Schwarz Etienne ROMA SYNERGY by Kari Voutilainen (part two)
In this second part of a two-part feature, we look closely at the new Schwarz Etienne ROMA SYNERGY by Kari Voutilainen. This new timepiece brings together two great names in the field of watchmaking, Schwarz Etienne and Kari Voutilainen.
Kari Voutilainen has three productions facilities. The first, Voutilainen & Cattin, is a joint venture based in Le Noirmont, specialising in making cases. The second, Comblémine SA, operates from modern premises in Saint-Sulpice within the canton of Neuchâtel. It manufactures high quality dials for an array of companies. The dials for the Schwarz Etienne ROMA SYNERGY by Kari Voutilainen receive their sumptuous tones at this facility using galvanic treatment. Comblémine SA has made huge investments in green initiatives, ensuring its operations don’t impact on the local environment, demonstrating that luxury and social responsibility can happily coexist.
However, it is Kari’s third production facility, his atelier in Môtiers, which I personally find the most interesting. This company operates from a grand period villa, set within beautiful grounds, and plays host to numerous talented artisans.
A recent visit to the atelier allowed me to witness various artisans at work as well as time-served watchmakers sat at benches creating exceptional timepieces.
The main purpose of my recent visit was to witness two specific operations. One room was occupied by artisans imparting elaborate motifs to dial blanks using rose engine lathes. These machines are the very antithesis of the cutting-edge CNC machines I am accustomed to seeing; indeed, many are centenarians. For example, one machine I looked at dated back to 1907. In a perfect world, such machines would be replaced with modern-day equivalents, however, rose engine lathes are no longer in production. These veteran machines are pampered by their operators who are also tasked with their maintenance.
Guillochage necessitates using a rose engine lathe. The process involves pressing a cutter against a dial blank which is secured in a vertical position. As this dial blank is rotated using a handle, its trajectory is determined by a series of rosettes or cams. The trajectory of the cams determines the relative position of the dial blank in relation to the cutter. Different rosettes are used to impart different dial motifs. Great skill is required to ensure that the handle is rotated at a constant speed and the cutter is applied to the dial blank with consistent pressure. A hand guilloché dial surpasses all other dial surfaces with each pattern contributing to the beautifully defined horological vista.
The second area of the atelier which I visited was the finishing department. Here, time-served finisseurs suffuse surfaces with exquisite forms of decoration. The most challenging and time-consuming form of decoration is ‘black polishing’. This technique requires the use of a ‘tin-plate’ smeared with an even coating of diamond paste. The part being polished is carefully moved across the surface of the tin-plate, ensuring it remains perfectly flat. When successfully completed, the part will exhibit a mirror-like appearance which in some light conditions will appear as a deep shade of black.
The building and the working practises at Kari’s traditional atelier have changed little over the years. Only the employee’s clothes have kept pace with modern fashion.
Au revoir Môtiers
After visiting Les Ateliers Kari Voutilainen in Môtiers, I headed for La Chaux-de-Fonds. This city is the watchmaking capital of Switzerland. Over the years, I have visited many of its resident brands and witnessed both small scale watchmaking as well as mass production. The streets which populate the older parts of the city are arranged in a lattice-like arrangement. Those companies operating in this area of the city, generally work from historical buildings, probably a consequence of the city’s UNESCO World Centre status.
There are also numerous firms dotted around the periphery of La Chaux-de-Fonds, housed in modern, contemporary premises. Schwarz Etienne operates from one such building. It is in stark contrast to Kari’s traditional atelier, but it is no less interesting.
Schwarz Etienne – a modern approach
As I mentioned in my previous article, Schwarz Etienne makes hairsprings in a laboratory-like environment. Tolerances are measured in nanometres (1nm = 0.000001mm) and processes are strictly controlled.
The Manufacture features cutting-edge CNC machines used to machine plates and bridges to infinitesimal measurements. Schwarz Etienne not only makes its own timepieces but also produces private label watches. These are assembled and regulated in a pristine, dust-free environment and are subjected to a myriad of quality controls.
It is by combining these two different worlds, that the new Schwarz Etienne ROMA SYNERGY by Kari Voutilainen delivers something unique, surpassing the sum of its individual parts.
The Schwarz Etienne ROMA SYNERGY by Kari Voutilainen is offered in two dial colours, ‘ocean blue’ and ‘sand grey’. Both versions feature silver-toned, lancine-shaped, hour and minute hands. A combination of short, applied batons and contemporary Arabic numerals denote each hour. They are presented on a hand-guilloché hour track, enriched with a ‘soleil’ pattern. A neat chemin de fer frames the dial area, providing an elegant means of delineation as well as aiding readability.
The central area of the dial encompasses an ‘écaille de poisson’ motif. Intended to resemble fish scales, the textured motif emanates from the fulcrum of the dial with the scale gradually increasing in size as it approaches the hour track. The Schwarz Etienne name is presented on a plain cartouche below noon.
A generously proportioned small seconds display occupies a sizeable portion of the lower dial area. It usurps some of the central dial area as well as a section of the hour track. The small seconds display is suffused with a sea of ‘vague’ guilloché. Again, a chemin de fer is used to frame the small seconds display. In addition, a silver-toned plaque references the Finn’s contribution.
Despite the dial being adorned with three types of guilloché decoration, each pattern remains discrete with no hint of a wayward line. The combination of the three dial motifs proves wonderfully harmonious.
The Schwarz Etienne ROMA SYNERGY by Kari Voutilainen is housed in a 39mm stainless steel case. Its size reinforces its understated character. Indeed, this model is the antithesis of conspicuous consumption, displaying tasteful behaviour at all times. The case has a thickness of 11mm, allowing it to readily reside beneath the left shirt cuff.
The case gleams resplendently courtesy of its highly polished surfaces. This form of polishing accentuates the numerous case contours around the bezel, case band and lugs. A simpler and, by default, cheaper case may have sufficed, but it is clear that Schwarz Etienne shuns mediocrity and has chosen to imbue this model with an extraordinary dose of refinement and style.
Both versions of the Schwarz Etienne ROMA SYNERGY by Kari Voutilainen are complemented with colour-coordinating straps, each made of leather and endowed with a contrasting leather lining. A stainless-steel folding buckle provides a secure means of affixing the watch to the wearer’s wrist.
Unlike many watch companies, Schwarz Etienne is a Manufacture, making its own movements in-house. Unusually, as I have mentioned before, the Swiss company make an array of components which form the regulating organ, including escape wheels, pallet levers, balance wheels and hairsprings.
The Manufacture automatic movement, Calibre ASE 200.00, is visible via the exhibition case back. It features 198 components, including 33 jewels. The balance has a frequency of 21,600 VpH (3Hz) and, assuming the watch is fully wound, the movement will run autonomously for up to 86 hours.
Micro-rotors are a speciality of Schwarz Etienne. While other companies also offer models equipped with a micro-rotor, they are few in number. A micro-rotor sits flush with neighbouring bridges, mitigating the thickness of the movement. Unlike a movement fitted with a conventional oscillating weight, there is nothing to obstruct the view of the beautifully decorated bridges and various other components.
In this instance, the micro-rotor has been specially designed by Kari Voutilainen. His company has also embellished the ratchet wheel with diamond drops and snailing. The bridges are hand-bevelled and feature straight flanks. Indeed, hand bevelling abounds and sits in concert with black polished steel parts.
The aforementioned guilloché decoration found on the dial also extends to the movement. A guilloché motif, again executed on a rose engine lathe, emanates from the balance’s shock protection system, spreading outwards. The pattern is not restricted to just the balance cock but extends to all of the bridges.
The jewel and screws are highly polished and perlage is visible adjacent the micro-rotor. An 18-carat red gold applique is positioned adjacent the balance wheel and proudly proclaims ‘Schwarz Etienne by Voutilainen’.
‘Synergy’ describes a situation where the outcome is greater than the sum of its parts. It seems a very apt nomenclature for this collaborative effort between Schwarz Etienne and Kari Voutilainen.
Both parties have their respective strengths which, in this instance, have coalesced wonderfully. The Schwarz Etienne ROMA SYNERGY by Kari Voutilainen encompasses the best of both worlds. Schwarz Etienne has incredible expertise making movements for an array of companies. It has the benefit of cutting-edge plant, making components to minute tolerances. Likewise, Les Ateliers Kari Voutilainen practise rare crafts which are the preserve of just a few firms. Kari’s creations are renowned for their peerless finishing, attracting plaudits from the world’s watch press and legions of aficionados.
This new timepiece, jointly created by both companies embodies artisanal craftsmanship and watchmaking virtue. The dial and movement are exemplars of horological artistry where patterns have been imparted with incredible skill and patience. And yet, despite all of the painstaking steps taken when making this watch and its array of delightful details, it sidesteps flamboyance and remains elegant and tasteful, both qualities which bestow this creation with a lasting allure.
- Model: Schwarz Etienne ROMA SYNERGY by Kari Voutilainen
- Reference: WROVMA03SSCUBCLTD-A (royal blue dial) / WROVMA43SSCUBCLTD-A (sand grey dial)
- Case: Stainless steel; diameter 39mm; height 11mm; water resistance 5ATM (50 metres); sapphire crystal to front; exhibition case back.
- Functions: hours; minutes; small seconds
- Movement: Calibre ASE 200.00; automatic movement; frequency 21,600 vph (3Hz); 33 jewels; power reserve 86 hours; 196 components.
- Strap: Colour-coordinating leather strap with leather lining paired with a stainless steel folding buckle with Schwarz Etienne logo
- Price: CHF 27,400 (excluding VAT – RRP as at 21.8.2020)