De Bethune has prepared a truly spectacular set of twelve watches, each of them graced with a hand-performed bas-relief engraving of one of the animal heads that corresponds to a Chinese zodiac sign. Featuring a host of engravings and a Grand Feu enameled relief as the background, the set of timekeepers is inspired by the famed water clock from the Old Summer Palace located just outside of Beijing. Since the center of the watch is reserved for the elaborate engraving, the watchmaker was forced to come up with a brand new type of movement which would guarantee that the details and the skillful work depicted on the watch’s dial is not obscured. The result was new mechanical Calibre DB 2145, a hand-winding movement with a peripheral display for both hours and minutes which incorporates four of the brand’s registered patents.
The impressive set of watches, as it has been said, was modeled after the imperial fountain located in the renowned complex of Yuanming Yuan (Old Summer Palace). Consisting of twelve animal heads built from bronze, the fountain was actually a clepsydra or a water clock in which the appropriate head gushes water at the start of the hour. Built during the reign of the Quanlong Emperor in the mid 18th century, the water clock was a joint effort of the domestic artisans, as well as Jesuits from Italy and France. Unfortunately, the numerous conflicts (mainly the Second Opium War) brought a lot of damage to the fountain. Nowadays, just seven of the original bronze heads are preserved.
The animal heads of the imperial fountain that represent the Chinese Zodiac signs are replicated on the new set of timekeepers by De Bethune. The creation of these engravings which take the center stage was trusted to a master artist, Michele Rothen. At the background made from a Grand Feu enamel relief, the artist created an exceptional representation of the zodiac signs with the use of bas relief technique. Each dial of the timepieces from the set is made from solid gold and is hand-engraved on the other sections, mainly its minute and hour scale at the periphery of the face which naturally expresses time in Chinese symbols.
Since DB 25 Imperial Fountain set watches have such spectacular faces, it was necessary to create a new type of movement which would not obstruct the view on the Zodiac themed faces. After facing such a complicated challenge, the team of De Bethune watchmakers led by Denis Flagollet managed to create a totally new and unique movement which includes flying peripheral hands that appear to be suspended as they circle the appropriate scales. This was possible due to the use of new advanced techniques, for example the use of micro ball bearings coupled with an innovative transmission system. The final result of the efforts was DB 2145 proprietary caliber with a manual winding. It is a very complex caliber which consists of 287 components and integrates 31 jewels. The 40 mm wide caliber features four patents conceived by the De Bethune watchmaking team: self-regulating twin barrel, silicon/white gold balance wheel and a balance spring with flat terminal curve, sililicon escape wheel and finally, the brand’s famous Triple para-chute shock absorbing system. Functioning at the frequency of 28,800 vph, the caliber has a hefty power reserve which can last for six days. As it is common for a high-end watch, DB 2145 sports lovely hand-performed finishing with chamfered and hand-polished steel, as well as with mirror-polished and flame-blued parts.
The decoration and functioning of the in-house mechanical movement can be observed through the transparent double glare-proof sapphire section on the back of the case. On the front side, the timekeepers from the set likewise have a double anti-reflective sapphire crystal with the hardness of 1,800 Vickers. As far as the housing is concerned, it is in the shape of a drum and forged from white gold. The width of the case is 44 mm, while its thickness measures to 11.1 mm. Connected to the case via fixed and hollowed lugs, the timepieces with the zodiac inspiration are likewise equipped with a black extra supple alligator strap.
All in all, the set of watches by the Genevan company is to say the least very impressive and original. It represents the brand’s intention to utilize the traditional disciplines of watchmaking, such as engraving and enamelling. Naturally, it furthermore boasts the technical expertise of watchmakers of the brand who already have quite a formidable reputation, despite the fact it was founded just over a decade ago. As the first reports indicate, the watches from the De Bethune DB 25 Imperial Fountain set will be sold as a whole. However, it will also be possible to buy them individually.