August 2021 23 Min Read

The Watchmaking Journey of Kari Voutilainen

By A Collected Man

Kari Voutilainen sits at an interesting intersection in watchmaking. He is many things at once, and difficult to pin-down to a single description, characteristic or attribute. His creations are both traditional and contemporary. Like all great horologists, he take inspiration from the history of watchmaking, whilst also pushing forward the aesthetics and techniques of the craft. From minute-repeaters and tourbillons to repurposing vintage, new-old-stock movements, he has mastered an array of skills which have deservedly raised him to the standing that he enjoys today.

Voutilainen is, of course, a watchmaker, but it is also a brand, bigger than the man himself, and a name that he hopes will outlast him. In addition to this, Voutilainen is rare among his peers for being as skilled with his hands, as he is with business, proving time and time again that he knows how to build and maintain a sustainable manufacture. Whether it’s the collaborations he engages in, or the ways in which he’s chosen to integrate his case and dial makers, Kari consistently and successfully, makes the argument for long term thinking.

Just a small selection of the watches that have left Voutilainen's workshop, showing the wide variety that he is capable of.

Throughout his life, the watchmaker has followed the path which we’ve come to expect from independents - restoring antique pieces, learning by experimentation and inevitably creating commissions for established brands, who ultimately refused to acknowledge his work. As a result, he was propelled forward by the desire to create under his own name, which he now does from his newest workshop overlooking Môtiers, Switzerland.

Having long been supporters of Voutilainen’s work, we’ve had the chance to handle many of his most special watches, visit his workshop, and even engage in the process of commissioning a piece directly from him, giving us an insight into his personality and how he works. We thought we’d take the opportunity to trace back his path to watchmaking, what defines his craft, and highlight some of his most notable creations.

His Story

Kari Voutilainen was not born into watchmaking. However, despite neither of his parents being connected to the industry, he had a family friend with a small watchmaker’s shop, where he spent a significant amount of his time. Voutilainen will be the first to admit that he wasn’t the most academic of students. He was far more interested in activities like ice hockey, running and cross-country skiing. Growing up in Lapland, these were naturally some of the more popular sports on offer.

When it came time to decide what direction he wanted to take in life, the young Kari already knew he wanted to work with his hands. All it took was a push from his family friend, for him to enrol at Kelloseppäkoulu, the Finnish watchmaking school located in Espoo. Upon graduating, he worked in a retail store, but it wasn’t long before he realised that it was time to go back to school. This led him to sign-up to a refresher course at WOSTEP, in Switzerland, in 1988.

Voutilainen filing a component, courtesy of Monochrome Watches.

It was while on this refresher program that he discovered the famed complications course run by the school. The only issue was that he needed to find a way to pay for it. After the refresher, he travelled back to Helsinki and set himself up as an independent restorer. “Over this year I learnt to be organised,” Voutilainen told us. Following a year of working long hours as a young watchmaker, and admittedly doing quite well for himself, he made it back to Neuchâtel for the famed complications course.

It was an undoubtedly tough program, which produced some other notable independents, such as Stephen Forsey, fellow Finn Stepan Sarpaneva and both Grönefeld brothers. After working his way through this curriculum, designed to make one familiar with all the ins and outs of the most complex calibres, Voutilainen was ready to enter a larger company and to grow his understanding of watchmaking even further.

A Vacheron Constantin pocket chronometer from 1932, of the kind which Voutilainen would have restored at Parmigiani. Courtesy of Phillips.

“I was supposed to go and work at Vacheron Constantin,” he tells us, “but the work visa couldn’t be sorted in time. So, I ended up going to Parmigiani.” Not a particularly well-known name in the early 1990s, Parmigiani was one of the foremost restoration workshops in Switzerland, with a vast array of delicate and historic timepieces passing over its benches. “While I was there, I was restoring old Vacheron Constantin observatory chronometers from the 1950s and ‘60s. One day someone from Vacheron came in and I could hear them talking to a colleague about a Finnish guy who was supposed to come and work for them, but they couldn’t sort the visa. Funny how life works like that way sometimes…” 

Voutilainen spent nine years at Parmigiani, a transformative amount of time in the life of any watchmaker. It was made even more impactful by an introduction to the man who would take on a mentor-like role for him, Charles Meylan. “He was about 70 when I joined the company, so he didn’t actually need to be there, as he had pretty much retired.” However, it was through the sage advice and guidance of Meylan that Voutilainen learnt “everything they don’t teach you at watchmaking school”. While absorbing the long-lost techniques that were used to first assemble the vintage chronometers he was restoring, at the same time, Meylan was also pushing the young Voutilainen to make his own watch. 

The dials which Voutilainen would later create, with the help of the skills he developed at Parmigiani.

It’s important to point out that during his time at Parmigiani – from 1990 to 1999 – the first independent watchmakers were beginning to make their mark felt across the market. Daniel Roth had grown his manufacturer to a decent size, George Daniels was producing unique creations while advancing the co-axial escapement, and the AHCI was starting to blossom into a recognisable force at Baselworld. Against this backdrop, the young Voutilainen may have felt emboldened to push-out on his own.

Over the next three and a half years, in the evenings and on weekends, he toiled awat at his first pocket watch, in the Parmigiani workshops. It was a one-minute tourbillon with twin barrels and a power reserve, which he completed in 1994. Two years later, it was displayed in the museum at La Chaux-de-Fonds, for an exhibition on tourbillons sponsored by Girard Perregaux. It was here that Voutilainen’s work started to gain some recognition from collectors, and they started to approach him with commissions. In fact, that same year, he made a minute-repeater for another client, which in turn allowed him to buy more tools and grow his skills further. This would become a theme in Voutilainen’s strategy when it came to watchmaking and business – investing earnings back into the craft, allowing him and his business to grow.

Voutilainen left Parmigiani in 1999 and went back to WOSTEP, this time to share his knowledge. “The idea was to teach 50 per cent of the time, and the rest I could work on my own projects. However, I ended-up teaching 150 per cent of the time.” Those who were taught by him remember fondly that if he didn’t have an answer to a specific problem, he would work through the night to come up with a solution and then present it to his students the following day. This nocturnal activity would often involve studying George Daniels’ Watchmaking book, and then constantly experimenting at the bench, until a solution presented itself.

While he was able to pass on the knowledge he’d accumulated to this cohort of aspiring watchmakers, it was clear that Voutilainen couldn’t stay there forever. He remained at WOSTEP for three years, adding to his capabilities and his workshop, in the process. In fact, he accumulated so many tools that he could no longer store them in his home and was now renting out a workshop all on his own.

It was in this workshop that he created the prototype movement for a watch that would later be displayed at Baselworld, with another brand’s name on the dial. While it should have been a secret that he constructed this movement, Philippe Dufour came up to him, complimented his work, and pointed-out that he should be working for himself, rather than others. It was this little push, from possibly one of the best finishers in the industry, which helped to give Voutilainen the motivation he needed to take that final leap.

A young Kari Voutilainen, alongside his fellow WOSTEP alumni, Stepan Sarpaneva. Courtesy of Theodore Diehl.

In 2002, he established himself as an independent watchmaker, working under his own name. While the original intention was to do everything on his own, he quickly realised that if he was going to make watches of the quality that he had in mind, more hands would certainly make for lighter work. Voutilainen was keen to take on additional help, though he did not have ambitions to grow too big, or too quickly (another common theme in this story). He had seen the mistakes of those who had come before him, when the likes of Parmigiani or Roth had to sell their company, to save their name. He knew that to stay small, and most importantly, independent, was no easy task.

In June 2021, Voutilainen moved his workshop into a new building. An old hotel-restaurant, the Chapeau de Napoléon, it sits atop a hill that overlooks the village of Môtiers, in the Val-de-Travers. When it went under recently, Voutilainen saw his chance to take a building that would allow his company to grow more comfortably. Now they sit, perfectly positioned, to not only continue the watchmaking that has got them to this level, but to expand upon it – all while remaining close to the dial and casemakers that are included in his manufacture.

The watchmaker's home and workshop, in Môtiers, courtesy of the Journal de la Haute Horlogerie.

What makes him stand out?

“The big question is, why am I working?” Voutilainen asks. “Money is not driving me to work, I am only concerned with quality. And when you’re working on a small scale, you can do more things.” This mindset of sticking to his core values has kept the Finnish watchmaker focused for the last 20 years. He is still capable of carrying out every process along the journey of making a watch, from start to finish. “I recently completed a complicated watch by myself and delivered it to the client,” he tells us. The watchmaker famously doesn’t have a sales team, a public relations manager, or any of the other auxiliary roles that a growing brand such as his might hire during their expansion. He deals directly with clients when they are looking to commission a piece, will speak with the press when enquiries are made and even packages up a watch when it’s finished and ready for its new owner. 

While Voutilainen only offers a limited number of models to his clients, the various configurations he’s produced are far too numerous to list. Rather unique amongst his peers, he looks to help guide his clients’ vision, rather than restrict them to a pre-determined and pre-designed catalogue. This is why there are so many colourful and unusual versions of his designs out there. If it’s possible and if it adheres to his design philosophy, he will, more often than not, make it happen. Even if it sometimes requires leaning on the skills of other artisans, such as engravers or specialised enamellers, the watchmaker’s appetite for experimentation is unmatched. 

The Kaen is the result of a collaboration between Kari Voutilainen and arguably, Japan’s greatest lacquer studio, Unryuan.

Voutilainen also readily names those that he works with; whether it be the master engraver, Eddy Jaquet, who has done various day and night indications and casebacks for him, or the finely crafted boxes of Cédric Vichard. While larger brands will often outsource these specialist skills and hide the names of those that carry them out, Voutilainen recognises the value of collaboration and transparency. After all, he himself has experienced the other side of the coin, when he was developing movements for more established brands.

This willingness to collaborate extends beyond his relationships with collectors or his commissions from specialised artisans. Indeed, his craft is disseminated across multiple other brands, as he frequently works closely with others. Whether it’s the intricately crafted dials that he provides to independents and established brands alike, or the movements he worked on jointly with MB&F, he leaves his mark beyond the pieces that carry his name. Alongside a few friends who facilitate commissions, he also works closely with a handful of retailers around the world, such as Aseman Kello in Finland, Cellini in New York or Salon des Horlogers in the Middle East.

Brand Collaborations

MB&F

Grönefeld

Other than the watches that leave his workshop, what makes Voutilainen stand-out from most independents, is his focus on building a sustainable brand and team which will hopefully outlast him. This can be a particularly difficult endeavour in watchmaking, as being a skilled artisan and a shrewd businessman don’t often go hand-in-hand. If you were to ask him what matters most, he would instantly say “the people are where the power of the company lies. We have about 30 at the moment and we are hoping to take on a few more in the coming months.”

Another strategic decision, which displays his long-term desires, was the integration of his dial and case makers within his own manufacture, in order to reduce his vulnerability and reliance on external suppliers. Referencing the absorption of the dial maker in 2014, Voutilainen points out that “when we first got the factory, we were their biggest customer, but that hasn’t always been the case.” Indeed, several other brands still make use of his craftsmen's intimate knowledge of dial making and finishing. While many of these are keen to point out that their dials have been made by Voutilainen – such as Grönefeld, Schwarz Etienne, or Armin Strom – not all of them are quite as transparent.

An insight into the commissioning process, which we went through when we designed a unique Vingt-8 QRS.

Voutilainen’s approach certainly seems to have resonated with the dedicated collectors who follow and encourage his work. We spoke with Michael Hickcox, who is part of a prominent Northern Californian collecting group, and East Coast enthusiast D.S. Lew. “Kari collectors tend to be humble,” Lew tells us, “because when you wear one you aren’t trying to signal anything.” He also points out that most of the people who own one of his watches will own multiple, alongside other independents’ pieces. Perhaps this speaks to the enjoyment that can be derived from commissioning, designing, owning, and wearing his watches.

“No matter who I speak to,” Lew says, “the collectors of his watches are always compatible, which is incredible given that we’re a worldwide, dispersed group.” As is often the case with independents, an appreciation for the personality and temperament of the watchmaker himself also plays into things. Through the various dinners and manufacture visits that he has had with Voutilainen, Hickox was keen to point out that “he’s super nice, with a creative instinct and good at everything.” As has become apparent over the years, there is far more to Voutilainen than just the watches he puts his name on. Whether it’s his endless spirit of experimentation, his open approach to collaboration, or the focus with which he has chosen to grow his brand into something greater than himself, there are multiple facets to the watchmaker and his work.

Up close with the mechanics which make Voutilainen's work stand out.

What Makes a Voutilainen Watch? 

Like with any brand, there are certain characteristics which are inherited by anything that has Voutilainen on the dial. These features range from the overall aesthetics, to the movement architecture. Because all his watches are sold on a commission basis, you will struggle to find two which are identical. As Hickcox tells us, “at a dinner with some fellow collectors, we all had our Kari pieces on us, and each one was a little bit different.” Despite the variation that can be found across his watches, the themes that tie them all together only speak to the thoughtful way in which Voutilainen guides his clients through the commissioning process. 

One of the most striking visual features are the inventive dials which Voutilainen is able to create with the help of his dial factory, Comblémine. He often uses guilloché, a decorative technique in which an intricate and repetitive pattern is mechanically engraved into an underlying material via engine turning. Whilst this traditional technique has long been a staple of watchmaking, Voutilainen has modernised it by coming up with inventive patterns, using daring colour combinations, or bringing in other materials, such as enamel or onyx. When his workshop develops a new dial pattern, the production process is carefully noted down and a brass dial sample is created, so that it can be recreated in the future. Thanks to galvanic treatments, Voutilainen is also able to achieve a rich array of colours, from crisp white to striking red.

Moving to the case, his distinctive teardrop lugs are a recurring element. These have been a part of the watchmaker’s design language for most of the brand’s lifetime and were supposedly inspired by a 1950s Movado which he owns. Voutilainen has previously shared one of the reasons why he opted for this shape. Whereas sharp-angled lugs can dullen over time, even after multiple polishings, these teardrop shapes will keep their original lustre for years, if not generations to come. This thoughtfulness clearly points to his desire for longevity. The unusual Observatoire hands can also be found across most of his pieces. These are constructed from three separate components: the shaft, round loop, and the arrow tip. This is amongst the most difficult ways to create a set of hands, with Voutilainen often choosing to have the shaft and tip in gold and then the loop in blued steel. 

Some have pointed to the aesthetic similarities between Voutilainen’s watches and those created under the modern Urban Jürgensen brand, notably when it comes to the hands, cases and adoption of guilloché patterns on the dials. This could be more than a coincidence, considering Voutilainen briefly worked for Urban Jürgensen, and continued to help them with prototypes and unique pieces even after he left. Notably, the watchmaker helped Urban Jürgensen adapt the detent escapement into wristwatch form.

The signature Observatoire hand, courtesy of Monochrome Watches.

When it comes to the movements themselves, there are a few things that stand out. Firstly, Voutilainen takes a particularly pragmatic approach to watchmaking. He develops most of his complications, of which there are many, in a modular way, using his Calibre 28 as a foundation. As a result, he can experiment with different complications without needing to design a movement from scratch every single time. When he first developed the Calibre 28, he intentionally created additional space in the base plate and under the dial, to accommodate for additional functions. This also allows him to combine these complications in unusual and inventive ways, in order to accommodate the requests of clients. This pragmatism is reminiscent of François-Paul Journe, who developed his own automatic Octa calibre in a similar way, such that it spawned an entire collection.

Beyond this, Voutilainen has long received praise for the aesthetics of his movements, from the construction, to the high level of finishing which he applies. Yet again, this is an area where the watchmaker balances tradition and modernity quite effectively. In his Caliber 28, for example, he uses certain elements which we are used to finding in vintage pocket watches – such as a large straight bridge or an oversized balance wheel – but combines them in a original way. The finishing also draws upon various influences, such as the traditional Côtes de Genève or more daring rhodium plating, which darkens the overall appearance.

Examples of Voutilainen's remarkable movement finishing, on his Chronomètre 27 and Observatoire pieces.

Alongside his own creations, Voutilainen has occasionally taken vintage, new-old-stock movements and incorporated them into his own watches, combining the past and the present. For example, upon discovering a small batch of unused, Observatory-grade Longines 360 ébauches, he chose to create the Chronomètre 27. Considering the amount of time he spent in restoration, his repurposing of vintage movements seems quite natural, as an homage to the great calibres of the past. This approach has also been adopted by other independents with similar backgrounds, such as Daniel Roth, who created a run of monopusher chronographs using a Lemania 15CHT ébauche, which was originally designed in the 1930s.

To elevate the quality of his movements, Voutilainen developed his own escapement, a double wheel with Breguet overcoil and Grossmann inner curve, allowing for a much smoother transition of energy from the gear train to the hands. These two escape wheels give a direct impulse to the balance through an impulse roller. This is a far more efficient way for the escapement to operate, helping with longevity and stability. This can not only be found in his in-house movements, but is also integrated into the vintage ébauches which he repurposes.

Repurposing movements

Ébauche

Refinished

Some Favourites

While all these individual components add up to make a Voutilainen watch, they are far more than the sum of their parts. Bearing this in mind, we thought we’d take a closer look at some of our favourite Voutilainen pieces. Collectively, these prove that despite his focused approach, the watchmaker’s creativity and inventiveness has been plentiful. Though we’re unable to cover all of the pieces that have left his workshop, this will hopefully give a glimpse into some of the creations out there.

Observatoire

First produced in 2007, the Observatoire’s origins lie in Voutilainen’s relationship with his clients.A collector approached him with a box of old Peseux movements and suggested that he use them as the foundation for a watch. The plan was initially to create a one-off piece, but Voutilainen decided to use all of them and make them into a series instead.

These Peseux movements were observatory-grade ébauches – hence the model’s final name – that were all produced in the last century. They were originally destined for precision timing competitions at the Geneva and Neuchâtel Observatories. Few of these competitive calibres have survived today, so it was an exciting opportunity for Voutilainen to be able to restore, modify and offer them under his own name. 

These were all disassembled, cleaned and modified by the watchmaker, who added the escapement which he designed himself, with a Breguet overcoil and Grosmann inner curve balance spring. He then finished them to his typically high standard. Whilst his inventive dials and balanced finishing are often brought up, this should not overshadow the achievement of developing his own escapement. Indeed, in recent times, few watchmakers have been dedicated or skilled enough to push forward escapement technology, with George Daniels and Roger Smith being two other notable examples.

This model has seen an interesting progression over the years, as while Voutilainen has established a unique design language that now resonates throughout all his collections, the very earliest Observatoires offer quite a different feel. A few years ago, we had the chance to handle the first ever Observatoire, which demonstrated these early characteristics. With their straight lugs and sword hands, they appear almost utilitarian in comparison to the more elaborate pieces he later produced.

The decision to take on this project was celebrated when Voutilainen was awarded his first Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève award for it, in 2007. Since then, the watchmaker has taken home a total of eight awards from what is widely known as the Oscars of watchmaking. While he has never made a watch with the goal of taking home a trophy, he tells us that he always enters to “be a part of the watch community.” Clearly, he sees the value in being an active member of an institution which promotes watchmaking, for reasons that go beyond the golden hand that each winner receives. 

It is believed that only around 50 Observatoires have ever been made, with each one being unique, in the sense that they all incorporate different distinctive details. This comes from Voutilainen’s willingness to customise and adapt each piece to his clients’ preferences.

An unfinished Peseux 260 movement, alongside the reworked version which Voutilainen integrated into the Observatoire.

Chronographs

While the Observatoire might be one of his most recognisable models, it was not Voutilainen’s first foray into independent watchmaking. The first of the masterpiece chronographs were presented in 2004 and ran on his first fully in-house movement. Supposedly, he took inspiration from the traditional geometry of the iconic Valjoux 23 and its Patek Philippe variants. This said inspiration is understandable, considering both the quality of the architecture of these movements, and the fact that Kari is known to have restored vintage Patek Philippe split second chronographs.

With the time display relegated to a sub-dial at 6 o’clock, the main dial is reserved for the chronograph seconds. The layout was designed to highlight the complication, rather than aiming to fit a traditional configuration around it, focusing on the hours and minutes. With a 30-minute counter and running seconds in separate subdials, this asymmetrical dial is classically finished in a style we have come to expect from the Finn, with contrasting guilloché providing excellent clarity.These pieces were limited to just 11 examples. 

A few years later, the watchmaker completed a second series, adding further complications into his Masterpiece Chronograph. The inception of this Masterpiece Chronograph II series was a group of six enthusiasts from Northern California, who commissioned six of this series of ten watches in February 2010. Over the course of three years, they were actively involved in the customisation of the individual watches. In total, ten were produced, with five in white gold, two in platinum, two in pink gold, and one in stainless steel. This creation process has been well documented by some of the collectors who first commissioned these watches, including Gary Getz.

The idea behind the piece was to take the original chronograph, which had helped put the Finnish watchmaker on the map, and to add a large date and a moon phase, along with a couple of additional cosmetic modifications. The in-depth piece that Getz wrote about this watch’s creation gives us a real insight into how Voutilainen’s light but deliberate hand, can make a real difference in the design process. This includes the time he insisted on a blue night sky for the moon phase rather than black or anthracite. It took just shy of three years to complete this limited run, from the first meeting of the collector group over dinner, to the watches being handed over. This may seem like a long time to wait for a timepiece to arrive, but it speaks to the respect that collectors have for Voutilainen and his process.

Vintage Movement

Striking design

Minute Repeater

This watch stands out amongst Voutilainen’s creations, as perhaps one of his most technically impressive. Completed in 1996, it officially predates the Voutilainen brand itself, hence why there is a distinct lack of branding on the dial. The story goes that a client approached the watchmaker with a movement and a few loose parts in a box, and asked him to create a “discreet repeater”, which would not attract too much attention visually.

The movement was a vintage LeCoultre ébauche and fittingly, the aesthetics of the watch were pared back. With a yellow gold case, fluted bezel, and onion crown, the dial is made from white lacquer, with Breguet hands and numerals. The trained eye will notice the distinct lack of a slider for the repeater function. Indeed, to make this watch as discreet as possible, Voutilainen managed to integrate the slider into the fluted bezel. This meant that the grooves cut into the bezel are not only aesthetic but also functional.

Voutilainen's repeater from 1996, courtesy of Kari Voutilainen.

The watchmaker has since created more traditional decimal repeaters, which display the slider on the side of the case. As is often the case, he’s combined these with other complications, including GMT functions, power reserves and perpetual calendars. This speaks to the modular approach which Voutilainen often takes when creating complications. He’s also experimented with the general layout, by creating skeletonised versions, or integrating an atypical regulator layout which splits up the timekeeping functions.

The Masterpiece 8 Minute Repeater movement, courtesy of Gary Getz and Quill & Pad.

A recent unique piece which speaks to the watchmaker’s desire to combine tradition and modernity is the so-called Tantalor. It centres on a vintage LeCoultre ébauche, which has been rebuilt to a decimal repeater mechanism, which strikes the hours, 10-minute intervals and minutes. According to the watchmaker himself, “the beauty of this system is that the minute chime never strikes more than nine times, making the repeater easy to understand and more natural in actual use.” The Tantalor combines this with a case which was forged from a solid piece of tantalum. An expensive material, traditionally used in the medical and aerospace fields, the metal is also notoriously hard to work, making this piece all the more impressive. It is now understood to be in the private collection of Steve Hallock.

Tourbillon

Tackling the tourbillon complication has become a sort of rite of passage for many independent watchmakers looking to make a name for themselves, with a notable example being François-Paul Journe, who financed the inception of his brand by creating twenty Souscription Tourbillons. The visual appeal of the complication, its storied past and the skill needed to assemble one according to more traditional methods have all contributed to this.

The Détente Escapement Tourbillon Wristwatch, created by Voutilainen, courtesy of Deployant.

Indeed, as mentioned earlier, Voutilainen’s own first watch was a one-minute tourbillon with twin barrels and a power reserve, which he completed in 1994. Throughout his career, the watchmaker has produced tourbillons, in both wristwatch and pocket watch form, with most of these being unique creations for clients. One of these tourbillons which is worth mentioning is one that integrates an unusual pivoted détente escapement. Scaling down this kind of escapement, which was originally used in marine chronometers, is particularly impressive. To then integrate it within a tourbillon, elevates this piece even further. The impressive mechanics were hidden at the back, with the watch appearing relatively understated whist on the wrist.

It wasn’t until 2014, almost twenty years after completing his first watch, that he would introduce his first serially produced tourbillon, the Tourbillon-6. The movement is exposed through the front, showcasing the watchmaker’s own direct impulse escapement with twin escape wheels, which had previously featured in some of his other wristwatches. It is understood that only six of these will ever be made.

Close up with the Détente Escapement, courtesy of Deployant.

Vingt-8

The Vingt-8 has arguably become the backbone of Voutilainen’s offering. With the first models leaving the workshop in 2011, the Calibre 28 was developed entirely in-house and is regulated by the double wheel escapement that has become a trademark of the Finnish watchmaker. As Kari has stated publicly, “the design and philosophy of the movement combines respect for longevity and precision with classical watchmaking tradition.” 

A few years ago, we had the opportunity to handle the prototype Vingt-8 – numbered 000 – which combined a platinum case and a salmon dial. Rather unusually, this first movement was the only one within the whole series to be certified by the Besançon Observatory. To be awarded a certificate from the Besançon Observatory, the watch had to go through a stringent testing period where the tolerances for error are much finer than any other standard, including certified chronometers from the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres.

To achieve this feat of chronometry, the watchmaker had to make several modifications to the Calibre 28, related to the weight of the balance, the configuration of balance screws, as well as the design of certain escapement parts. These optimisations represented a further refinement of his dual escapement wheel concept and also led to a notable decrease in power consumption of the entire movement design. As Voutilainen later stated in a letter, it marked a historic moment, as it represented “the very first time that a watch using my new escapement design has been issued a certificate from Besançon Observatory.”

Despite being in production for over a full decade, the Vingt-8 has seen many different permutations, from the ladies’ version, to the recent inverse model, which flipped and skeletonised the movement, so it could be appreciated whilst on the wrist. He’s also integrated a range of complications into his Calibre 28, from retrograde dates to power reserves. Being the simplest of his models, the Vingt-8 has been a canvas for endless experimentation when it comes to dial design. By playing around with the type of numerals style and colour of guilloché, as well as bringing in additional materials like enamel, the Vingt-8 collection continues to spawn a rich variety.

The prototype Vingt-8, numbered 000. This first movement was the only one within the whole series to be certified by the Besançon Observatory.

As one example amongst many, we recently had the chance to handle a titanium 28Sport, with a striking dial that combines black and orange tones. Both the centre of the dial and the small seconds are made from hand-finished and highly polished onyx, whereas the hour track is executed in a classic guilloché, though entirely blacked-out. Meanwhile, the index markers are a bright orange colour. The choice to use guilloché, but treated in such a way that it is entirely black, whilst also combining it with a titanium case and orange accents, speaks to this constant tension between tradition and modernity within Voutilainen’s work.

Parting Thoughts

A watchmaker, a businessman, a designer, a brand, there are many words that can be used to describe the polymath that is Kari Voutilainen. His approach to watchmaking is simultaneously unique, yet tried and tested, opting for slow, gradual growth supported by a dedicated group of collectors, independent of third party suppliers.

The plethora of creations that have his name attached to them rivals nearly any independent watchmaker alive today. An astounding achievement in its own right, it could be argued that what is more impressive is the brand he’s managed to build and the ecosystem that will support it, long after he hangs up his loupe.

Voutilainen's newst workshop that he moved into in June of this year, courtesy of Eurpoastar.

While not everything he has made will meet everyone’s tastes, there is no denying the artistry and mechanical thoughtfulness that goes into his work. Whether it is a discreet decimal repeater or a fantastically finished, multi-coloured time-only watch, his level of craftsmanship and attention to detail never falters. Through discovering his work and the journey that he has gone on, we have found ourselves constantly surprised at his abilities and the philosophy that he has fervently stuck to over the last 20 years. Now, all we can do is wait and enjoy what the next 20 years of Voutilainen watchmaking will bring.

We would like to thank Kari Voutilainen for taking the time to speak with us, as well as the collectors who spoke with us about their passion for this eclectic watchmaker's work. For more on Voutilainen and his work we would recommend reading Voutilainen: Horlogerie d'Art by Theodore Diehl.

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