As if the novel nature of the chronograph’s indications were not enough, De Bethune designed the mechanism itself to be one of the most unique and most complicated chronographs as well. Knowing that it allows timing up to 24 hour long intervals is not telling much and so we must look deeper into the movement than the dial and its hand-polished and flame-blued hands would allow; as once we do that we find the real reason why developing this movement took nearly seven years. That reason is called the De Bethune Total Clutch system and the first thing that becomes obvious is that out of those seven years of painstaking development, approximately thirty seconds were spent on naming the invention itself. But never mind, as what it offers is an answer to – most – all issues linked to how chronographs operate.
Chronographs with column-wheels and vertical clutches are often preferred–or at least considered as superior–by more distinctive watch enthusiasts. The reason is that they are considered to be more reliable while also providing a better, more seamlessly, dare we say more perfect functioning of the mechanism compared to the traditional horizontal clutch. This is not to say that other designs are objectionable, but rather to point out that there are direct advantages to having these modifications–again, the column wheel and the vertical clutch–present in a high-end chronograph. What the DB29 offers is a very complex and truly novel system that relies on three column wheels and three different types of clutch; but is more really better? Bear with me, as it does make sense after all.
In short, the horizontal clutch relies on two horizontally aligned wheels that are meshed when the chronograph is started and are disconnected when it is stopped. The problem with this is that upon starting the mechanism, an already turning wheel gets meshed with a stationary wheel, and this creates quite obvious problems: in the long run it may damage both, and upon contact they cause the chronograph’s central seconds hand to jump by around half a second forwards or backwards. On the other hand, a vertical clutch relies on coupling an already turning wheel with a pinion and relies on only on friction between the two. Hence, here you do not have the teeth of the two wheels meshing with one another, but rather a flat surface “sitting” on top of an already rotating wheel once the chronograph is initiated. Consequently, the seconds hand starts immediately as the chronograph is started by the wearer and there are no slight jumps forwards or backwards.
The DB29 comprises a vertical clutch for the seconds while it relies on a shifting pinion for the minutes counter and a horizontal coupling for the hours counter – all controlled by their respective column wheels. As I like to say, if this sounds complicated that is because it is very complicated indeed. If we add to this already mind-boggling list of features the fact that all indications are stacked around one another on the same axis we should get a rough estimate on how much painkiller must have been consumed by the De Bethune engineers over the last seven years–our guess is: a lot.
It is no surprise then that they decided to make it concealable: should the 410-parts hand-crafted movement make your eyes water and your head feel numb, you can always cover it with the solid gold case back, suspended on an invisible hinge at the 9 o’clock position. And once you feel you are ready to face this exercise in ultra high-end watchmaking, the hinge can be popped open again in an instant by pressing the button integrated into the side of the case, just below the crown.
In conclusion, the result does speak for itself and justifies the time the engineers and watchmakers have spent working on this piece. The DB29 MaxiChrono is destined to be one of the fastest, most seamlessly functioning chronographs on the market today, and pretty much ever , and that is without doubt a very impressive achievement. debethune.ch