As a tribute to Día de Muertos (the Day of the Dead) celebration in Mexico, De Bethune has created DW5 Cempasúchil, a one-of-a-kind creation from the brand’s Maestri’art Collection.
The De Bethune DW5 Cempasúchil timepiece was co-created by Denis Flageollet (master watchmaker and founder of De Bethune) and Michèle Rothen, a talented Swiss Art engraver. This unique timepiece has drawn its artistic inspiration from the engravings of José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913), the legendary Mexican engraver and chisel virtuoso.
Inscribed in 2008 on the UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, EL Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) is the highlight of the Latin American festivities, with rivers of orange petals from the bouquets of Cempasúchil blossoms that line alleys and bathe them in the intense scent of marigolds, guiding the spirits of the deceased on their journey home.
Cempasúchil is the name of Mexican marigold (also known as Aztec marigold) flower. Traditionally, Mexicans refer marigold as La Flor de los Muertos (the flower of the dead) and since ancient times it has been used in the Día de Muertos celebrations. According to beliefs, the petals of the Cempasúchil flower (marigold) retain the warmth of the sun and embody the divine.
The name stems from Cempohualxochitl, meaning ‘twenty flowers’ in Nahuatl, the indigenous language of the Aztecs who used it for decoration at burials. The eternal love of Xochitl, materialized by this flower, could heal diseases because it was believed they come from sadness or fear, and true love can heal all.
There have been and are many watches on the subject of skulls and the Day of the Dead, but none of them inspired by the engraving of Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada.
Posada was an engraving genius and his work has become part of the national heritage of Mexico, especially since the centenary of his death in 2013. The engraver of calaveras (‘skulls’ in Spanish) offers images of skeletons more alive than the living. At the heart of his creations, the queens of the festival, the calaveras, are everywhere.
Smiling skulls, hilarious skeletons coquettishly prancing about in top hats and boaters, Posada’s distinctive eye and hand capture an imagery that overflows with life. With more than 15,000 catalogued engravings, his legacy remains immense. On the exterior of the DW5 Cempasúchil watch, the 19th century artwork of Posada is interpreted with the contemporary talent of Swiss Art engraver Michèle Rothen, working in close concert with Denis Flageollet.
Where Posada etched his calaveras on flat zinc plates, Denis Flageollet and Michèle Rothen miniaturize them to the extreme, only to give them more relief and volume. On the outside of the timepiece, the watchmaker recreates a phantasmagorical world inspired by the engravings by Posada. Among these engravings, standing above the time display window is La Calavera Catrina (Catrina Ljazmun a Calavera Garbancera), the famous Calavera artwork of Posada and an icon of the Mexican Día de Muertos.
Reaching beyond the challenge of a contemporary reinterpretation of the Mexican artist’s engravings, Denis Flageollet and Michèle Rothen introduce the additional technical challenges of not only working with a titanium case, but also of having it flame-blued, hand-engraved, and decorated for the first time with delicate gold inserts, as well as engraved to magnify the Cempasúchil blossoms. And to take the level of difficulty a few notches higher still, several different types of 18K gold alloy are used.
White gold, yellow gold, rose gold, green gold (an 18K gold combined with a smidgeon of silver), and a new ‘marbled’ gold (a blend of white gold, rose gold and yellow gold): Denis Flageollet’s unrivalled knowhow is given free rein at De Bethune’s own foundry in Sainte Croix, enabling him to create new shades of the precious metal to underline the piece’s floral elements. Thanks to a new technique developed in his workshop, the metals seem to naturally harmonize and join together. The multiple levels and shades of the decoration offer a magnificent and subtle visual depth accentuated by the engraved parts.
You will also notice a small two-colored sphere that indicates the moon phases. Composed of two hemispheres, joined and polished, one of blued steel and the other of palladium, the sphere guides the eye to the minimalist digital hours and minutes display, visible through a hand-cut crystal cabochon whose making requires rare mastery.
Between engraving and micro-sculpture, Michèle Rothen’s work surpasses all standards. Infinite and infinitesimal precision coupled with a Swiss artistic talent that is recognized as among the best. Engraving was particularly difficult on this piece because titanium already presents a challenge in itself. Combining it with gold was an insane challenge.
Engraving them together added yet another degree of difficulty. First, because of the challenge of getting two diametrically opposed metals to coexist: strong and stiff titanium with soft and malleable gold. Second, because the temperatures at which the two metals can be worked are very different.
To make this timepiece, Denis Flageollet used titanium that he patiently machined, preparing it for the gold inserts, until he obtained the perfect fit for the piece, working it not only before the engraving stage, but also again afterwards, then in the fire to tint it, then on the workbench to polish it by hand, revisiting the state of the metal surfaces at each stage, each microscopic detail, each relief, even sparing some parts to ‘lift’ the design as a means of perfecting the whole.
Also made of titanium and 18K gold, the back of the watch is adorned with an immense skull, ‘another true calavera’ decorated with multiple flowers, with two large eye sockets, through one of which the movement’s balance-spring can be admired.
Model: Maestri’Art DW5 Cempasúchil
Hours, Minutes, Spherical moon-phase indication
Mechanical hand-wound movement
Number of parts: 355
Jewelling: 32 jewels
Diameter: 30 mm
Power reserve: 5 days, ensured by a self-regulating twin barrel – De Bethune Innovation (2004)
Silicon annular balance encircled by a white gold – De Bethune Patent (2010)
“De Bethune” balance-spring with flat terminal curve – De Bethune Patent (2006)
Silicon escape wheel
Spherical moon-phase indication with an accuracy of one lunar day every 1112 years – De Bethune Patent (2004)
Frequency: 28’800 vibrations per hour
Adornment: Hand-crafted finishing and decoration
Adjustment: Spherical moon-phase adjustment and setting the time by means of the crown, adorned by 1 carat rubies (3 positions)
Jumping-hour aperture at 3 o’clock in blued titanium
Analogue minutes indicator on a dragging rotating disc
Spherical moon-phase indication in palladium and flamed blued steel with an accuracy of one lunar day every 1112 years at 6 o’clock – De Bethune Patent (2004)
Frame of the jumping-hour aperture in blued grade 5 titanium
Delta shaped case in colored titanium with gold 18K inserts hand-engraved
Diameter: Length 58 mm – width 47 mm
Case thickness: 16 mm
Crystal: Curved hard-mineral crystal cut by hand
Case back: Closed and screwed down case back in colored titanium with gold inserts with aperture on balance wheel
Hard-mineral crystal (1800 Vickers hardness) with double antireflective coating
Water resistance: 3 ATM
Karung leather bracelet, hand sewn with pin buckle
Buckle: Pin in colored titanium, hand engraved and buckle in rose gold