Wow. Big WOW. The De Bethune DB25V Starry Varius gets such a positive kick-off not because it’s a watch with a star-studded, blue dial, but because it’s a quirky, unique watch that manages to stay classy, balanced, and elegant. Quick! The fanfares!
Although in recent years we suffered no shortage of genuinely incredible, novel, high-tech, often literally extraterrestrial exercises in haute horlogerie, I found that few actually proved to have been made and designed to a standard that one would otherwise associate with fine watchmaking. Sure, I absolutely love seeing and wearing watches with liquid or entire carved dragons or the full solar system in them, but they often fall on that other side of gimmicky as they try so hard to impress today’s vulgar, new-money dotcom millionaire.
To be clear, this strive to please such a clientèle isn’t particularly new. Once we practice some soul searching in our
snob discerning watch-loving minds, we’ll see that vulgar and/or over-the-top and/or tasteless watches were made back in the olden, olden days of horology too. Do not for a second think the early 1800s didn’t produce horological crap by the bucket load! We have seen even some of the greatest names occasionally fulfill VIP orders that they had to have known were not the be all and end all of good taste.
By contrast, 1800s watchmaking – just as much as 2000s watchmaking – did in fact produce a handful of remarkable watches that merged unique style with exceptional, timeless beauty. Now, these are the watches we like to remember. As I visited various museums (those erected exclusively for certain brands or for horology, as well as others used to serve wider fields) I saw but a handful of watches from 100-150-200 years ago that made me want to scrape the paint off the wall. I wanted them so much. My Crystal Ball is broken today, but I’d venture in saying this De Bethune has the potential to be a watch that, if and when it surfaces 100-150 years from now, might trigger that particular, almost painful desire of ownership that I know I have felt in some of these museums.
It takes more than just painting and applying some stars on a blue dial to get to this level. What it takes is a tight rope walk between being unique and being perfectly in tune with the laws and guidance of the Big Horological Playbook. Without striving for a complete list, some of these eternal pillars in watchmaking are: 1) flawless execution, 2) excellent to-the-minute legibility, 3) comfortable wearability, 4) a good balance between one’s own – widely recognized (!) – and classic design elements. To give you a better idea, from the top of my head two of my favorites that ticked these boxes were some select watches by Abraham-Louis Breguet and George Daniels.
Now, I’m not saying that this De Bethune already fits into that group – it is a relatively new watch that, due to the nature of physics, has simply not had the chance to stand the test of time yet. All I’m saying is that I think it has that rare combination of getting those four things right and that this might make it last and render this watch interesting and fascinating over time.
To clarify, and I’m coming full circle here, I said all that not because I’d ever buy a watch because I particularly care what people will think about it tomorrow or 200 years from now. I don’t think I could care less. I said all that because I’m the sort of watch buyer who’s planning on establishing a nice collection of watches over the years and then… selling them all and buying one special watch. And if I were to do so, I’d want that special watch to last and remain special (for me) for a long time. I’d want it to entertain me when it’s new and I’d want it to not embarrass me as we both grow older and older.
Funnily enough, most high-end watches promise to do just either one of those things – and remain cannily quiet about the other. They either talk about heritage and tradition and lasting values and remain shut about the fact that they know they already are boring you when you haven’t even bought the watch yet… While others engineer solar systems and liquid and what have you into their watches, but never make a claim as to how well these will last (rightfully so).
Now, with all this in mind, let’s see what the De Bethune DB25V Starry Varius is like… today. The grade 5 titanium case is 42mm wide and a slender 8.8mm thick. At 42, it was decidedly given a bit more presence than it would have had at what I’d consider to be the more obvious size choice – 40 millimeters. However, on the wrist, the DB25V feels and looks airy and light, but not to the detriment of its calculated presence.