I get closer to the cargo bay door, which opens once the security checks have passed ; despite the space suit and the oxygen mask, the frigid air of altitude freezes me.
The ground is so far that it gets theorical, the usual apprehension felt during standard jumps becomes blurred.
I dive and open my parachute a dozen seconds later… as I finally cross the cloud layer, I notice that I approach the coast. The turquoise coloured ocean gives way to a thin golden strip and then to an intense green sea. The flora harmoniously stands in contrast to the cold temperature. As I am drifting, a layer of haze forms over the glaucous vegetation. After a few kilometers, a golden dot appears in the middle of the chlorophyll. Its luminosity pierces clouds.
A circle of antediluvian pyramids gets loose ; as I get closer, I approach their cyclopean scale. Blinded by the light emitted from the central place, I vainly attempt to land in the jungle, but I’m drawn in by the city. A monstrous green-feathered golden brown snake slithers in the middle of the place. The gigantic reptile stares at me.
If « captivated » is the better term, it remains simplistic.
This very lovecraft-style introduction is obviously fictional. It’s a matter of vocabulary. No words of mine could be equal to the task of precisely discribing the impression of suction that we feel while gazing at the dial of this incredible DB25 Quetzalcóatl.
Unlike GreubelForsey, or many others who opted for a maximum three-dimensionality, De Bethune’s three-dimensional has always been timid, mostly limiting to regulating organs openings.
But with the Quetzalcóatl, De Bethune opens a new path in watchmaking three-dimensional, a vision that’s neither really techonologic (tourbillon, open dial), nor totally art work.
Everyone has a personal connection with the pre-Columbian civilizations, from the most serious to the most trivial. I have to say that mine is ultra-trivial. It goes from Cal Barks’ ducks and Warhammer, to the mysterious cities of gold (a 2012 extra season takes place in China). I grew up with Uncle Scrooge and his nephews, regularly visiting/looting some ancient Latin-American cities ; for instance, I recommend you the excellent Don Rosa’s comics strips, drawing genius, which can be found in the francophone series « Les trésors de Picsou ». Later, (for the Warhammer enthousiasts) I had fitted a figurine of the Greater Daemon of Tzeentch, an effigy of Quetzalcóatl on a base of bicephalous feathered dragon…
As for De Bethune, this subject is a serious one : nations having set up pyramids seem to be an obect of fascination for De Bethune, which has developed many watches on this subject over the past few years, whether it’s Egyptian, Amerindian or Chinese Pyramids. From a purely watchmaking point of view, the grandeur and the disappearance of those cultures is a reminder of the urgency of protection of know-how. The Latin-American civilizations collapsed within less than a century, despite their resilience spanning millenia. In watchmaking, everything can disappear at any moment, due to a new economic crisis or a massive disaffection for the watches.
Before going into the heart of the topic, I must tell you about the way of reading the time : this is a simple watch, hours/minutes. The pyramids are the hour-makers and are reminiscent of Roman numerals : a square pyramid=1, a rectangular pyramid=5. The serpent’s tail points to the minutes, and his head, more precisely his tongue, points to the hours.
Let us begin with the end, the movement. The caliber features three types of finishings : first, the traditional Geneva waves on the central part, revealed by the reflections. They’re very thin, the light gradually settles above with rather important contrasts. The shape of the central bridge is reminiscent of the old Breguet pocket watches. Then, the plate features a superb mirror-polished, totally contrasted with the subtle Geneva waves of the central bridge : it almost looks like like a raft floating on a liquid metal sea.
Finally, cherry on the cake : the regulating organ. Its finishing is downright retro-futuristic. It’s largely inspired by the SF from the 20’s to the 60’s, from Metropolis to the beginnings of contemporary Space-Opera, through the pulps. What we notice immediately, it is that the regulating organ is hold by a bridge with triple bumper. Is its necessity demonstrated with the new balance-spring invar??
Although pioneer in the field, De Bethune has set aside the silica balance-springs for now, which would tend to demonstrate the difficulty to implement this technology, the ecapement wheel still being made of silica.
This balance-wheel (frequency 28800 bpf for 144h of PwR by double-barrel) is of great beauty, the center of the ring is made of silica, while the turns is in white gold, thereby placing most of the mass around the balance, thus increasing inertia.
The dial is just tremendous, one of the most fantastic that have been produced these last years. On the wrist, it’s a full immersion, you feel like drawn into the heart of Teotihuacan. The dial, althought immobile, is absolutely radiant.
NB : the watch is a prototype, the liquid used to give the bronze patina effect to the gold of the pyramids for instance isn’t well-spread. The pyramids also appear to have some casting defects that we can see looking closely at the« micro-macros » acompanying this article.
The surface, the « ground » of the city and the tops of the pyramids are hand hammered, which produces this irregular effect difficult to obtain with a machine. This finishing is intresting, because it stands between the imagery of the cut stone and the grained bridges of the yesterday’s pocket watches, particularly of the Bruguet from the 18th century.
A surface finish gives a patina effect to the different levels of the pyramid, thus increasing the sensation of depth. Indeed, the pyramids seem to be about 3-4 millimetres high . But considering the thinness of the timekeeper (44mm*12.5mm), they can’t possibly be that high, they shall not exceed 1 or 1.5mm, against the dial gauge.
The edifices are based on an entirely hammered surface, by mean of a « Microlight » : the slab is engraved at high-speed by a machine, and is then eventually finely sanded not to look too regular.
The « Microlight » is an incredible light-catcher and it had never been as bright as it is in this gold livery.
We feel like we’re leaving the tiers of an ancient arena, to tread upon an arena made of a bright gold sand, worthy of the great feathered snake.
The Quetzalcóatl is of course the pinnacle of this watchmaking wonder,
the engraving by Michèle Rothen is highly precise. But besides its precision, it gives an imposing volume to the snake, whose thickness is yet quite limited if we photograph it by the edge. The engraving is just a little flawed, as it must be to give life to the reptile.
The artistic touch adds up to a smooth-running graphic work.
Call me eulogistic, disproportionately enthousiastic about this piece which, I’ve got to say, causes me a scriptural diarrhea. But it’s the minimum it takes when you have such a masterpiece in hand. I’ve been carefully following De Bethune for seven years, I’ve never ever been disappointed. Should the SIHH presentation be a bit behing, I know that that of Baselworl will be awesome, or vice versa. With the accession to power of Pierre Jacques, I feared that De Bethune would become far more commercial in their orientation.
See u soon.