Commissioning a watch -- my journey with the Voutilainen Masterpiece Chronograph II
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 passes...in 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
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!