Congratulations on 20 years anniversary Kari Voutilainen!
Most of you know that we just celebrated the 20 years anniversary of watchprosite (formerly called PuristSPro Forum), but did you know that Kari Voutilainen established his business as an independent Artist Watchmaker in the village of Môtiers in 2002?
Actually it is now 20 years since Kari Voutilainen created his own independent watch brand; the founder is on top of the world – both literally and figuratively.
Literally, because his manufacture is now settled in its new quarters at the top of the Chapeau de Napoléon (Napoleon’s Hat), an eyrie perched on a cliff at an altitude of 960 metres, with an eagle-eye view over the Val de Travers in the Swiss Jura mountains. And figuratively, because his watchmaking is at the pinnacle of aesthetic refinement and mechanical perfection.
At the occasion of this 20th Anniversary Kari organized a small celebration and I was happy to go and visit his new Manufacture.
The view from the new Manufacture is simply breathtaking and I wish I could too enjoy this incredible view everyday while working on my workbench…
At the occasion of this special visit I was lucky to be able to admire some great creations from Kari…
Let’s first start with the origin of the project: in the 1990’s Kari was in his late 20’s and was working in the very specialized restoration atelier of Parmigiani where he was able to examine many unique examples of tourbillon pocketwatches, perpetual calendars, minute repeaters and all kinds of mechanical wonders. During the evenings after work, Kari would go to his workbench at home and continue working on his own watches. It is during this working period that he created his first tourbillon pochetwatch dated 1994. It hold the seeds of what would later develop further into the full-fledged expression of his approach to watchmaking, the fusing of classical traditions with new and contemporary impulses.
But of course we could also admire some modern creations, several Twenty-8 specimen with superb guilloche dials made in Comblemine (the dial manufacture owned by KV) but also two « piece unique » specimen that I am happy to share with you here…
Both are the result of a collaboration between Kari Voutilainen and the studio of Tatsuo Kitamura. His studio, one of the greatest lacquer studios of Japan, creates works of lacquer art that stand at the pinnacle of Japanese tradition, bringing a craft that has existed for hundreds of years into the present, exemplifying the passion to preserve the soul, spirit and identity of traditional Japanese culture as expressed in the Edo period.
The collaboration between master watchmaker Kari Voutilainen and “living treasure” Tatsuo Kitamura began in 2013. Tatsuo Kitamura is head of the Unryuan workshop that excels in the urushi technique, as well as the breathtakingly delicate work of combining lacquerwork with marquetry of shells and gold. The close collaboration – or co-creation – between Kari Voutilainen and Tatsuo Kitamura has already resulted in some exceptional watches.
Let’s have a more detailed look now at two of these masterpieces: their dial is a real work of art, both using different techniques:
The first one is using the technique of lacquering with Saiei Makie and takes many months of work to complete. The raw materials for its creation are: Kinpun (gold dust), Jyunkin-itakane (gold leaf), platinium leaf, Yakou-gai (shell of great green turban) and black lacquer. “The work involves assembling delicate and fragile wafers of shell, with their abundant colourful, dancing reflections, with pieces of metal – gold or platinum. The contrast between light and shade creates an incredibly rich three-dimensional visual effect that alters depending on the angle of view, replicating the traditional techniques of saei-makie or somada-zeiku, named after the Kyoto craftsmen who invented them in the 17th century.” as connoisseur Masahito Hayashi explains.
As for the second one, Kari gave the Japanese master artisan Tatsuo Kitamura carte blanche to create the inner dial of the Universal Hour. A recess 3/10 of a millimetre deep is created in a plate of white gold, and a thin layer of natural lacquer is deposited inside. This natural lacquer is then decorated and hardened in a wood-fired kiln. After that, the marquetry and all the decorative elements are assembled. The piece is polished and lacquered once again. And then more elements are added to complete the piece.
Each fragment of shell in the natural colours of the Yakou-gai (great green turban shell) or Awabi-gai (New Zealand abalone) is shaped and filed by hand. Given the spiral shape of the shells, they are impossible to machine, and only one piece in ten is usable.
After seeing such marvels, we should not be surprised that Kari Voutilainen got a record eight GPHG Awards to his name (Grand Prix de l’Horlogerie de Genève), the first in 2007 and the most recent in 2020. I focused here more on his latest piece unique watches but obviously there would be so much to say also on the breathtaking finishing on his in-house calibers!
Happy Anniversary Kari!