Hands on with the Kari Voutilainen Observatoire

calendar | ic_dehaze_black_24px By Frank Geelen | ic_query_builder_black_24px 4 minute read |

Our contributor from down under, Y. Chan, shares her hands-on experience with one of the most beautiful watches I have ever seen. It is a Kari Vourilainen Observatoire with a brown/copper dial. This gorgeous timepiece is owned by Tony, whose photos are also used in this excellent write-up. 

An uncommon Voutilainen OBSERVATOIRE

One of the things that appeals to many people about independent watchmakers is that there’s often a story, a narrative, behind the watchmaker and his or her watch which gives an added personal dimension to each timepiece. Kari Voutilainen’s modern classic, the Observatoire, has such a story.

It starts with how he found some Peseux base calibres which had never been assembled after being fabricated and then proceeded to make them his own, finishing them with both anglage and perlage. As if this wasn’t enough, he decided to use a rare system of balance spring which, somewhat technically challenged as I am, I can’t quite get my head around, so I will simply give the description –  the exterior of the spring uses a typical Breguet overcoil, whilst the internal curve uses the little known Grosmann curve. Grosmann, a teacher at the watchmaking school at Le Locle in the late early 20th century, perfected a technique that gives the same amount of attention to the internal curve of the balance spring as the external overcoil. The Observatoire was the first use of this curve in the 21st century.

For those of you who are not familiar with the technical details, they are as follows :

Technical specifications :

  • Observatory calibre 260 Peseaux, that was created for observatory trials and never commercially produced. Hand finished with Geneva stripes, anglage and perlage. 30mm x 5mm. In this particular case, it features a frosted finish in stead of Geneva stripes.
  • Ruby cap jewels for the escapement wheel.
  • 21 jewels.
  • Free sprung balance wheel, with Platinum timing screws, beating at 18,000 v.p.h.
  • Balance diameter 13.3mm with Breguet/ Grossmann balance spiral.
  • 38mm x 10.5mm thick; case and crown are made of 18-carat gold or platinum.
  • Engine turned gold dial, with Roman applied numerals and gold hands.
  • Hand sewn, crocodile strap with 18-carat gold buckle.

The dial design of the Observatoire is very restrained, what is special about this particular Observatoire which makes it so much more distinctive is that it is in the more difficult to find platinum case model (at the time of its creation, there were only five other Observatoires in platinum), with a brown dial and “frosted” gold movement finish (only the second to have this). Kari Voutilainen’s dials are not made by him, but are outsourced to Parmigiani-owned companies. The blued hands, however, are made in-house.

For those who like something distinctive, the dial is almost bronzed (in certain lights) and contrasts quite vividly with the white gold and blued hands. The distinctive take on Breguet hands are not to everyone’s taste in terms of the size of the circles, I admit that I find them a little large for my personal preferences.

Turning it over, we find, as mentioned, the refinished vintage observatory-grade Peseux 260 movement. Kari threw out the entire escapement and inserted a balance wheel, hairspring, and escape mechanism of his own making.

The Observatoire is only 38mm, but it has a definite presence and heft to it. This may be partly due to the angle of the tear drop styled lugs, which seem to ‘lift’ the watch, but it also feels quite thick. It has both a robust appearance and a robust presence, once you put it on the wrist.

Even for those with no idea as to who Kari Voultilainen is, the Observatoire will draw the eye, not least of all because of its colour. However, after it grabs your attention, and you look at it, you will notice the craftsmanship that has gone into it. In looking at photographs of other iterations of the Observatoire, I find that this rare bronzed dial gives off quite a different impact to the others. With this colour combination, the watch is still flexible in terms of being casual or dressy, but seems to be more to the former, for me, with white/ silver dial models looking more formal. But that’s a personal thing.

Whatever your feelings are about this watch, it’s hard to escape recognizing that it is a beautifully made timepiece.

Note from the editor: Today Voutilainen does the engine turning of the dials in-house and a personalized design can always be discussed. 

More information about about Kari Voutilainen’s timepieces can be obtained through his website.

5 responses

  1. I love the color of the dial. I’ve gone to Kari website. I prefer the “CHRONOMETRE 27”.

  2. Same here Mathieu, I also love this copper colored dial. The Chronometre 27 is also a gorgeous timepiece, but unfortunately it’s sold out.

  3. Thanks Y Chan for your kind words, and thanks Mono Man for publishing this piece about my watch.

    I was very lucky to get this watch. I placed my order with Kari, and two days later, the Observatoire won the “Favourite Men’s Watch” prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genéve.

    The series had already sold out once (and I had missed out), but Kari came into possession of a few more Peseux movements and so he contacted a few people who had missed the first batch. I jumped, and I’m so glad I did.

    Another bit of trivia is that the whole Observatoire concept came about because of a well known collector approaching Kari with a Peseux 260 movement and suggesting he make a one-off watch from it. That became the original Observatoire and is, as far as I know, also the only one without teardrop lugs.

  4. Thanx for sharing this, Tony!
    After seeing you Observatoire during the SIHH 2011, I felt that your Observatoire is one of the most watches I’ve ever seen. And I still do feel the same. It got the perfect balanced design, with an elegant case, lovely teardrop lugs, a magnificent engine turned dial and a horological feats when the watch is turned over.
    Hope to see you again, during SIHH 2012.

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