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The Man Behind the Best Watches in the World – Interview With Kari Voutilainen

A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to chat with Mr. Kari Voutilainen, a living legend of the watch world. He is regarded as one of the best watchmakers of today, and has won five prizes in the Oscars of the watch world – Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Geneve. In addition to this, he is a very humble and down to earth guy, who lets his work speak for itself.

I met him at the Watch Show Finland (check my photo report about the event here), where he had a nice little booth set up, right next to Sarpaneva’s. Mr. Voutilainen had brought two watches for the people to look at, and they sat in this small glass shelf. He even let people handle them when asked, like they were just ordinary watches. I don’t think I’ve ever been as scared as when I held his beautiful Vint-8, priced similarly as a small studio apartment in downtown Helsinki, in my hand.

There was a constant line of people waiting to get to shake hands with the master and chat a bit, and I patiently waited for my turn.

This Vingt-8 was one of the two watches Voutilainen had brought to the show.

This Vingt-8 was one of the two watches Voutilainen had brought to the show.

Voutilainen caught the watch bug as a kid, through a friend of his father’s. Kyösti Hautaniemi was the owner of the local watch shop in Kemi, where Voutilainen grew up. He visited the shop quite often, and there he could see all the tools, gadgets, and most importantly, watches, laying on the workbench.

“Kyösti was quite involved in the watch scene,” Voutilainen says. “For example he was the chairman of the Finnish Watchmakers' Association for a number of years.”

After graduating from high school, Voutilainen really had to think what he wanted to do. He ended up enrolling to the Finnish School of Watchmaking. The day he started his studies, he felt right at home.

“I immediately felt like this is the right thing for me,” he says. ”Ever since I started my studies, I have not felt like I'd been working for a single day.”

 

Voutilainen is known for making some of the best watches money can buy. Every little detail is well thought out, all parts of the watch are manufactured in-house and finished to the highest standards, and the cases are often made of precious metals. His designs are very recognizable and draw from the past, utilizing features like teardrop-shaped lugs.

“I get inspiration for my designs from the nature, architecture, and old cars,” he tells me. And you can definitely see that – the smooth curves found in the watch cases are reminiscent of early Bugattis, and the influence of the nature shows clearly in the dial designs. The dials are often very colorful, and have intricate details and several different finishes. “I love to play with different colors,” Voutilainen says. “I’ve made dials in for example green and bright cherry red.”

He designs all of the watches from the ground up, without any help from established designer houses. The movements are naturally also drawn and built by Voutilainen. “I really enjoy designing my watches, and would not want anyone else do it for me,” he says.

Every model of watch has a movement designed specifically for the case. The watchmaker takes pride in his movements, and describes me how the movements are always made to fit the watch case: “Having a small movement in a large case is like a putting a Fiat’s engine in a Ferrari.” One quirk of Voutilainen’s movements is an unusually large balance wheel. According to the watchmaker, it serves two purposes. Firstly, a larger wheel is heavier, resulting in a steadier escapement. Secondly, well, it is just nice to look at. “People enjoy being able to really see what is going on under the hood,” Voutilainen explains.

The back of the Voutilainen Vingt-8. The balance wheel on the lower right demands a lot of attention when looking at the movement.

The back of the Voutilainen Vingt-8. The balance wheel on the lower right demands a lot of attention when looking at the movement.

Voutilainen’s atelier, like many other watch manufacturers, is located in a small town in Switzerland. He opened his atelier in 2002, having worked for Parmigiani a number of years. This made me think - why are watch manufacturers located in such remote places. I asked about it, and the answer was quite simple.

“The rhythm of life is so much slower in the countryside, which makes it is easier to focus on working. In the city you would just get frustrated while being stuck in traffic on the way to work, and get nothing done once you finally get there. In the countryside there’s nothing to bother you,” Voutilainen says.

Sounds nice. I should really pack my bags and go to my family’s summer cottage.


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PHOTO REPORT: The Watch Show Finland 2018

The Watch Show Finland was held this weekend in Helsinki. This two-day watch festival was packed with all kinds of programs, from new watch releases to interviews with the kinds of Stepan Sarpaneva. And while these were nice, the main thing, at least for me, was to walk around the venue checking all the booths.

And there were many. Something for everyone.

You could go around looking for vintage watches or new Baselworld releases. Chat with watchmakers. Then take a break and enjoy a craft beer from Brewdog. There was even a "Flipping Corner" where anybody could come and trade their watches.

If you did not manage to come this time, fret not. Like the last time, I showed up with my trusty camera to take some pictures for you guys. (See the article about the event last fall here.)

Kattilahalli worked great as a venue. The place was quite compact, while all the booths still had plenty of space.

The Swedish brand, Sjöö Sandström proudly displayed their collection at the show. While the Royal Steel Worldtimer 36 was really nice, for me the star of the show was the Royal Capital.

There are only 30 of these made and they are sold out. It's a shame as it matches my shirt nicely...

One of the living legends of watchmaking, Kari Voutilainen was also present. Naturally there was a line of people waiting for a chance to talk with him at almost all times. He was very welcoming, chatting and taking pictures with everybody.

A beautiful Voutilainen Vingt-8.

And right next to Mr. Voutilainen, Stepan Sarpaneva was shocasing his first in-house movement - the very impressive Moonment.

The moonphase of the Moonment is accurate for a casual 14,000 years.

Suninen had just gotten some new Baselworld 2018 releases in their store, and showcased them at their booth.

The new Breitling Navitimer boasts the new logo and a sapphire caseback.

The all new Longines Skindiver is a great addition to their Heritage line.

Meistersinger also had their own booth set up. This was a very welcome surprise as they don't have any retailers in Finland at the moment. It was nice very nice to see their collection in the flesh.

The Lunascope was my favorite out of their collection. The moonphase really made it stand out.

Many of the expo-goers wore some truly great timepieces. Here are a few shots I got the chance to take.

Zenith Defy

Oris Divers Sixty-Five Movember Limited Edition

Heuer Carrera ref. 1158 CHN

S.U.F Myrsky

Rolex Daytona

Omega Globemaster

Sinn 903 St

Thank you to The Watch Show Finland for arranging this wonderful event once again. I had a blast and will definitely come back next year.


 

GALLERY


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TOP 3 Reasons to Choose a Vintage Watch

You know, the past couple of years watch manufacturers have come up with a myriad of vintage reissue watches. You name a brand, and I bet they have a vintage-inspired diver’s watch in their catalog. But why wouldn’t you just buy an actual vintage piece?

Alright, I’ve got to admit, there are some drawbacks with vintage.

The thing that puts many people off is the size. Vintage watches are usually fairly small by today’s standards. Hence, people might opt for a larger reissue. Whereas it was totally normal for a man to wear a 35 millimeter dress watch 50 years ago, nowadays that size is often considered too small.

There is one definite downside to rocking a vintage piece - you constantly worry about it. Or at least I do. If I’m strapping my 50's Zenith Sporto on my wrist, I’ll be thinking what am I going to do today? Is something potentially going to break this thing?

One very common example is riding a bike. Speeding over bumps and potholes causes a lot of sudden shocks for the watch you’re wearing. I guess I am a bit paranoid, but I wouldn’t wear a vintage watch for a bike trip. It’s not that all vintage watches are brittle and will break just at a bare sight of a bicycle, but shock resistant movements were not really a common thing in the 50’s.

Despite of these things I still think it is worth it to take the leap and go vintage. Here are three reasons why you should.

The Oris Divers 65 is a great re-issue and worry-free way to enjoy some vintage vibe.

Uniqueness

Every vintage piece is unique, so no one will have exactly the same watch as you. Over time, after getting exposed to sunlight and humidity, a watch starts to show some age. Black dials fade into a chocolate brown, and white ones develop this beautiful vanilla tone. Or radium lume on the hands might burn some spots on the dial, leaving these great stripes on it. All kinds of things can happen.

This is all damage, alright. But usually it looks very nice and that’s why I prefer to call it patina. And patina cannot be replicated in a new watch.

My personal Zenith Sporto oversize dial has developed this minty tint to it.

Story

I’m a sucker for a good story, and boy, do vintage watches tell some great ones.

Take the Dirty Dozen, for example. During the Second World War, the British Ministry of Defence ordered watches for their troops from 12 different manufactures, the “Dirty Dozen”. The watches had very strict specifications, and they naturally had to be very accurate and durable in order to serve soldiers well in combat. You can still find these watches on the market, and it’s crazy to think what kind of ordeals the people who wore these watches had to go through.

This Omega "Dirty Dozen" from 1944 is on sale at www.longitudi.fi

Or take my grandfather's Girard Perregaux. It is a beautiful dress watch he got as a gift from his co-workers. He wore it very sparingly, and it mainly just sat in its watchbox next to a little note he had written. One day, ten years after he passed, I came home and found this little red box on my desk. I opened it and saw his watch, with the note he’d written himself. Every time I take a look at this watch it reminds me of him.

My grandfather's Girard Perregaux from the 1970's.

The Hunt

The single best thing about vintage, though, is finding the watches - the hunt. More often than not, you cannot simply walk into a shop, and purchase the vintage Jaeger Le-Coultre you’ve been eyeing. Oh no, you’ve got to go on eBay and forums, trying to find one in decent condition. And it’s always a gamble. You can never be completely sure that all the parts are original, or if the dial is repainted. You need to carefully inspect every single find to make sure it actually is what the seller says. It’s part of the game and keeps things interesting.

I’ve been looking for a black dial Tudor Prince “Small Rose” for months now, and I’ve still yet to find a good one for a decent price. But it’s part of the fun - maybe even most of it.

So go on, do some research, and start an adventure to find your first vintage piece!

 

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Watch Spotting at Watch Show Finland x Kelloharrastajat event

The long awaited Watch Show Finland x Kelloharrastajat meetup finally took place yesterday. The event was arranged at Ostrobotnia in the center of Helsinki.

The place was full of life when watch fans came to see the show.

The main event of the night, was the announcement of the very first community watch project of the Kelloharrastajat Facebook-group. And let me tell you - they weren't playing around.

The watch was made in collaboration with Stepan Sarpaneva, the independent Finnish watchmaker behind the brands Sarpaneva and S.U.F. The new piece is an addition to his popular Myrsky-line of watches. The number of pieces produced was very limited - only 50 were made. And they were sold out in one minute and thirty-six seconds. Pretty cool, aye?

The just released Kelloharrastajat Myrsky on the wrist of a happy new owner.

The back of the Myrsky has a picture of Mörkö, a familiar Moomin character, etched into the sapphire glass.

While the new S.U.F. Myrsky was indeed very cool, the pieces on the visitors' wrists and vendors' showcases were world class. The lighting conditions were not the best, but I tried to snap some decent pics anyways.

Naturally, as the star of the show was a S.U.F., a lot of people were wearing the brand. Mr. Sarpaneva also had a booth where he showcased two new watches.

On the left the yet-to-be-released S.U.F. Vetehinen with a DLC coated case, and on the right a new S.U.F. collaboration with Makia, the Myrsky Archipelago.

On the vintage side of things, the offerings from Longitudi could not be beat. All of their watches were in great condition, and albeit they were priced quite high, their selection was nothing short of amazing.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual ref. 6564 from 1956 had developed some crazy patina on the dial.

This trio would make any watch enthusiast very, very happy. From left to right: Rolex GMT Master ref. 1675, Tudor Submariner ref. 7928, and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak ref. 4100BA.

The very definition of a baller watch - a solid gold Royal Oak from year 1987.

Any Rolex collector's wet dream - the GMT Master ref. 1675 in great condition with some beautiful patina.

And what do we have here... A Rolex Daytona ref. 6262 from 1970.

Not everything at the event was about watches. Saint Vacant was also present, showcasing their beautiful shoes.

Grand Seiko was also very well represented in the event.

The contrast between the creamy dial, golden numerals and blued hands was a sight to behold on this Grand Seiko SGBW003.

This vintage Grand Seiko ref. 6146-8050 had a really cool chiseled crystal. You can't really see it here, but it was shaped like a polished diamond.

Quartz precision at its best with the Grand Seiko SBGT003. The kanji weekdays don't hurt either.

Thank you Watch Show Finland and Kelloharrastajat for arranging the event. Absolutely loved spending time with great watches and even greater people.

'Till the next time!

 

GALLERY


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