Today we return with a new instalment of The Collector’s Series, and with one of the most desirable dress watches you can imagine. A collector’s dream, made by one of the most revered independent watchmakers. And it’ll be courtesy of @vancouverwatchguy, who lives in… you guessed it, Vancouver, Canada. This 63-years-old financial entrepreneur will be talking elaborately about his passion for his Kari Voutilainen Vingt-8. Yes, it’s a stunning watch, which seems rather simple at first, but clearly isn’t. And his unbridled enthusiasm for this marvellous watch is catchy, so be aware!
Frank Geelen, MONOCHROME – When did you first hear about Kari Voutilainen?
Vancouverwatchguy – It was in 2015 that I started to do some research into independent watchmaking. I had already owned watches from a number of the mainstream brands, and I was a reasonably seasoned collector by this time. I owned watches from Omega, Panerai, Rolex, JLC, Cartier and two pieces from Patek, including a Patek Grand Complication. Somehow though, I had this gnawing feeling that something was missing, and this something was a watch from an independent watchmaker. After reading many articles on the internet and watching Youtube videos, I was about six to nine months into my study of independent watchmaking and the name that I kept coming back to was Kari Voutilainen. It was on my birthday in January 2016 that I decided to order the Vingt-8. In fact, I could describe it as my “glorious independent horological piece of art.”
What made you decide you wanted one of Voutilainen’s watches?
My decision to acquire a Voutilainen was made after much deliberation. Right from the start, I admired almost everything about the brand and this watch. To begin with, the story of Kari Voutilainen is an impressive one, which is everything from his horological education, his background with other brands and then finally launching his eponymous brand about two decades ago. His meteoric rise over that time to what he is today is an admirable feat. I admire the fact that Kari Voutilainen has remained true to his roots, a watchmaker that has never left doing what he is best known for and in fact does an incomparable job at it. Finally, I admire the fact that not only has Voutilainen remained completely independent, but it has done so by making a very small quantity of watches where each watch is an individual masterpiece in its own right.
As previously mentioned, after doing extensive research, and realizing that I wanted to go down the route of purchasing a watch from an independent, I narrowed my choice down to a few watchmakers and my final decision was arrived upon due to a few factors. The first was that Voutilainen made only a handful of watches, at that time less than forty a year. The implications regarding the exclusivity of a Voutilainen watch due to this fact were not lost on me. The second was the fact that, apart from a few components that are highly specialized in their manufacture, the watch was developed and made completely in-house. Finally, and most importantly, the movement finishing is amongst the best in all of watchmaking, the watch being handmade and meticulous. As a result of these factors, I knew this was the one. What finally tipped me over the edge was that I was jumping into the deep end, without compromise or settling for anything less, and this fact had tremendous appeal to me.
Can you tell us some more about the acquisition process?
That went very smoothly. After I stumbled across Voutilainen, I contacted him and worked with him over the phone for about a month. I chose the metal, the dial and the finishing. About 9 months later, the watch was ready for me. Kari and I stayed friends and that is what makes this whole endeavour of collecting watches worthwhile.
Are you happy with the result?
The watch is absolutely glorious. The dial is brilliant as you can see. The case and the finishing are fantastic. And the movement of the Vingt-8 is one of the best in all of watchmaking. The size at 39mm and the heft of the white gold are close to perfect. I feel such joy every time I strap the watch on. Many have said that it is the “perfect “ watch, but that is so subjective. I just know that if I had to wear only one watch for the rest of my life, this one would be the one.
Largely due to the personal relationship you have with Kari Voutilainen, I presume…
There has been a lot said and written about the relationship that a person forms with an independent brand that transcends the mere acquisition of a timepiece. All I can say is that is completely on point, given the experience I have had in acquiring the Vingt-8. It is a truly exhilarating and satisfying process. There are retailers who carry Voutilainen, and that is one way to acquire his watches. Dealing with Kari Voutilainen himself is an experience that I would not trade. He is a true gentleman and one of the really good guys in this business.
Could you elaborate on what makes this watch so special?
As my watch collecting journey has continued, and over the passage of time, I have found that my tastes have evolved. Whereas at one time the grail was a watch that was complicated, and the more so the better, I am now more attracted to time-only watches. This watch is the epitome of a time-only watch.
Why is that, you think?
The appeal of a watch to me and the focus of my wish list are now very different from what they used to be. I look for superlative finishing as a minimum requirement. Although a movement does not have to be proprietary and neither does it have to be unique, I do want it to be interesting and mechanically beautiful. The one thing that is most important to me is the dial. Often I know immediately whether a dial speaks to me or not, and the dial must capture my heart.
The Voutilainen Vingt-8 ticked all the boxes for me. Without going into the details and technicalities of the movement, suffice it to say that it is ingenious. Devised and completely manufactured by Voutilainen, it is indeed a masterpiece. The hand finishing is absolutely brilliant, amongst the best in the business. The anglage is gloriously done and the various surfaces blend together as a cohesive whole.
It’s the light, isn’t it?
Yes, the manner in which the light plays off the various surfaces, the finishing of which were recommended by Kari to me personally, is a joy to behold.
Let me briefly describe the dial as well. With my desire to stick to a monochromatic look, I worked with Kari himself to design the dial. Every detail, including the three engine-turned guilloche patterns, were discussed. The end product is one that I feel was uniquely created for me, and every time I put it on my wrist, I am filled with awe, wonder and joy. Surely, it is impossible to ask for more.
Great, can you describe the aesthetics of the watch?
The case of the Vingt-8 that I commissioned is made of white gold. At the time that I acquired this watch my choices were white gold and platinum. White gold has always been my favorite metal as I love the slight off-white hue. I intended this to be a watch that I would wear a lot, and I felt that the lighter weight of gold would be a better choice. Needless to say, the craftsmanship and attention to detail of the case are unparalleled. The signature tear-shaped lugs also define the beauty of this watch and the case, lugs and dial all come together as a cohesive and brilliant whole.
So, you wear the watch a lot?
Due to the strong attachment I have for this watch, it is always a treat for me when I strap it on my wrist. I do not buy watches that I will not wear. I form an emotional connection with all my watches and I try to wear them all a lot. However, this piece gets more than its fair share of wrist time. It is certainly my go-to dress watch, but I find it to be extremely versatile, and also appropriate for casual events. In short, I wear it any time I feel like it.
And how do people react to it?
As one might expect, almost nobody ever knows this watch or recognizes a Voutilainen. This is just how I like it; it is almost always my little secret and that suits me just fine. When I am in the company of other collectors or at a watch event, the Vingt-8 is a massive hit. Even seasoned collectors are wowed by the beauty and splendor of the piece, and I get many requests from people who want to look at it up close and examine this horological piece of art. Naturally, I beam with pride!
Would you ever consider selling it at a decent price?
I like to be discreet about things like cost and price, but needless to say, this is not an inexpensive watch. If I can help it, I do not ever plan to sell or part with this Voutilainen.
And it has so much history to it, for you…
Yes, I remember the day I took delivery of the watch. I caught the train from Geneva to Yverdon-les-Bains, a beautiful journey partly along Lac Leman and through gorgeous Swiss countryside. Kari picked me up and we drove to his workshop in Motiers, another lovely drive to the mountainous region north of Lac de Neuchatel. Motiers is close to Fleurier, a town with great horological significance. In a striking and large building, which served as Kari’s home and workshop, I had the pleasure of meeting Kari’s gracious wife and his family. Kari personally took me through his workshop and gave me the grand tour. I was also privileged enough to meet the person who had done the majority of the work on my watch. I was also delighted to learn that Kari himself had been instrumental in the manufacture of the watch and had a hand in the assembly. He and I then went to a charming village close by, where we sat outside on a patio and had a delicious lunch. Kari then drove me back to the train station. I can honestly say that this was the most memorable day I have had in my watch collecting journey. It couldn’t have been more joyous.
Tell us more about that journey…
I have gone through a few phases of watch collecting. After about 40 years of being a watch enthusiast, I started to consolidate my collection over the last few years as I felt that I had to add only watches that truly stirred my soul. As a result, I pared everything back to the bare minimum and am now starting to rebuild again. It was a difficult process because, like many passionate collectors, I was truly attached to my watches. But it was necessary in order to find clarity. I now understand my collecting style and what I wish to concentrate upon. For the most part, I wish to focus on artisanal, independent watchmaking and modern haute horology.
So which watch is next on your list?
There are a number of watches that I am considering acquiring at present. These come mostly from smaller independents, but also from larger brands. The following is not an exhaustive list. At present, I am working on a long term project with Bradley Taylor, a brilliant young watchmaker who also happens to be based in Vancouver, Canada. I am adding a Charles Frodsham to my collection, and am also speaking to a few other independent watchmakers.
Do you have general tips for people who want to start collecting watches?
I do not consider myself an expert by any stretch of the imagination, so I can only speak to my own collecting philosophy. I only buy watches that I truly love, and at this stage of my collecting journey, I try to pick watches that I do not intend to part with. I generally try not to go after unobtainable watches and wish to focus on watches that I can actually buy. When a piece is sought after by almost everyone out there, I find that I quickly lose interest. In that vein, I try not to ever pay more than the retail price of a watch. I feel that it is important to try and buy watches that move the horological needle in some little way, and I really focus on this as I try and decide what to add next. Finally, I do not want my collection to get out of hand in terms of size, as I wish to be able to wear my watches as often as possible.
And why do you gravitate towards independent watchmaking?
Although the larger brands have economies of scale and great technical prowess, It seems to me that the true creativity in watchmaking comes from independents. In terms of bang for the buck, the true value is provided by these watchmakers. Finally, I feel that every time I buy a watch, I am voting… I am voting with my pocketbook and my actions for the type of watchmaking I would like to see forge a path into the future. If I can impact that in an infinitesimal way, I feel good about my tiny little contribution to the world of horology.
Are you in touch with other collectors?
I have made a number of good friends and met many excellent people through this passion for watches that your readers and I share. It is amazing how this love for watches has a way of bringing people together and allowing them to have an instant bond. For that, I am very grateful.