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Kari Voutilainen has reasons to be cheerful
Point of View

Kari Voutilainen has reasons to be cheerful

Thursday, 25 March 2010
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

“The desire to learn is the key to understanding.”

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4 min read

Not everyone would agree that 2009 was one of the worst years Swiss watchmaking has ever known, beginning with Kari Voutilainen, a Finnish watchmaker based in Môtiers. He even allowed himself the “luxury” of coming to Baselworld with nothing to sell. Interview.

Kari Voutilainen, who trained at the Tapiola watchmaking school in his native Finland and has spent the past thirty years in Môtiers (Neuchâtel), isn’t the type to let success go to his head. And what success for this professional who, in 2007, won the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in the Men’s Watch category, and who has made his name at the very high end of the market with timepieces produced at the rate of just 40 or so a year. He came to this year’s Baselworld with his hands in his pockets but a smile on his face. Interview.

2009 was a tough year for a large slice of the profession. How did it treat you?

Kari Voutilainen: We were kept more than busy in 2009, to the point that we took on four new professionals. This brings to 11 the number of people employed in our workshops which, incidentally, have moved. The old premises were beginning to feel cramped, so I decided to move my home and my workplace under one roof. Despite this, I haven’t been able to take on any new orders. The vast majority of our time has been spent making watches that are already spoken for. I also generate around 20% to 30% of my revenues making prototypes, parts or decorating pieces for third parties. I feel this is an important activity as it helps me keep in touch with the profession and see what other firms are up to in terms of movement development. We have fulfilled every single order for the Chronometer 27, and will be ceasing production. We’re about to do the same with the Observatoire. Whereas 2009 was a year for small series, the emphasis in 2010 will be on one-off pieces.

So you're planning the next stage…

I am indeed working on a new movement that I want to make entirely in-house. It will be the sequel to the Observatoire. But I won’t say more until it’s ready for delivery, probably at next year’s Baselworld. Until then, I still won’t be taking any new orders. This spares me the psychological pressure, although it does imply having sufficient working capital to keep going. Unlike the Observatoire, which we built from an existing blank, this new movement will be made entirely in-house. The only exceptions will be the mainspring and the balance spring by Moser, a true partner who can deliver within two weeks. Fantastic! Manufacturing the balance spring supposes a knowledge of chemical and metallurgical concepts that we don’t have. Mechanics, on the other hand, now that’s our game!

Don't you need some form of publicity?

We have regular customers who buy several, and in some cases a lot of, my watches. It’s essential that we stay in touch with them, as most of my sales are done directly with the customer. I don’t travel much, so my customers are the best ambassadors for my watches. In fact they encourage me in my decision to limit production. Having said that, I do have some retail outlets such as A l’Emeraude in Lausanne or the very dynamic The Hour Glass group in Singapore. Last autumn, for example, The Hour Glass hosted an evening in Singapore for a hundred or so guests who either already wore my watches or wanted to buy them.

So you're not representative of the situation of Swiss watchmaking in 2009?

Not at all. I could export more but I just don’t have the production capacity. 2009 was a great year for us, a year of major investments and the arrival of new staff. I recently hired an engine-turner and I’m looking for a second movement mechanic. I tend to take on younger people whom I train in all the aspects of watchmaking, from mechanics to decoration. This way they learn to work to my standards of quality, and to respect the work of others.

Why come to Basel if you're not taking orders?

This is a very important fair for me. It’s somewhere I can meet my customers and the press. It’s also a chance to discover new models by other firms. For me, it’s a rare opportunity to look at their watches, as the rest of the time I’m in my workshop.

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