When Michael Tay, Executive Director of The Hour Glass in Singapore visited De Bethune at Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues during the Geneva watch exhibitions in January 2012 he enquired about the watchmaker’s much talked about and sold out Ninth Mayan Underworld tribute.
From that conversation a new special edition set of 12 timepieces inspired by Zodiac Animal Heads which adorned an ornate fountain in the famous Yuanming Yuan (Old Summer Palace) outside of Beijing, China was born. Each watch features elaborately engraved animal heads for the 12 Chinese zodiac symbols. Engraved by master artist Michèle Rothen using the bas relief technique in the middle of the dial of its watch, his work is backed by a Grand Feu enamel relief of the corresponding Zodiac symbol.
The engraving masterworks take up the space where a watch’s movement normally goes, so Denis Flageollet and the De Bethune watchmaking team were faced the challenge of where to put the mechanism to power the watch?
A completely new movement, Calibre DB 2145, was created to free the center of the dial. The resulting movements uses peripheral hour and minute hands, circling the engraved zodiac head as if by magic. New techniques, such as the use of micro ball bearings and a new transmission system capable of driving the revolving disks, was developed specifically for this movement. This new movement uses the De Bethune trademark Silicon/white gold balance wheel and balance-spring with flat terminal curve, as well as the company’s patented triple pare-chute shock-absorbing system. The movement has 287 parts and a power reserve of six days
The fountain in the Palace of the Calm Seas of the Yuanming Yuan, built in the mid-1700s and created by French and Italian Jesuits and Chinese artisans (for the Qianlong Emperor of China), was actually a huge hydraulic water-clock (clepsydra), with water jetting from the mouths of the appropriate animal head to announce the time.
Due to looting and the ravages of time, the Yuanming Yuan is in ruins now, and only seven of the original 12 Zodiac heads have been found. The Zodiac heads are a powerful symbol for the Chinese, and the subject of much discussion, both inside and outside of China. Recently, famous Chinese artist/provocateur Ai Wei Wei created his Circle of Animals (in bronze and in gold), inspired by the fountain’s Animal Heads, to great international acclaim.
The De Bethune DB25 Imperial Fountain Limited Edition sets exhibits the brand’s commitment to continuing to use and update the traditional arts of engraving and enameling, as well showcasing De Bethune’s knowledge and savoir-faire in the worlds of traditional and contemporary watchmaking. The rare timepiece sets are traditional, contemporary, elegant and possess rate emotion – all hallmarks of De Bethune.
Each set of 12 pieces is priced at SFR $1.5 million.