By Ben Newport-Foster
The Only Watch Auction raises millions of dollars for muscular dystrophy research but it also does something else. It alerts watch lovers to brands that might have passed them by. Out of the 49 brands that donated watches to the auction, I haven’t heard of 12 of them and that is great news. I don’t know about you but I love finding new (to me) brands that I know nothing about. It gives me an opportunity to learn about new watches, new techniques and new designs. Voutilainen was one of those brands that I didn’t know. I had heard the name mentioned a few times online but I didn’t know the history of the brand and what makes their entry into the Only Watch auction so special.
Kari Voutilainen was already a seasoned watch professional before starting his namesake brand in 2002. He had restored antique timepieces, worked for Parmigiani and WOSTEP ( Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educational Program ) before making his first watch. This was no ordinary watch, this was a pocket watch tourbillon that took 2,000 hours to make from scratch. This watch caught the interest of collectors and soon Kari started on his own brand, Voutilainen. Starting your own brand isn’t easy and Kari sound found that there were unique challenges in making watches on small scale. When attempting to purchase movement components, he found it was difficult to order parts in the small quantities he needed (20 or 30 screws at a time, rather than 2000) and when he could buy them, they were always delivered late. So he bought a CNC machine in 2007 and has since been making nearly all movements components himself. The only exceptions to this are balance springs, which are from H. Moser, and the mainsprings from Schward-Feller.
This Voutilainen 28S for Only Watch is a variation on the 28S in regular production by the brand. The 39mm titanium case has been polished to a mirror shine and it looks gorgeous, especially the teardrop lugs. Usually titanium has a dull, gun-metal color that is more suited for tool watches but here it looks as luxurious as white gold.
Inside the case is the first in-house movement from Voutilainen, the Vingt-8 or 28S. Every plate, bridge and screw is hand-finished to get the best possible shine yet this movement has far more going for it than just looking pretty.
The balance spring is a unique design that combines a Breguet overcoil with an inner Grossman curve. Don’t worry, I won’t sit here and pretend to have known what a Grossman curve was before writing this. Whilst sounding like a skateboarding trick, a Grossman Curve is actually a way of bending the balance spring to curve around the center of the main staff in the middle of the spring (the collet). This curve compensates for any error created by gravity when the watch is in a vertical position.
The watch also has a unique escapement known as a ‘natural escapement’ which was invented by Abrahm Breguet in the 1800s. Instead of using a tradition Swiss lever escapement, there are two escape wheels that are lock and unlock through the direct movement of the balance wheel. This is 30% more efficient than a Swiss escapement because there is no sliding friction between the escape-wheel teeth and the pallet so less lubricant is needed. It’s difficult to produce which is why it is only seen on haute horology pieces like the 28S.
Flipping the watch over, you’ll see the beautiful solid silver dial that has been painted black. The stencil hour markers create a ‘sandwich’ effect with a layer of luminous material shining out from underneath. It’s a wonderful detail that adds a layer of depth to the watch to stop it from looking too flat. The detail on the hands and the triangular motif that repeats around the chapter ring make it look almost Art Deco like. It’s a stunningly simple design that just works to perfection. To further add to the mystique of owning a Kari Voutilainen creation, at 6 o’clock the dial reads “Hand Made”. Voutilainen only make a handful of watches a year and the waiting list is long so with an estimate of CHF 55,000 to 85,000, this may be the best chance of owning one if you’re an impatient collector!