Finnish watchmaker Kari Voutilainen founded the company bearing his name in 2002. Headquartered in Môtiers, Switzerland, Voutilainen is among the most respected and revered independent brands in the industry, producing around 50 watches per year as a vertically integrated Manufacture. Everything but the mainspring, hairspring and jewels are produced in-house (although they cut their own locking jewel for escapements), and the brand's exquisite level of hand finishing and design is rivaled by few in the world haute horology. In-house complications include tourbillons, chronographs, repeaters, GMT and more, and most of the finished pieces are either part of a very limited series or simply one-off projects. Kari has taken bespoke watchmaking to its limit, often collaborating with collectors to create one-of-a-kind watches in his small atelier (case, dial, hands and movement), which can take a year or more to complete. Kari has no plans to increase production or partner with investors, and will remain fully independent with a focus on hand-crafted quality, finishing and innovation.
In 1994, Kari produced a tourbillon pocket watch that was three years in the making, which found itself as part of an exhibit at the renowned International Museum of Watchmaking in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1996. This got the attention of many including Peter Baumberger, then owner of Urban Jürgensen, which led to a collaboration on a detent-escapement movement introduced in 2011. Prior to establishing his company in 2002, Kari specialized in watch restoration and taught at WOSTEP for three years. After Voutilainen was founded, Kari mainly produced watches for other brands, although a few special pieces of his own were created. One such early watch was a decimal minute repeater (chimed hours, ten minute intervals and minutes – time like it’s read) and he used existing ébauches from brands like LeCoultre that were highly modified and finished. The decimal repeater was the first of its kind and pieces like the Voutilainen Masterpiece 7 and 8 are truly in a league of their own. It wasn’t until the 2005 Basel Fair that Voutilainen branded pieces were first introduced, which met with great success. In 2007, one of his most iconic pieces debuted, the Observatoire. The watch used a highly finished Peseux 260 movement and won the 2007 Grand Prix de Genève prize (he’s won three more since). The balance spring was unusual and innovative, having a common Breguet overcoil, but rare Grosmann internal curve that gave equal weight to the internal curve of the balance spring as the external overcoil (compensating for error).
In 2011, the brand debuted its first in-house movement, the Caliber 28, which powered its signature Vingt-8 (Twenty-8) piece. When the brand is mentioned in conversation, the Vingt-8 is generally what comes to mind. Keeping things unique in the Voutilainen style, the movement had two escape wheels. Instead of using a standard Swiss lever escapement, he created a “natural” escapement first developed by Breguet in the 18th century, which gives direct impulse to the balance and virtually no lubricant is required (there is no sliding friction between the pallet and escape-wheel teeth). Almost all of the brand’s pieces contain a variant of the Caliber 28 with dual-wheel escapements (an in-house tourbillon movement is also produced). Teardrop lugs, Breguet-ish style hands and intricate, highly finished dials (guilloché) and movements are key elements of the Vingt-8 models. In 2014, Voutilainen bought dial manufacturer Dialtech SA and has since produced dials in-house. The brand has also produced dials for other luxury brands, such as Richard Mille, MB&F and Armin Strom.
Voutilainen doesn’t have a marketing or sales department. It’s one of the few brands that are always sought after and coveted, and generally always sold out (for a year or more). Few brands have the design and finishing prowess of Kari’s small atelier, which produces some of the most intricate, exquisitely finished pieces in the industry. Names like A. Lange & Söhne and Patek Philippe are on the same playing field.