For the last ten years—since 2002 when the brand was founded—De Bethune has been managed by its two co-founders, David Zanetta, president, and Denis Flageollet, technical director. The men could not be more different, and yet they are totally complementary. One is an aesthete, designer, artist, and collector with a sense of taste that only Italy can produce. The other is a watchmaker, hard and fast, with a love of liberty and research. Together, they have succeeded in creating a type of watchmaking like no other, one that is immediately recognisable, one that can be summed up by one of their slogans: “an avant-garde vision of traditional horology.”
But even more than this, they have established a capacity for production that is really quite amazing for an independent brand. With discretion, patience, great consistency, and a clear vision of their course of action, Zanetta and Flageollet have created a veritable integrated manufacture that would be the envy of many. Here, De Bethune makes everything, including the regulating organ, the sole exceptions being sapphire crystal and leather.
In January 2011, hardly a year ago, a third man joined the original duo. Pierre Jacques, former editor (of the watch magazine GMT) and retailer (director of Les Ambassadeurs in Geneva), passed to the “other side of the fence” to become the CEO of De Bethune. And, he is a CEO of whom the two founders cannot stop singing the praises. Endowed with a sure sense of contact, an understanding of how to be diplomatic when necessary, and an excellent connoisseur of the watchmaking terrain, Jacques is assuming his new mission with great confidence, convinced that the brand’s intrinsic qualities will establish it firmly in the bitterly disputed arena of distribution. Europa Star sits down with Pierre Jacques and Denis Flageollet to talk about a variety of subjects.
David Zanetta, Denis Flageollet, Pierre Jacques
Europa Star: Why would retailers today put the De Bethune brand in their windows?
Pierre Jacques: For many reasons, but essentially because De Bethune is different from all others and that its high-quality products are immediately recognisable. And, because we speak a watchmaking language and we form relationships with retailers who, like us, are independent and who understand what this means, and who are in it for the long haul. And, also because we are an integrated manufacture. Today, this autonomy is a guarantee for supply and for quality control.
Denis Flageollet: I might add that we make objects that can have, for some people, a very avant-garde allure, yet that are still very much watches with a wealth of timekeeping qualities—readability, relatively pure design, full of emotion, and evoke strong feelings.
ES: So, what resistance have you encountered, if any at all?
PJ: To all these common-sense arguments, we are sometimes criticised for a lack of visibility. Up to now, all investment has gone into our production capacity, to its stability, and to research and development. Everything that is inside the package is more than legitimate in watchmaking terms. But the exterior, the marketing, is not yet up to the mark, we might say. It will come in its own time, as will investments in communication, without stress, but with consistency. The retailers that carry De Bethune are among the best and most prestigious in their respective markets. And, this is how we will continue to progress—by only working with the best. Think about it—we don’t need to be in a thousand stores. Today, we produce 250 pieces per year. Our goal is to gradually arrive at 500 watches within three or four years.
DB 25 QP Calibre DB 2324 QP self-winding mechanical movement, featuring patented self-regulating twin barrel, titanium/platinum balance wheel with flat terminal curve, triple pare-chute shock-absorbing system and exclusive three-dimensional moon-phase display. Balance frequency: 28,800 vibrations per hour. Case: 44 mm diameter, 12.50 mm height, double anti-reflective sapphire crystal front and back. Dial: silver-toned, hand guilloche; apertures for day of the week and month, date sub-dial at 6 o’clock, blued-steel moon-phase display at 12 o’clock and blued-steel hands. Strap: extra-supple alligator skin with pin buckle.
DB 28 Calibre DB 2115 manually-wound mechanical movement, featuring patented self-regulating twin barrel, titanium/platinum balance wheel with flat terminal curve, triple pare-chute shock-absorbing system and exclusive three-dimensional moon-phase display. Hand-decorated and snailed mainplate, hand-chamfered and polished steel parts, De Bethune stripes. Balance frequency: 28,800 vibrations per hour. Power reserve: 144 hours (6 days). Case: 42.60 mm diameter, 11.20 mm height, made from grade 5 titanium or 18-carat rose gold; double anti-reflective sapphire crystal; solid hunter-style case-back with power reserve display. Dial: polished grade 5 titanium with silvered minute circle and blued-steel chapter ring; best performance indicator at 3 o’clock; blued or polished stainless-steel hands. Strap: extra-supple alligator skin with pin buckle.
DREAM WATCH IV
ES: 250 pieces, at an average price of...?
PJ: Approximately CHF 40,000 ex-factory, thus about CHF 80,000 at sell-out.
DF: The last ten years have been devoted to the development of a complete line of movements. Today, we have 12 in-house calibres and will present, at the next BaselWorld, a new chronograph calibre beating at 36,000 vibrations per hour, including one with a tourbillon. I would, however, like to insist upon what I consider a central point. We knew from the very beginning exactly where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do. This strong vision dissuaded us from following possibly erroneous detours, in which, without this vision, we could have become bogged down. In this vision, our research and development pole is fundamental. It allows us to explore, in depth, various fields of experimentation, such as those involving very high frequencies, for example. Already in 2005, we had a timepiece that turned at 72,000 vibrations per hour on a silicon balance spring. This was purely experimental and we did not talk about it. We are not interested in just discussing things for the sake of marketing, but rather we will communicate information when we introduce something concrete.
ES: Stylistically, you have always had two very different collections, a classic line—the DB25—and an avant-garde line—the DB28. Why this dichotomy?
DF: For us, “playing on the classic theme” is like a pianist who practices scales to become a virtuoso. Classicism has its rules and its precise codes. To make a classic piece, no matter what anyone says, is always more difficult than to make a very contemporary watch. To maintain this timekeeping pressure, we make, each year, a classic watch such as, for example, the DB25T, with its tourbillon hidden at the back of the piece and its classic dial, made of very pure silver and titanium, which gives the impression of one of the great regulators of the 18th century. Elsewhere, however, we offer a very contemporary interpretation of our classic mastery with pieces that are strong, with a very noticeable identity and a style that totally belongs only to us. We are going even further with the Dream Watch pieces—concept watches from a technical and design point of view—which we will introduce regularly. The latter give us the impression of being really ahead of the game and sometimes of not even being understood. But our classic propositions put things back into their rightful place, if we might describe it this way.
ES: You are presenting a new case for the iPhone. Is this a sort of “diversification”?
PJ: No, not at all. It is a type of exploration that allows us to test many things, mechanically and/or aesthetically. De Bethune is like a large laboratory and it is sometimes interested in testing things externally that are simmering internally.
DF: We already presented a “case” concept at BaselWorld 2011, but with a very classic look. For the new one, we have chosen a more futuristic form. On one side, you have a magnificent and simple mechanical timekeeper with a six-day power reserve—which you can also remove from the case and wear as a pocket watch—and on the other side, you have the iPhone and all its modern applications. This brings together the best of both worlds. It is like a real pocket watch from the 21st century. In design terms, a lot of attention has been paid to the lines of this case, which are perfectly reminiscent of the forms of our contemporary watches. This helps us push even further our aesthetic choices.
PJ: And, you will discover this spring new propositions that we cannot talk much about now. In addition to the surprises to come, I can say that we will present a Maxi-Chronograph featuring five hands and 36,000 vibrations per hour, of which we have completely reworked the movement.
De Bethune was recently awarded the prestigious “Aiguille d’or” at the Geneva Grand Prix d’Horlogerie.
Source: Europa Star December - January 2012 Magazine Issue