In 2009, we described the ateliers of Voutilainen, in Môtiers in the Val de Travers, as a ‘one-man manufacture’. It was a way of saying how the Finnish watchmaker, who became independent in 2002, had achieved such a high degree of ‘verticalization’, if we might qualify such an artisanal structure in this manner.
In 2011, this verticalization was definitely a tangible reality since all the components of the movement and the great majority of the other parts of the new ‘Vingt-8’ watch were manufactured in-house (including the main plate, barrel bridge, balance bridge, barrel, palettes, escape wheel, pillars, pinions, screws, dials and more).
Besides the balance spring (Straumann), the barrel spring (Schwab Feller), and a portion of the jewels, nothing is purchased. Most of the finishing is done in-house as well, including chamfering, polishing and decoration before passing to the assembly and mounting steps in the same facility. Kari Voutilainen’s declared goal is ‘complete autonomy’. This has forever been his dream, and he is now fully realizing it.
The choice of autonomy
Three or four years ago, Voutilainen decided to move to the next step and make his own ébauches. Obviously, his decision was made easier by the lack of clarity for the long term in a sector that was undergoing major reorganization. What motivated him above all, however, was the challenge this posed.
The path to absolute autonomy was full of pitfalls, but “isn’t this how we continue to improve?” as this perfectionist from the North likes to say. He purchased all the equipment he required (notably a lathe and CNC milling machines), including an amazing stock of old and robust milling equipment that would allow him to create his own tools. Voutilainen established an integrated mini-manufacture large enough for an intentional production capacity limited to about fifty watches per year. This number may grow a little, but only by an amount that the master watchmaker can easily handle. “I have no desire to grow too large,” declares this man, who prefers to spend his days at the bench, working on mechanical devises and decorating certain pieces himself (he loves to make his own Côtes de Genève patterns). To sum it up, he wants to be involved in everything.
‘Vingt-8’, born out of nothing
“Around 2005 or 2006, I began to develop my chronograph. Everything was not done in-house since I had to order the main plates and the bridges. All the suppliers were under a lot of pressure at that time, delivery dates were very long, and I had to count on three or four months for even the smallest modifications. Under those conditions, you cannot control the consistency of the quality, the delivery schedules, or the prices. So, I decided to have my own basic movement,” explains Kari Voutilainen.
It was from this determination that the ‘Vingt-8’ was born, a calibre that equips the watch of the same name. This piece is, we might say, ‘pure Voutilainen’. It is a type of watchmaking devoted entirely to having the best chronometry and fervently constructed right down to the least detail, where, as the saying goes, ‘the devil hides’ (or to rephrase it, ‘the time is in the details’).
Let’s look at the calibre for a moment, beginning with the escapement. The new escapement created by Kari Voutilainen for his movement belongs to the family of so-called ‘natural’ escapements, as theorized by Breguet around 1800. But there are different ‘details’ that make Voutilainen’s escapement completely original. At the heart of the Vingt-8 are two escape wheels providing direct impulse to the balance. This ensemble has a small palette placed between the two wheels that is—important detail—driven like a lever escapement. The synchronization of the two wheels is made possible due to the transmission mobiles. The impulse acts in two directions each time. The advantage of this particular construction is the increased efficiency of the two-directional direct impulse. The disadvantage, however, is that greater inertia is created. In order to minimize this disadvantage, the designer had to improve the overall energy distribution, which is reflected in the small ‘details’. When all is said and done, the watch reaches 65 hours of working reserve.
One of the other disadvantages of the ‘natural’ escapement is its sensitivity to shocks (which means several teeth can be skipped because of one jolt or the watch can ‘gallop’ ahead by doubling its impulses). This risk was eliminated by adapting the principles of the Swiss lever escapement in the form of horns that serve to make the displacement and as a security device. When a shock occurs, the palettes can move but the wheels cannot escape, since the system lets only one tooth pass at a time. Another detail relating to precision is that Voutilainen selected a Breguet/ Grossmann balance-spring system. What does this mean? The exterior of the spring uses a Breguet or Philips (since he theorized it) overcoil so that the spring moves concentrically, because of the absence of pressure against the pivots. The interior of the spring uses the Grossmann curve, permitting the centre of gravity to be moved to the centre, which is impossible with the Breguet curve because of the collet. The result is better chronometry in all positions. (It goes without saying that Kari Voutilainen’s piece will be in the next Chronometry Competition.)
As robust as it is precise
Created from scratch, this new movement took more than three years to be fully developed, and now deliveries are starting. With a relatively large thickness of 5.6 mm, since it is made on three levels, it also has a thick main plate. The robust plate is made of nickel silver, as are the bridges, while the wheels are made of rose gold.
Its construction is solid and sturdy so that inside ‘nothing can bend’. It has also been designed from the beginning to have enough space to accommodate future complications. For the time being, Voutilainen does not want to elaborate on these possible additions, other to say that they will be “useful complications”.
Magnificently finished and decorated, it appeared for the first time, with all the stylistic touches typical of Kari Voutilainen’s timekeeping, in a lovely classic gold or platinum case, with a superb dial decorated with very fine guillochage in contrasting textures. Its price: 72,000 CHF in platinum and 81,000 CHF in gold.
“I am independent, the only shareholder of my own company. I have no obligation to come up with anything and I am entirely self-financed. I do not want to make any more watches than I make now, and I sell nearly all of my production directly to my clients, who are mostly collectors. I have only a few points of sale—in Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Switzerland, and Finland—and I do not want any more. What I do want is to remain like this and to work well,” insists Kari Voutilainen with total sincerity. He is indeed a happy watchmaker and a happy man!
Source: Europa Star August - September 2011 Magazine Issue