Kari Voutilainen is a legend in the world of contemporary independent watchmaking. Over the past 16 years, he’s become one of the most well-regarded members of the niche scene, often specializing in small-series and one-off timepieces. He is known for his horological versatility, producing everything from tourbillons to chronographs; his superlative finishing; and his approachable and accessible nature. When he was in New York recently for WatchTime New York 2018, we were able to sit down with him to discuss this week’s GPHG award where he’s nominated in the Men’s category, the future of global trade show like Baselworld and SIHH, and the development of his 2018 novelty, the 217QRS.
Can you discuss the development of the 217QRS for a moment?
It’s a limited series of watches, 30 in total, and then 10 in each metal. The aim was for me to make a mechanism easy to use, easy to read, and that won’t break with use. It’s done in a way that [allows for] the instantaneous date jump at midnight and so you can set the date at any moment without fear of anything being broken. Even if it jumps while you are correcting, you can’t break the watch. You can also set it backward and forwards. That was the first challenge and idea that I had in my mind when we did the watch. I like a retrograde [display] because I think that sometimes it’s difficult to make a date window that is balanced. [Using a] hand is easier to read. I like watches that are simple in appearance; I don’t like extra buttons. So, [the 217QRS] has only the crown that you can push down to change the date. It is very easy to use and very quick.
How long was it in development?
The base of the movement is the [Caliber 28]. Then it took several months to [develop], because the construction, the drawings, and all of this take time. When we do the new calibers, like a date or a GMT, it’s always a new nameplate. I don’t do modules, so it’s really a new caliber.
For the 217QRS, you are one of the six finalists for the GPHG award in the Men’s category. Can you talk about what it means to be nominated for a GPHG once again?
It’s so exciting and, of course, it’s an honor to be at that point. Today, the jury is so large, there are more than 30 members in the jury, so it’s an independent jury of people from all over the world. My fingers are crossed.
What do you think is the future of global trade shows like Baselworld and SIHH? And how are they important to you?
They are [important]. The trade shows provide me with a reason to exist. And, for us, there’s a reason to be there when we show our work. It’s also the whole industry getting together, and you meet people that you will only see during Basel. The other thing that I think is important, for a journalist, is it’s much easier to see everything at once instead of at an event in New York, then London, then Shanghai.
Baselworld puts everyone in the same place.
I think it’s much better like that. But I think that today nobody knows what we are doing. Sales are online. All that stuff is developing so fast. I think something will happen because it can’t continue like it is.
In the future, do you think we will still have Baselworld or do you think there will be a different trade show that takes its place?
No, I don’t think so. Basel has more than 500 exhibitors and is 101 years old. Compare that to SIHH where there are 18 big brands and 18 independents. It’s a different type of exhibition and is organized differently with a lot of media, but it doesn’t have the same importance as Basel. Basel is the trade show. Also, for me, exhibiting at Basel, time-wise, with SIHH immediately after Christmas, it is not so good for exhibitors. The end of the year is a busy time. We are delivering, and all that hassle before Christmas.
All of the sudden you have to present a whole new release or a new complication or dial.
It’s very hard for us. I also prefer the springtime. May and April are a lovely time in Switzerland with warmer weather and a [better] atmosphere which is part of the experience. I think something will happen, the concept of the show might change, but the shows will not disappear. Also, for the customers, it’s an occasion to see all the watches at once. It’s not the same to view an image of the watch [online].
Read our profile on Kari Voutilainen here.