De Bethune DB25 Starry Varius
Think of De Bethune and you think of finishing taken to the next level. Be it polishing or engraving, everything is always done so flawlessly and immaculately. With the introduction of the DB25 Starry Varius, this trend of excellence continues. The watch may be one of the most evocative we’ve photographed and reviewed, and it helps that it is so incredibly photogenic. We bring you the details and our thoughts on one of De Bethune’s latest creation, the DB25 Starry Varius.
The Case, Dial, and Hands
The case of the DB25 Starry Varius is crafted in Grade 5 titanium and entirely polished to complement the dial. Titanium cased watches are known for their lightness and comfort on the wrist and the DB25 Starry Varius is no exception. Its ergonomics is further enhanced with the new case design boasting, most prominently, a smaller yet still modern diameter of 42 mm (as opposed to the usual 44 mm and above). The signature hollowed lugs, previously extending from the backside of the case, now stretch out from the case middle instead. Measuring only 8.8 mm in height, the watch will have no problem slipping under tight dress cuffs and being worn as a dress watch. But where the DB25 Starry Varius truly shines – and quite literally – is on the dial. As you set your eyes on the face of the watch, they are immediately drawn to the stunning blue in the centre. This dial inlay is, like the case, made of titanium. But titanium isn’t naturally this glossy, or blue. It starts off as a rough plate in De Bethune’s manufactory, grey and uninteresting. Its journey to becoming the night sky starts with polishing, extensive mirror polishing. It is then treated with a protective lacquer coating before being cut, cleaned and oven-blued. A second coating of lacquer is then applied before perforations are made where the gold stars are going to be. About 100 gold pins with spherical heads, each representing a star, are then fixed onto the dial. The Milky Way seen in the background is actually gold leaf that has been carefully applied. To make things even more interesting, the imagery of the night sky on the dial can be customised to the customer’s preferred location and date.
The remainder of the dial is silver-toned and bears blue Roman numerals that encircle the titanium plate in the centre. They, along with the two golden Breguet hands, indicate the time, which is the only function of the timepiece. Each hour is further marked by golden studs outboard of the Roman numerals. Overall, we feel that the DB25 Starry Varius oozes class, obviously scoring top points for aesthetics and design. We love how visually dynamic the blue centre is. Given its mirror-polished nature, it changes tone depending on the angle that light is hitting it, going from electric blue to almost black. The stars in gold contrasts spectacularly on the blue backdrop and we also like how three-dimensional it is. The fact that all this is now packed in a very wearable 42.0 mm x 8.8 mm lightweight titanium case is a huge boon for collectors who want to wear this piece of art on their wrist daily and not just stash them in the cold depths of a safe.
The DB25 Starry Varius is powered by the 27-jewel, in-house Caibre DB2005. The manually wound movement boasts an impressive 6 days of power reserve off of twin mainspring barrels and operates at a modern 4 Hz beat rate. The contemporary design and materials used on the watch don’t just stop at the case and dial; the movement itself features present-day innovations. The DB2005 utilises a titanium balance wheel with gold weights and a silicon escape wheel. It is also protected from shocks by the brand’s patented Triple pare-chute shock absorbing system.
For a simple time-only watch, the DB2005 is more than technically sound – its specs go above and beyond. This stretches to finishing and decoration as well. The bridge in the centre with its unique starship-like shape is most likely to draw first attention. It is gorgeously striped with the edges both chamfered and polished. The balance bridge is rounded and polished, the former making the latter a difficult task. Contrasting the linear waves seen on most of the surface of the movement is the snailing on the twin mainspring barrels. The rubies that add to the colour pallet of the calibre are fitted inside deep, spectacularly polished slots. A minor lamentation that we have is on the lack of inward angles. The DB25 Starry Varius is after all an ultra-high end independent timepiece with a price tag that reflects its exclusivity. That said, we figured also that it wouldn’t be worth showboating IF it meant disrupting the desired appearance of the movement. In just one conclusive sentence, the Calibre DB2005 is flawless in both technical and aesthetic aspects.
The Competitive Landscape
Delivered with black alligator leather strap and a titanium pin buckle, the DB25 Starry Varius retails at CHF60,000 or SGD98,400. If you didn’t flinch at the numbers, congratulations, you’re part of the 1%. There’s no two ways about it, the DB25 Starry Varius is very pricey for a time-only watch, even after taking account its special aesthetics. Factors that may have influenced the final price include low annual production, and the fact that De Bethune makes everything themselves. There aren’t many time-only watches that are priced at the CHF60,000 mark. Two that we can think of are AkriviA’s Chronomètre Contemporain and Philippe Dufour’s Simplicity (pre-auction craze). Bear in mind though, that these two watches have superior finishing (with the former equipped with an enamel dial), which is strange to say given that the Starry Varius is also finished to an exceptional level. The DB25 Starry Varius’ claim to fame is its unique dial depicting the heavens. There really aren’t any watches out there identical to it, though there are some that come close.
The Patek Philippe Sky Moon Celestial Ref. 6102 is similar to the De Bethune in that it too has a dial filled with stars and the Milky Way. The similarities, however, end there. Unlike in the De Bethune where the celestial details are three-dimensional, the stars and Milky Way on the Patek are painted onto multiple layers of sapphire crystal (which explains the extreme reflectiveness of the dial). The Ref. 6102 is also a lot more complicated than the time-only DB25 Starry Varius, displaying not just the time, but also the date, the sky chart, the phases and orbit of the moon, as well as the time of meridian passage of Sirius and of the moon. With so much more functionality (though not necessarily better finished), the watch is expectedly more expensive, with a price tag north of SGD300,000.
With the De Bethune and the Patek, we get to observe the heavens from a certain locale on Earth (Geneva by default on the Patek). With the Van Cleef & Arpels Midnight Planetarium, the wearer gets to look at the Solar System from above. The Midnight Planetarium remains one of the most memorable watches from the esteemed jewelry brand and even in all of watchmaking in general. This is probably due to how alluring and poetic (a polite word ‘practically useless but artistic’) the dial is. As the name of the piece alludes to, the Midnight Planetarium boasts an impressive planetarium complication. On the dial are semi-precious stones depicting the Earth and the other planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn; the planetarium complication captures their paths around the sun. This is made possible thanks to a module by Christiaan Van der Klaauw (made exclusively for Van Cleef & Arpels) which allows each planet to move on its own aventurine disc according to its real-life rotation time. The Midnight Planetarium is priced at over CHF200,000, to be expected given its heavy use of precious materials and sophisticated movement. On a side note, its finishing (case and movement) is not nearly as immaculate as the De Bethune Starry Varius, but hey, fine watchmaking isn’t all just about mind-melting polishes and anglage, right?
The DB25 Starry Varius was unanimously well-received by fans and critics alike when it debuted earlier in the year. What’s there not to like? The price, perhaps, but if you’re already in the market for ultra-high end timepieces like the Starry Varius, chances are 60 grand isn’t going to set you back much, if at all.