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Nothing is worth more than independence
Point of View

Nothing is worth more than independence

Tuesday, 21 April 2009
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

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

“Thirty years in journalism are a powerful stimulant for curiosity”.

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5 min read

Kari Voutilainen was born in Finland in 1962, and admits that watchmaking has been his passion for the past thirty years. A passion that first took him to the Tapiola Watchmaking School, then on to the International Watchmaking School in Neuchâtel, where he completed the WOSTEP course in complication watches. Singled out by Parmigiani Mesure et Art du Temps, he spent ten years there before returning to WOSTEP and a three-year stint as director of the complication watch section. In 2002, Kari Voutilainen set up his own business in Môtiers, as an artisan d’horlogerie d’art. We caught up with him at Baselworld.

When we met at the Belles Montres fair in Paris, you said you had nothing to sell. So what brings you to Baselworld?

Kari Voutilainen: It’s true, my order books are full until end 2010, not to mention the one-off timepieces I make to commission. We’re currently making and delivering our Chronomètre 27 and Observatoire watches. Last year, we produced 35 of these two models, and this year we expect to make as many again. So if I’m here at Baselworld, it’s really to chat and keep in touch with my customers.

Do you have any new projects?

I’ve just finished the prototype for a model we’ll be unveiling in about ten months’ time and we’re happy with how it’s functioning so far. We’re currently in the test phase for what will be a simple watch, without complications but with specific technical characteristics. I’m also busy with production, investing in new tools and CNC machines that should enable me to take on one or two people this year. I’m aiming for maximum integration.

You have a steam engine on your stand. A change in direction on the way?

Not at all, though I have been very much involved in this project to develop a steam engine for a luxury car. At this stage, it’s a question of raising funds and finding a manufacturer. My role is to ensure this engine is crafted with the same care as a watch movement, with the appropriate onboard equipment.

How do you view the situation in the watch sector today?

The sector let itself get carried away, believing the situation would last for ever instead of preparing itself for the inevitable slowdown, which is where we are today. In my opinion, measured growth is better than taking on staff only to make them redundant when the storm blows. It’s this type of excess that has given us companies which are no more than an office sending out bills, everything else being contracted out. This shows a complete lack of responsibility, especially as these brands position themselves at the top of the scale. Now we’re seeing them for what they are: empty shells.

With all those orders, haven't you been tempted to expand?

I love watchmaking and working at the bench far too much to give it up. I’ve seen enough companies who have given in to siren songs, only to find themselves totally dependent on the investors who helped them expand. For me, this simply isn’t an option. Nor could I live without contact with the end customer. If I had to grow at all costs, that would be the end of my business model. It would mean setting up a marketing department, then a system for deliveries and ultimately I’d be caught up in some endless race that would leave me at the mercy of outside financers. Never! I invest the resources I have, moving ahead one step at a time. My independence means too much for me to ever give it up.

How is your workshop organised?

Currently I employ eight staff and I have very specific expectations of them. I want young watchmakers to learn every aspect of the profession, from manufacturing parts to decorating them, from assembly to polishing and finishing. Once they’ve learned to master these operations, they have more respect for other people’s work. If they scratch a part, for example, they know what this means for the person who made it. Also, if a part they need is lacking, they’re able to make it themselves. Granted, this may take more time but it also brings more pleasure. It’s a demanding model that requires a certain amount of reflection but it’s also excellent training and works well, particularly as staff define their working hours themselves. The way I operate is poles apart from the division of labour you see in the industry.

So you provide all the impetus?

Yes, all the technical concepts for the watches come from me. I then work on these ideas with a constructor who is also a friend. The same applies to the exteriors. I don’t want to employ a designer. Not through any lack of respect for this profession: I simply believe that in a company such as ours, it’s important to have a powerful identity across the ranges. Oh, and I love doing it too!

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