultra-thin watches is just as difficult, if not more so, than some traditional watch complications. Was it difficult to apply the principles of ultra-thin watchmaking to the DB28? Did you have to make any fundamental changes to the movement?
Yes, in fact we had to complete rethink our approach. It was the ultimate technical challenge. Ultra-thin represents an ideal of beauty. It’s not about amplification; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. You have to try to capture its essence, hence the difficulty. With the DB28 XP, the dream has become a reality. In a way, it’s as if all these years of research have resulted in the perfect osmosis between the case, the components, the movement and the exterior, which all complement each other in a spirit of utter simplicity. This watch is itself a complete explanation of my vision of the watchmaking of tomorrow.
DB28 XP Starry Sky © WorldTempus/Jordy Bellido
The DB28 collection has seen a number of major innovations, particularly in terms of the balance. Are there any other areas you would like to explore, or is this extremely delicate component still the main focus of your passion for innovation?
The timekeeping properties of a watch represent a field of exploration that continues to fascinate me. The balance is clearly part of this, and in the DB28 it’s the result of a consistent physical and mathematical approach that has guided me for years. It makes use of the latest advances: a moderate diameter, titanium, small flyweights made of white gold (placed around the outside to provide better inertia, reliability and remarkable regulating properties).
There’s also the De Bethune hairspring, which we have designed so that its centre of gravity remains exactly in the centre, by using a flat terminal curve attached to the outside of the spiral. Differences in the thickness of the blade add almost perfect precision to its concentric beating. There are many advantages to this, including a thinner profile, better adjustment of concentricity, finer adjustment of the racquet, no more need for pins, and the shape of the curve even acts as a kind of shock absorber. Finally, the internal structure of the material remains intact, because it’s neither stressed nor bent.
I should also mention our materials research, which aims at understanding, working, transcending and combining each material in order to deploy it to its fullest capacity, both technically and aesthetically, in our watches. That is another major focus of mine.
DB28 XP © WorldTempus/Jordy Bellido
Aesthetic innovation is also important to De Bethune, as we saw last year with the DB28 Yellow Tones. Are aesthetic innovations like this a conscious part of your work, or are they more of a happy accident that results from the discovery of a major new treatment or aesthetic effect?
The manual oxidation of metals (titanium and steel in particular) provides us with an infinite range of different hues. We are continually testing and trying things out. Sometimes we have a specific idea of what we’re looking for, but other times we end up with something wonderful that we could never have imagined. So there’s always an element of chance.
You’re in constant contact with watch collectors and watch communities. What, for you, is the mark of a real watch connoisseur? And what tells you that someone truly understands the De Bethune values?
It’s impossible to define what makes a true watch connoisseur. I like to pass on and explain the meaning behind our research. Research and development is my passion, but in no way does our clients’ ability to understand our work guide my research or the way I work.
De Bethune’s values are easy to understand. Without this unremitting research into every aspect of watchmaking, both technical and aesthetic, there would be no De Bethune spirit; the brand would be an empty shell, and there would be no reason to have a manufacture operating at this level of excellence.
De Bethune embraces the wealth of the watchmaking knowhow of the past in order to design the watches of the future. This combination results in timepieces with all the attributes and technical expertise of Fine Watchmaking, whilst at the same time remaining free from traditional constraints.Find out more >
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