Founded in 2002, the house of De Béthune has only been around for 15 years and yet it occupies a special place in the small world of (very) high-end independent watchmaking for its creativity and the quality of its creations.
Founded by Denis Flageollet and David Zanetta in 2002, De Béthune set itself the ambitious goal of challenging the status quo and exploring new avenues by inventing the watches of the future. This bold plan was nonetheless underpinned by the extensive experience of both founders in traditional watchmaking.
Denis Flageollet, born in France before moving to Switzerland to learn the trade, began working alongside Michel Parmigiani. From the very start, he was as fascinated by age-old techniques as he was by the new watchmaking ideas made possible by technological developments. Denis Flageollet then went on to found the company Techniques Horlogères Appliquées with François-Paul Journe.
These two immensely creative souls invented some incredible pieces while also reinterpreting certain complications like the sympathique pendulum, the mystery movement and the monopoussoir chronograph.
As this chapter was coming to a close, Denis Flageollet was approached by another name in watchmaking, David Zanetta: collector, aesthete, visionary and antique watch expert.
Together, they embarked on a new project: creating their own brand. When searching for a name, rather than simply combining their two surnames, Denis Flageollet and David Zanetta wanted something that conveyed their intentions, values and vision. That name was found in a man who lived from 1642 to 1732, the French knight Chevalier de Béthune.
Royal navy officer and passionate mechanics enthusiast, this French aristocrat (grand-nephew of Sully, minister to Henry IV) left his mark on history with his invention of an escapement mechanism for use in clocks and watches. Another “achievement” was instilling a taste for watchmaking in Voltaire, after sheltering him in his castle during the Régence.
And so, the De Béthune manufacture was born, in L’Auberson, in the Swiss Jura mountains, just next to the French border. From three employees in the first year, the company grew to five a year later, and by
2004 had reached around fifteen. The same number today produce around one hundred pieces per year. According to Denis Flageollet, this was always the original plan, to design watches ex nihilo, in small runs, fully bespoke, with no limitations whatsoever, nor any techniques, aesthetics or marketing.
In fifteen years of operation, De Béthune has created some 30 different “basic” models, over 150 one-off pieces and 24 in-house calibers. One of its great strengths lies in performing its research and development in its own laboratory, combining manufacturing activity with extensive technical organization.
De Béthune has been a trailblazer on several occasions. This includes using silicon and polished titanium, engraving Geneva Waves on a dial, the manufacture of the lightest tourbillon cage in the world, and more. Denis Flageollet recounts spending six years designing a tourbillon exclusively for use on a wristwatch, i.e. accounting for the jolts and movements associated with being worn on the wrist.
He particularly enjoys this role of researcher, pioneer and experimenter, explaining that he is currently working on projects that he describes as incredible. For the record, some of Denis Flageollet’s ideas involve a watch with an alarm, as well as high frequency oscillators.
Watch this space…