Hands-On: De Bethune DB28 Steel Wheels Blue “The Hour Glass”A skeleton dressed in blue.
De Bethune is the latest amongst a number of watchmakers to take the covers off a commemorative edition to mark the 40th anniversary of Singapore watch retail powerhouse The Hour Glass. For the occasion, De Bethune has put together a variant of its signature DB28 with sprung lugs that’s entirely clad in brilliant, blued titanium.
First unveiled in polished titanium in 2018, the Steel Wheels is essentially a DB28 wearing a little less. A partially open-worked dial – which is actually the delta-shaped barrel bridge – reveals its pair of skeletonised barrels and gears.
While the original Steel Wheels captures the essence of De Bethune, combining its trademark design with the brand’s fundamental technical innovations, it was lacking a generous dose of blued titanium, a gorgeous, heat-treated alloy that is synonymous with the brand.
That has now been rectified with the DB28 Steel Wheels Blue, arguably the purest – and bluest – distillation of the brand’s core values and technical achievements.
It features an intense, mirror-polished, blued titanium case and dial that form a striking contrast against the exposed inner mechanics. Though blued titanium is also used by other brands today, De Bethune was amongst the first to mirror-polish its titanium cases and more crucially, started using heat treatment to blue titanium way back in 2006.
All the components of the watch, both steel and titanium, are first mirror-polished, cleaned thoroughly, and then fired in an oven at 700°C so as to achieve the striking, uniform shade of blue.
Because the bluing is done by hand, the blue is not exactly identical across surfaces, especially on large components like the case. But the variation is small enough to be negligible, and also adds to the shaded colour and character of the watch.
The gorgeous blued titanium case has only one practical downside: the blue finish is the result of surface oxidisation of the metal, meaning it is prone to chips and scratches that often result in the natural grey colour of titanium showing through the blue.
The DB28 is also about its case, which is all titanium and fitted with spring-loaded, hinged lugs, making it large, lightweight and ergonomic.
The case measures 42.6mm in diameter and 9.3mm in height – big, yes, but slender and elegant at the same time, helped by the refined look of the polished surface and skeletonised lugs.
Best of all is the brand’s patented lugs that ensure the case hugs the wrist. The lugs also mean the watch wears a lot smaller than expected given the case measurements. And De Bethune also offers two lug lengths, with the shorter lugs catered for smaller wrists.
As a result of the articulated lugs, the crown is located at 12 o’clock, giving it a symmetrical case silhouette.
Using blued titanium for the components within the case is more practical, and there’s lots of that here.
The chapter ring and hour spheres are all in blued titanium, while the minute hand is in blued steel. Most unusual is the hour hand, which is in clear sapphire crystal fitted a blued steel central insert and frame.
Unique to the Steel Wheels – all other DB28 models have a solid dial – the triangular barrel bridge and parts of the dial have been skeletonised to reveal the gears underneath. The mainspring barrels and ratchet wheels have also been open-worked, giving the dial a light, airy and slightly mechanical feel.
The delta-shaped bridge is also decorated with a “microlight” engraving – essentially engraving on a tiny scale done by machine – of Côtes De Bethune, the brand’s take on Geneva stripes.
While traditional Cotes de Geneve is lightly applied and wavy, De Bethune’s striping is sharply done and almost harsh. It does lend an unusual depth and texture to the dial, but the engraving striping looks distinctly mechanical and pronounced, and feels a step less refined than the other components of the watch.
Powering the watch is the hand-wound cal. DB2115V4, which boasts a total of five in-house innovations, three patented and all are visible on the front.
Every aspect of the transmission system, from the barrels to the hairspring, has been optimised to improve performance on the most fundamental level.
Visible on both sides of the delta-shaped bridge is a pair of mainspring barrels that offers a six-day power reserve. According to the brand, six jewelled blades are installed on both faces of the inside of the barrel, in order to minimise the friction of the mainspring against the barrel interior, and optimise energy transfer.
This is further supplemented by a silicon escape wheel, which operates with almost no friction and requires little energy, being less than a third the density of steel. Though the longevity and future available of silicon components is always a worry for small, independent brands.
Notably, De Bethune remains one of the few independent watchmakers that have embraced silicon technology without fear of reprisal from the major players that own most of the patents related to silicon watch parts. In fact, De Bethune was the first brand to incorporate silicon into a balance wheel in 2008, combining it with a hefty metal like platinum so as to achieve an ideal mass-inertia ratio.
Next on the transmission chain after the escapement is a patented, high-performance balance wheel, held in place by a beautifully polished, blued bridge flanked by the brand’s patented “triple pare-chute” shock absorbers. It is essentially an additional pair of springs that supplement the conventional Incabloc shock protection for the balance staff, hence the “triple pare-chute” moniker.
The balance is made from blued titanium and fitted with white gold regulating weights on its periphery. The weights on the rim provide ample oscillating inertia, while the low density of titanium keeps the overall weight down. Its design has also been optimised for better aerodynamics and thermal stability.
The hairspring is made of Nivarox, the usual nickel-iron alloy used in a vast majority of movements. However, it is distinguished by a unique terminal curve formed in-house by De Bethune’s watchmakers. In contrast to the Breguet overcoil, the hairspring is flat, but with a wider terminal curve, which reduces its height while enhancing concentricity.
And lastly, located at six o’clock is De Bethune’s modernist, spherical moon that is composed of two hemispheres – one in palladium and the other in blued steel. As is standard in watchmaking, it maintains accuracy to within one day every 122 years.
While all crucial elements of the movement are visible on the dial, the only functional feature located on the back is the power reserve indicator with its long and thin rack and a blued pointer.
As is perhaps apt for a brand with a deep focus on technical engineering, the DB28 Steel Wheels Blue, with its contrast colour, open-worked dial, draws attention to De Bethune’s most crucial innovations like never before.
And the blued titanium case – a feature that has singularly come to define the brand – was the final touch it needed to become one of the most complete and essential De Bethune watches.
Material: Blued, polished grade 5 titanium
Water resistance: 30m
Frequency: 28,800vph, or 4Hz
Power reserve: 6 days
Strap: Alligator with pin buckle in blued polished grade 5 titanium
Price and availability
The DB28 Steel Wheels Blue The Hour Glass Edition is priced at 162,100 Singapore dollars and limited to five pieces. It is available only at The Hour Glass and is already available in stores.
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