It’s Geneva Watch Days, and while Worn & Wound doesn’t have boots on the ground in Switzerland for this particular trade show, rest assured that the entire staff is rifling through the many press releases foisted upon us, searching for the gems and trying to separate the wheat from the chaff, to completely mix far too many metaphors. Maybe we’ll do a GWD post-mortem on a future podcast, but I have to say, at first blush, there haven’t been a ton of releases that have really blown us away. There’s the Bulgari Octo Finissimo that makes it easy to see any stray nostril hairs and all of your chins when you check the time, and a killer new MB&F that Blake wrote about here. But a lot of the new stuff seems, I don’t know, kind of safe. One watch that I find myself particularly drawn to this week, the De Bethune DB25 Perpetual Calendar (the DB25sQP), is both absolutely bonkers from almost any perspective, yet finds itself living in the more reserved corner of a uniquely adventurous brand’s catalog.
De Bethune is one of the most whimsical of the current crop of high end independent brands. This is most clearly evident in their DB28 collection, which features their trademark articulating lug design paired with dials that give a strong sci-fi energy with elaborate skeletonization and a completely unique triangular central bridge. These watches, more than almost any other brand (even Urwerk and MB&F) look like they’ve been placed in our world by a time traveler from the future. I love the way they look, but I don’t know that I could pull one off as my daily wardrobe rarely consists of putting on a space suit.
The DB25 collection is conservative by contrast, but only up against the most creative watches in the De Bethune lineup. The DB25 watches maintain a similar lug profile but they’re fully integrated to the case and don’t articulate (they’re still hollowed out and look incredible). You won’t find the crazy skeletonized dials here either, but instead this collection leans right into a more literal connection to space. The Starry Varius, a core model in the De Bethune collection and one of the brand’s signature designs, features a depiction of the night sky using heat blued titanium as the backdrop for stars made with tiny white gold pins. These watches draw on classic watchmaking imagery (think of those beautiful moonphase apertures in old pocket watches) and combine it with an entirely new and future focused design language.
The DB25sQP features what is arguably the most traditional of watchmaking complications and places it within the most conservative collection of a brand that’s known for pushing the envelope in every possible way. Those contradictions alone are fascinating to me. I love it when watch brands push against the grain in some way, and the DB25 line, to me, feels like De Bethune actively trying to rein themselves in. The fact that they’re only somewhat successful is a big reason why these watches work – the contradictions are in plain view for all to see, and the watch is better for it.
Let’s talk about the case, because as beautiful as the dial is here, the case of the DB25sQP is essentially the reason this watch exists. De Bethune has had a perpetual calendar in the DB25 line for quite some time, but it was always a fairly gargantuan 44mm in diameter, and serially produced versions of the watch were typically produced in a precious metal. That makes for a watch that’s hefty by any measure, and perhaps not really fitting with the classical vibe of the DB25 line to begin with.
For this release, De Bethune has kept the same architecture as previous versions of their DB25 QP, but the diameter has been reduced to a far more wearable 40mm. It’s also titanium, and when you consider the smaller size and the airy and open quality inherent in the design thanks to the hollowed out lugs, it is clear that De Bethune has placed a premium on comfort and wearability with this release. This is also the first time that a titanium DB 25 perpetual calendar has been placed into serial production, but with only 15 being made per year, it will still likely be a tough ticket.
If the case is forward looking and a product of the pure creativity behind the De Bethune design team, the dial of this perpetual calendar is very much part of a classical watchmaking tradition. Here you’ll find hand-applied guilloche across 12 distinct sectors of the dial, and a Roman numeral hour track along the dial’s perimeter. Day and month are read through apertures at 9:00 and 3:00, respectively, and the date is viewable on a subdial at the 6:00 position. The most poetic element of the dial is the moonphase indicator which can be found just under 12:00 in the form of a sphere fashioned from palladium and blued steel (a very De Bethuneian representation of the sky) with pink gold stars and a subtle leap year indicator hidden within a gold disc.
This watch is as beautiful from the back as it is the front, thanks to the the DB2324 caliber inside, which has been adapted to fit within the smaller confines of the new case. De Bethune, under the guidance of watchmaker Denis Flageollet, is laser focused on chronometry, and the brand has developed many innovations that make these movements among the best in the world by almost any metric. De Bethune famously designs their own balance spring which they claim is thinner than those made by competitors, is capable of finer adjustment for better chronometry, and has superior shock resistant properties. The caliber uses two barrels to achieve a total of five days of reserve, and makes the most of modern materials with a silicon escape wheel.
De Bethune is doing something completely unique in the independent space, and while their watches are rare, expensive (this one is $145,000), and certainly not for every taste, I find them fascinating for their mix of traditional elements combined with a heavy dose of colorful futurism and real technical watchmaking prowess. At a time when a lot of brands, at all levels, are giving us more (and more) of the same, De Bethune and other independents aren’t afraid to experiment. The DB25sQP wasn’t the only watch to be released this week with a notable size reduction, but somehow it’s the one that feels fresh. De Bethune