Commissioning a watch -- my journey with the Voutilainen Masterpiece Chronograph II

Feb 03, 2013,15:48 PM

To steal a literary device from a Purist friend...and with apologies for all inaccuracies in the story given that I am working largely from memory...

The time: February, 2010

The place:  a small San Francisco restaurant

The players:  5 of the 6 members of an informal group of Northern California watch collectors, all of whom are already owners of one or more of Kari Voutilainen's watches (the 6th member was detained due to a pet's illness -- happily the dog -- let's call him "Crouton" -- recovered fully...)

After the usual pleasantries, wrist shots, etc., one of the members of the group nonchalantly mentioned "I've been talking with Kari about something..."  In the deafening silence that followed, he recounted that he had been corresponding with Kari about a potential watch, and had let Kari know a few weeks earlier that we would be meeting for dinner.  Step one: "may I tell them about the project?"  Step two: "may I show them the photo?"  Step three: "may I reveal the estimated price?"  Step four: "may I solicit participation in the project?"  Having gotten the green light on all counts, our friend came prepared to entice us.  He pulled from his case several photocopies of the following page and passed them around the table:

The time:  two seconds later

My response:  "I'm in!"  Another member:  "I'm in!" and so on.  Interspersed came the details: slightly larger than the Observatoire, chronograph plus big date and moon phase (as could be seen from the prototype dial), date adjustment through the button on the crown; two watches available in PT with the remainder to be split between WG and RG.  My response: "Rose with dark grey dial."  Others chimed in, including an immediate call on one of the two available PT spots.  

Finally, at the end of the dinner, there was one member who had not spoken.  We turned to him and asked "are you in?"  His response: "I've been in from the moment I saw the photo!"  Laughter all around -- and this member of the group, after some consultation with Kari, eventually specified the second PT example.  At this point the stated preferences were for two PT, one RG, and two WG pieces.  I was very much RG-oriented at the time, and also wanted a piece to complement my Observatoire, but since that watch is RG with a silver dial, I wanted to mix it up a bit with a darker dial.

Estimated delivery date for the watches:  "late summer 2011..."

From the photo above, some other things are already evident:  applied numerals on the main subdial, different (higher, more rounded) pushers for the chrono functions than the Chrono I, and of course the prominent crown with its built-in pusher.

The following morning, the remaining member of the group signed up and specified RG for his case.  Some big commitments made, especially for those of us for whom this would be our most expensive watch purchases ever, but what an opportunity to take a journey with great friends!

Time July of 2010, Kari and his family visited California and we hosted them and the rest of our group and spouses at my home.  Some excitement, as Kari brought along two prototype dials -- one dark and one light:

More things became immediately evident relative to the original Masterpiece Chronograph: new, slimmer numerals for the chrono seconds; red triangles for the 5-minute markers moved radially outward from their positions on the Chrono I; small dots inserted for the individual minutes.

Immediately, the "mock-up" process went into high gear, using a photo of the Chrono I from Kari's website, grafted on pushers and crown from the prototype case photo, dial photos from the party, a moon phase stolen from a photo of another watch with a shadow moon, hands from the Chrono I, RG case color from a photo of my Observatoire, and so on.  I don't know exactly how many mockups we generated during the course of the overall process, but it was easily a hundred in various colors, patterns, and stages of refinement.  Here are two of the first:

You can see on the second one (if you look closely) that some modifications are already being tried.  Specifically, on the Chrono I there are "missing" chrono seconds dots at the bottom of the main dial of the watch -- on the image immediately above, I tried out adding some dots across the lower sub-dial (with the exception of 30).  Also, in the image immediately above you can see that the 20 and 40 are now "unflipped" vs. their "flipped" orientation on the prototype dials.  And, we were also trying out some options for the seconds displays on the running seconds subdial -- above you see a model in which we only had 15, 30, 45, and 60, rotated horizontally.  Moonphase (specifically, the sky) was shown in black at this stage, it looks as if the hands are stolen from a photo of my Observatoire and chopped off to a stubby length, the chrono minutes on this mockup is pointed to four minutes, and the case doesn't have the pusher and crown "updates."  Also to foreshadow a bit, on the final watches the tens date dial has a "blank" rather than a "zero" during the first 9 days of each month.

There's one other difference: did you spot it?  On the lower photo, the chrono minutes are represented with dots rather than with the railroad track of the prototype dial.  These sorts of minor variations in dots, no dots, flips, tracks, number of numerals on the running seconds dials, etc. went on for several months, with lots of inputs and requests for custom mockups from every member!  At one point there was a dialogue about whether there was too much "blank space" on the dial, which led to some hilarious mockups like the disaster below:

Ouch!  Suffice it to say that I'm really pleased that I didn't ask for that one -- not that Kari would have made it smile

Over time, more definitive preferences emerged -- I won't show most of the other guys' mockups in this post (I'd prefer to wait until we can do a group photoshoot of all completed watches first, and some of the group are a bit more private than I), but here's a more definitive early version of my personal mockup, with silver hands for the chrono functions and slightly improved hands (but still flipped chrono seconds and a wacky dual running seconds hand due to cutting/pasting/late night laziness).  Still no dot at 30 seconds on the chrono chapter ring.  Also, you can sort of see the beginnings of what became a key design feature of my dial: the applied RG triangles for the five minute markers on the main time subdial.  I'm the only one who ended up with applied triangles -- more on that later.

At this point I put two versions together in a photo of my Observatoire case, just to see what the watch might look like sitting on my nightstand.  You'll see that by this point Kari had told us that he was going to insist that the night sky be blue rather than black or anthracite -- an inspired decision, in my view, having seen the finished watch.  I also have the chrono seconds unflipped in the left photo below  It was this comparo that led me to specify the two-tone dial when we sent Kari our final preferences in January of 2011:

I will include one mockup that I did for one of the other guys, with all due apologies to PP and their lovely 5070P.  This version doubles down on the railroad track theme...

By now, we're in January of 2012!  Almost a year in, and time to view engineering schematics of the proposed dials.  Here you can see that all chrono seconds have dots on the chapter ring, the railroad track is gone, and the chrono seconds are unflipped.  This schematic also shows the applied triangles:

We locked in the dial design requests and moved on!  During the months that followed, I pursued an angle that had intrigued me ever since I saw the case of Kari's Masterpiece 7: the idea of an engraved officer caseback.  I loved Eddy Jaquet's work, and began searching for a suitable subject -- finally settling on the idea of Chronos, Greek god of time.  I pulled a bunch of "Chronos" images from the web and sent them to Eddy -- one that we started homing in on was this one, of a sculpture by Ignaz Gunther:

Over the course of the year (sadly, the overall timeline for the project was beginning to slip with delays in dial manufacturing), we went back and forth: here's Eddy's first formal proposition for the case back:

Hmm...seemed to me that it would be tough to see the hour glass, and I also didn't like the way that Chronos' left wing was furled.  Could we try again?  Sure enough:

Bingo!  Kari also went to various vendors to commission a design for a closed caseback that could be added to an already-existing case that had not been designed for one (tougher than it sounds).  This was the winner -- a simple design that added only 1.20mm to the thickness of the watch.

January 2012, and our next visit with Kari -- time to see our cases!  Here's mine, with the hinge for the case back clearly visible...

...and the empty case on the wrist, which then allowed for a bunch of updated "wrist shot" mockups over the following months.

A quick comparo of the Observatoire next to the Chrono II case -- always a thrill to see things in the metal!

Speaking of which, here are some of the major elements of my movement kit as seen at the time -- frustrating that there was no working movement at this date (several months after the original target completion date) but good to have a record nonetheless...

...and, the dial side (with elements of the date system) of one movement under construction:

Finally, the first photo of Eddy's completed work on the case back!  This allowed my to graft the case back onto an earlier photo of the case, using Photoshop:

Getting closer and closer!  I had thought for some time that it might be nice to have my movement plated in rhodium (as opposed to the gold plating of the other movements in the series) and Kari was agreeable -- here's my mockup, starting with a photo of a WG Chrono I and reversing the colors of the case and movement to see what it might look like.

And just for fun, a mockup of the reverse of the watch with an "open" officer back...

...and a near-final wrist shot mockup.

Finally, we received some photos of near-finished dials!  Some required tweaks, but mine was looking pretty good.   Here it is, grafted into one of the shots from Kari's atelier the prior January:

December 2012 -- the boxes arrive!  

Only one thing missing:

That omission was remedied in January, as Kari presented me with my watch:

The bad news: an issue with a binding pinion that meant that the watch had to go back to Kari's workshop for adjustment!  Such is the path of bespoke watchmaking, I suppose -- and there are some other teething issues that we are still working through -- but I already love this piece and thank Kari for allowing my inputs to its creation.  And to all of my NorCal buddies for the journey -- especially our leader who brought us into the project in the first place!

A couple of photos of the piece that I haven't previously published here:

Hope you enjoyed, and that this gives you a bit of a deeper look into the process -- wouldn't have traded it for anything!


Gary G

More posts: Masterpiece 7Masterpiece Chronograph IIVoutilainen

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Hoped you would enjoy this, John!

 By: Gary G : February 5th, 2013-05:42
I didn't even get into the complexities of the movement too deeply (including the need for a redesign of the big date mechanism to ensure compliance with existing patents)... Best, Gary

What an unforgettable experience. Congrats .

 By: doubleup : February 3rd, 2013-17:46
That is a dream come true for me, how cool was it to have him and his family at your home? I could not imagine, what a neat watch, would always be my grail piece if I were you. Good job on the design, I never thought there would be that many decisions to ... 

One great thing about the independents

 By: Gary G : February 5th, 2013-05:44 that they remain very accessible and eager to talk about their passions. It was fantastic to host Kari and his family at our home, and the relaxed atmosphere allowed for lots of great discussion. Thanks for your note! Best, Gary

Looks like a Tarantino script

 By: Hororgasm : February 3rd, 2013-19:22
Thanks for sharing!! Best, Horo


 By: Gary G : February 5th, 2013-05:45
"Kill Philippe Part 1?" :-) Best, Gary

Thanks for sharing Gary!

 By: andrewluff : February 4th, 2013-01:09
Great story and a wonderful piece you have there from Kari! Big congrats again. Cheers Andrew

Glad you enjoyed the story...

 By: Gary G : February 5th, 2013-05:45
...and I hope that you will post similar accounts of your upcoming bespoke pieces! Best, Gary

Very well documented Gary!

 By: Nicko16 : February 4th, 2013-04:33
Your group got made an offer you couldn't refuse :) I think we all need to own a Voutilainen at some stage and go through the same journey!

My only advice would be

 By: Gary G : February 5th, 2013-05:47 relish the experience as it unfolds. It's pretty easy to get caught up in the frustrations when in retrospect the memories are of the fun of participating in the process... Best, Gary

An interesting read, a great story and an even more

 By: samwan : February 4th, 2013-06:00
brilliant timepiece. Once again, congratulations Gary! Wish I were part of the gang :( Best Sam

I am speechless ...

 By: Marcus Hanke : February 4th, 2013-06:12
... what a wonderful timepiece! Your intense involvement with the creative process makes it something very special. Thank you so much for sharing this great experience with us! Regards, Marcus

Thanks for allowing us to peek behind the curtains....

 By: Darren : February 4th, 2013-06:59
on this project. Looks like a fun process, and the end result is magnificent. Amazing how many large and small decisions come into play as the watch is being created. Looking forward to more scans of these. Darren

Thanks for this fantasic record of a fantastic journey

 By: Allen : February 4th, 2013-09:53
It was an honor to be able to share part of this journey with you, Gary!

Wonderful to take this trip with you, Allen!

 By: Gary G : February 4th, 2013-16:12
And, it should not be forgotten that the first mockups of this watch were created by you! My pleasure entirely to share this great journey with you. All the best, Gary

Congrats Allen, please share

 By: Quan : February 7th, 2013-01:56
your wrist shot

Thanks Quan,

 By: Allen : February 7th, 2013-19:02
Here you go: Wrist modeled by small-luxury-world ...  

Superb post Gary!

 By: foversta : February 4th, 2013-13:09
I like the watch but I think that I enjoyed even more the process! Fx

Thanks for sharing this amazing horological endeavor

 By: Larry Seiden : February 4th, 2013-13:12
Gary, Congrats to you and the Gang of 6. I wonder if this is a first in the history of modern watchmaking that a "club" has worked with a watchmaker to design such a magnificent timepiece. Again, congrats to all of you! Best, Larry

That's a two part question, Larry!

 By: Gary G : February 5th, 2013-05:37
I do know that the ChronotempVs club from Spain has commissioned Peter Speake-Marin and Chopard to customize watches but can't say whether they are as magnificent as this one :-). Thanks for your comments! Best, Gary

A few additional comments...

 By: Gary G : February 4th, 2013-16:10
Upon re-reading, a few errors/omissions: 1. Our review of the dial schematic diagram was January 2011, not January 2012 2. The RG triangle applieds were quite a labor of love -- CNC designed and made by Kari in his workshop, each with two feet rather than... 

Thanks Gary..............

 By: Topcat30093 : February 5th, 2013-00:55
For allowing us an insight into the process from start to finish. The final finished piece, was well worth the wait.

Well, it was a pretty long wait!

 By: Gary G : February 5th, 2013-05:41
Three years seems an eternity when waiting for a piece of this kind -- especially when there is no news at all for significant periods of time (due to delays in dial manufacturing). Great to have the watch in hand! Best, Gary

Gary, your record of that journey ...

 By: small-luxury-world : February 5th, 2013-03:03
is great and very addictive or shall I call it dangerous :-) Still taking pictures with concentration, passion, love ... when others already started to follow something else - highly important for boys from the US :-) Thanks a lot for sharing with us, muc...  

Thanks, Oliver -- and...

 By: Gary G : February 5th, 2013-05:38
...I greatly appreciate this photo! The "sad" news is that our team lost the championship game this past weekend -- still doesn't diminish at all the fun we had that night in Geneva! Best, Gary

I guess you're a PS expert now!

 By: Mark in Paris : February 5th, 2013-07:21
Well, Gary, what a journey... We really all thank you for the time you spent memorizing and writing down all the events leading to this little marvel. It's a rare (or unseen?) thing to be able to see how it may be to follow such a project, and realize how... 

Audaucity, culture and fine taste

 By: heartbreaker : February 5th, 2013-08:30
Dear Gary, Thank you for this exciting journey to the "birth" of your new watch. I'd like to express my personal opinion. First of all, it seems you have undergone a certain audacity in the design process, because it's not easy to design a new watch (desp... 

WOW! thanks for sharing the experience.

 By: patrickmaniac : February 5th, 2013-17:57
quite a masterpiece indeed and worth the wait. cheers PAt

Wow, WOW!

 By: cholack : February 6th, 2013-09:04
Gary, what an amazing journey and piece. Truly a memorable experience! Congrats! Cholack

Feel like my own experience

 By: Quan : February 7th, 2013-01:54
thanks Gary for the detail process, hope one day have the chance to do this.....

Kind of surprised and disappointed Gary...

 By: RJW : February 7th, 2013-04:05
You really needed 2 whole seconds before saying "I'm in!". Thanks for the recounting of this story Gary. A truly magnificent tale. Regards, Richard.

Would you mind sharing

 By: Quan : February 7th, 2013-19:16
yours here for us to enjoy..... Congrats Richard

Sorry Quan but you have me mistaken for someone else

 By: RJW : February 11th, 2013-16:33
I'm not a member of the illustrious Norcal gang. Regards, Richard.


 By: Quan : February 11th, 2013-17:43

Well, I was a bit stunned!

 By: Gary G : February 14th, 2013-21:44
My business must have been doing well at the time, because if a similar opportunity arose right now it might take me much longer to jump in -- perhaps about 10 seconds :-) Best. Gary

Big date chronograph

 By: ztirual : February 15th, 2013-13:36
Dear Gary, Congratulation on your magnificent new watch. I was very fortunate to see one of those magnificent Big Dates in the metal, at Kari's yesterday. I t was probably the last one being made and to leave Kari's workshop. I am completely in ore readin... 

Inspirational would under sell it.

 By: hewitgar : February 24th, 2013-13:22
I can imagine the anxiety....the uncertatinty through the process is palpable and the foresight required by all involved is a testament to the skills, experience and guts of all involved. Plus, you are all a little bits nuts, and very brave! The end resul... 

Don't you love apple spellchecker...

 By: hewitgar : February 24th, 2013-13:25

Nuts indeed!

 By: Gary G : February 24th, 2013-22:06
Many thanks for your kind remarks, Gary. I have to confess that visualization of things that do not exist is not a strong point for me, so despite the many Photoshop mockups we did I was plagued with self doubt throughout! Nothing would please me more tha... 

Hi Gary

 By: ztirual : March 3rd, 2013-02:48
Don't worry about my question.. I should have asked Kari, but I did not because I was focusing on other watches, but would you mind telling a bit more about the caliber of your watch. Is it based on the same ├ębauche as Kari's 1st generation chronograph? M... 

Will post today!

 By: Gary G : March 3rd, 2013-09:09
A somewhat lengthy post is needed and I wanted to have my facts straight... Gary G

I fully understand

 By: ztirual : March 3rd, 2013-10:13
you want to do this wonderful calibre justice. :-) I am really looking forward to reading your post before another trip to Motiers. Best, Z'