Under the pencil stroke of Denis Flageollet and Michèle Rothen, the case of the DW5 Cempasúchil provides a unique spectacle. 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.
The watch bears witness to a vision of unbridled elation as that expressed by and on the EL Día de los Muertos, yet founded on a deep understanding and respect of the great watchmaking masters of the past, which it transcends and sublimates. Through this unique creation, as a bridge between the worlds of art and watchmaking, De Bethune sets a marker between the realms of life and death.
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.
Denis Flageollet’s unrivalled know-how 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.
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. It was like redrawing the piece one last time.
A mischievous wink: the back of the watch is also treated like a true work of art. Also made of titanium and 18K gold, it 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.
With the DW5 Cempasúchil, De Bethune interprets the notion of time in Mexican culture, the accepted permeability between the real world and the netherworld, by imagining an object for measuring time that speaks to all these transitions.