An Interview with Switzerland’s Best Kept Secret: Kari Voutilainen

To many who would consider themselves a watch aficionado, the name Kari Voutilainen does not ring a bell. But it should.

Since 2002, Voutilainen has been creating some of the world’s finest luxury timepieces and his work is coveted by those knowledgeable enough to appreciate the labor of love–the consummation of metal, jewel, and movement–that is a Voutilainen timepiece. His works of art retail for upwards of $72,000 CHF a piece and he makes only a rare few dozen every year.

After this year’s Baselworld, we sat down to interview Voutilainen from across the pond. Read the full text of our interview below the jump.Kari VoutilainenTell me about your background in Finland and your start as a watchmaker.

Kari Voutilainen: I was very interested about mechanics when I was a young boy. When I was 12 years old, my parents asked me, ‘What would you like to do when you are an adult?’. I said, ‘I want to be independent and work with my hands.’ Then our watchmaker friend was involved in the organization of the Tapiola school, and it happened very naturally.

When I started, I was restoring pocket watch movements.  They were tourbillon movements used for chronometer competitions, but customers wanted to have them in new condition. They were lying in drawers for 40-50 years. My job was to refresh them so they would run well, but also so that they would look good. The finishing was only functional because for chronometer competitions there was no need for them to look nice. So that was a big challenge to make them look perfect.

How many languages do you speak?

Kari Voutilainen: Finish, English, Deutsch, and French.

What is your favorite part of being a watchmaker?

Kari Voutilainen: The Creation. Having an idea and then being able to transform that idea onto metal and finally have the movement running and working nicely…it’s wonderful.Kari Voutilainen Vingt-8What was the inspiration behind the Voutilainen brand?

Kari Voutilainen: I make watches from passion. I love traditional watchmaking that showcases skills and creativity and also respects tradition. Classical timepieces always remain appealing, as it is very difficult to have a design. Independence is a great value and this means financially, to not depend on someone. I have the liberty of creation, which means we do movements in-house.

What I like is the presence of the watch. There is a glow and a presence. And I like sleek forms, like the lugs. They are rounded and when they are rounded in the beginning, they remain rounded. We can polish as many times as we want, and it stays rounded. These things are important to me.

What sets you apart from other high end watch brands?

Kari Voutilainen: I am independent and I am making our movements entirely in-house. We have very nice workshop and staff who is very skillful and motivated.

I have about 15 people. We are two mechanical guys that run machines and produce components. We have two people doing decoration – anglage and so on. We have one person making dials – machine turning, and so on. My wife is in the office too.

What is your favorite timepiece to date?

Kari Voutilainen: Philippe Dufour, Duality. It is very fine watch, in my eyes it is THE collectors’ timepiece. It’s a unique movement with exceptional finish and extremely precise as well.Kari Voutilainen Luxury WatchWhat’s new for Voutilainen?

Kari Voutilainen: We have a new movement—the patent is 72 pages long. This watch has some useful functions. I will tell you all about it in few months. I prefer to be able to work in peace without the pressure to finish as soon as possible.

Who is the typical ‘ Voutilainen’ man?

Kari Voutilainen:  Someone who loves fine timepieces which are understated and well made. But also the type of person that appreciates hand work and the philosophy we are presenting.

What is part of the legacy you wish to leave behind?

Kari Voutilainen: It is very important to pass on the centuries old watchmaking knowledge to the next generation. If we don’t pass along the knowledge, we will lose the knowhow, and this is essential to be able to work with ethics. To be able to pass down information that our grandfathers gathered…we should take advantage of that and add our own experience.

How would you summarize the company philosophy?

Kari Voutilainen: Less is more and small is beautiful.

Mr. Voutilainen speaks several languages including Finnish, English, and French. Edits were made to the interview to aide in the translation to conversational English.