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.
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.
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.