Angus Davies reveals how a chance meeting in London’s Burlington Arcade led to him learning of a unique Voutilainen Tourbillon timepiece created by Kari Voutilainen.
This detailed review of the Voutilainen Tourbillon, a piece unique endowed with a detent escapement, includes images and product details.
This summer my children were enjoying a well-earned rest, away from examinations and the pressures of modern-day school life, enjoying the summer recess. They accompanied me on a business trip to London.
I attended a few business meetings, but also managed to partake in a little retail therapy and the odd calorific treat with the Davies clan in tow. My son, Euan, is becoming increasingly interested in wristwatches and now actively comments on both timepieces which appeal to his tastes and those which evidently don’t.
It is with some relief that he is now showing an interest in watches, as some years ago, I asked him, “What will you do with my watches when I die?”
Without hesitation, his response was, “Sell them”. His answer pierced my heart and left me somewhat crushed. To a collector, there can be no fate more cruel than knowing your amassed collection of watches will be callously disposed of, merely to generate a philistine’s funds.
It has been a slow process mentoring Euan in the allure of fine watches, however, I am pleased to report, I am now making good progress. There are some watches he freely admits he would never sell. Indeed, on special occasions, he has asked to borrow a cherished watch when attending an important function.
Returning to my sojourn to London, window shopping in the Burlington Arcade, I educated my son in the delights of haute horlogerie. We scrutinised the array of watches for sale in a retailer’s window; there residing in regal splendour, was a personal favourite, a pre-owned Patek Philippe 10 Day Tourbillon Ref 5101R. I pointed out the watch to Euan, effusing about its extraordinary creation. “I wonder how much they want for that?” I remarked.
A gentleman stood adjacent to me, proceeded to inform me of the price with his notable Antipodean accent. I knew it was likely to beyond my financial means before I heard the figure. Apparently the gentleman had enquired of the price the previous day.
A conversation ensued about watches, our mutual love for particular timepieces and my own professional interest in haute horlogerie. The gentleman then proceeded to tell me of a unique piece he was having made by Kari Voutilainen, the Swiss-based Finnish watchmaker.
My interest was immediately piqued. I cannot deny, I am in awe of Voutilainen’s work. His timepieces are classical and elegant. They exude grace with each nuance of their beautiful lines. There is a calm patience imbued to every facet of each component, which reaffirms the no-compromise construction of the watches to bear the Finn’s name.
A piece unique
Kari had been working on the watch movement since 1996 and was initially thinking of making a wristwatch tourbillon chronometer for his own personal use. He spent hours working on the movement in his free time. Subsequently, after becoming an independent watchmaker he vowed to complete the watch.
At that stage he was unsure whether to retain the special watch for himself or possibly to sell to a client. The New Zealand based businessman saw the movement and Kari set about completing the unique piece for him.
The dial is made from gold and features gorgeous guilloché, carefully executed by Kari’s deft hands and rose engine lathe. There is an array of different decorations employed.
The central area of the dial incorporates a flinqué motif, with scalloped lines evoking thoughts of rippling waters. An overlapping subdial displaying subsidiary seconds has a Clou de Paris pattern at its centre and is framed with satiné circulaire, marked with Arabic numerals.
Applied gold Roman numerals, imparting hours, are set against a canvas of Clou de Paris and this patterned area is once again, framed with satiné circulaire, marked with a series of large and small blue dots indicating the minutes.
At 6 o’clock and noon, small gold applied triangular indexes add a tasteful flourish of luxury.
The hour and minute hands are gold, save for small areas of blued metal. The combination of two colours affords an interesting aesthetic juxtaposition which works brilliantly. Moreover, Kari has used thermally blued treatment on the hub of the subsidiary seconds hand.
All surfaces of the case are delivered in resplendent highly polished rose gold. On some timepieces the absence of satin-brushed surfaces may appear somewhat garish or unduly rich. However, in this instance, the Finnish watchmaker has captured the essence of elegance with the perfectly judged character of the case. It is blessed with a mien which converses with sublime grace. There is a welcome absence of brashness or exhibitionism.
The tear-shaped lugs beautifully bring the strap and caseband together in seemly embrace. The crown is neatly knurled with a plain vertical flank reinforcing the restrained persona of the watch.
The caseback of the Voutilainen Tourbillon features a sapphire glass, allowing the fortunate wearer the opportunity to admire the exalted craftsmanship residing within the case.
The watch features a one minute tourbillon. Nevertheless, congruent with the demure temperament of the timepiece, it does not feature the whirlwind dial-side, but only reveals its cage via the exhibition caseback. There is a charming absence of showboating with this timepiece. I have met Kari previously, and it seems his modesty is personified by the calm design language employed.
The balance is free-sprung with semi-circular shaped weights located upon it.
Unusually the watch features a detent chronometer escapement, unlike the majority of timepieces which employ a Swiss Lever escapement. The benefit is that the impulse is direct to the balance, enhancing precision. It is not the first time we have seen Voutilainen seek alternatives to the Swiss Lever escapement, he used two escape wheels to deliver a direct impulse to the balance, on his fabulous Vingt-8. However, beyond the technical merits of the detent chronometer escapement used on this particular unique piece, are the aesthetic benefits of Voutilainen’s rendition of the tourbillon.
The cage construction has only two parts, an upper and lower bridge that are joined at the base of the cage. The result is a very clean, uncluttered appearance where the wearer’s eyes are drawn to the tourbillon. The creation of the lightweight cage necessitated much patience on the part of Kari, with several attempts required, before he achieved the result he was seeking.
Sat adjacent to the tourbillon is a sea of perlage, wonderfully expressed by the artisan’s adroit hands. The movement is untreated German silver and the adjacent bridge work features Côtes de Genève motif, presented to a peerless standard. A cartouche bearing Voutilainen’s nomen, adorns the bridge.
With hindsight, It seems remarkable that a brief discussion with my son, whilst stood window shopping in a London arcade, could have resulted in the Voutilainen Tourbillon coming to my notice.
On one hand, I am envious of the fortunate owner of this timepiece. But, by contrast it reaffirms my long held belief that those who truly appreciate fine watchmaking have a common appreciation of the craftsmanship exhibited by the greatest artisans and there is an absence of boasting or one-upmanship with those who share this collective passion.
I suspect the Voutilainen Tourbillon will provide many years of enjoyment and be cherished by generations of watch fans in the future.