HERO: Kari Voutilainen Retrograde Date "Night Sky" Piece Unique Ref. 217QRS

Beyond the Clouds: The Kari Voutilainen Retrograde Date “Night Sky” Piece Unique Ref. 217QRS

In the wild world of independent watchmaking, Kari Voutilainen stands at the top alongside a select few who are capable of being considered equals. Similarly, in the land of elegant top-shelf indie dress watches, few can rival the Retrograde Date 217QRS, let alone a unique piece in steel. As luck would have it, the piece seen here is precisely that — one of a set of just eight watches, each with a completely unique dial, produced to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Manfredi Jewels in 2020. It’s hard to believe, but even more buzz has built around Kari and his work in the last few years, what with the growing reach of his dial manufacture Comblemine SA which now produces dials for many other highly desirable wristwatches, and his recent acquisition of the legendary sleeper brand Urban Jurgensen. With all of these factors in mind, having the opportunity to handle a piece as rare and special as the one we have in front of us today is quite the treat.

Kari Voutilainen Retrograde Date "Night Sky" Piece Unique Ref. 217QRS
Kari Voutilainen Retrograde Date “Night Sky” Piece Unique Ref. 217QRS


When Kari Voutilainen first launched the Retrograde Date 217QRS in 2018, its design was fairly surprising. The market was due for something new, and though the addition of a date complication to his existing Vingt-8 manually-wound caliber was far from revolutionary, its execution was still plenty noteworthy. In the gap between the launch and arrival of this Manfredi anniversary piece, a small number of 217QRS variants rolled out of the manufacture, primarily cased in white gold, yellow gold, and platinum. Manfredi owner and founder Roberto Chiappelloni, who has known Kari since his days working in the restoration department of Parmigiani Fleurier, was eager to connect with him for a special anniversary edition, leading to the unique set of eight pieces that includes this stunner right here.

Where things get especially interesting with this “set” of watches is that it’s not really a set or edition, technically. Yes, they made eight Retrograde Date 217QRS for Manfredi, and they were all cased in steel, but beyond that, it was more of a waitlist slot, allowing each individual to customize their order however they wished. In this particular case, with an elegant starry sky, in others, with traditional guilloche and distinctive numerals. This is why this watch lands in the piece unique category, despite technically being part of an edition.

Kari Voutilainen Retrograde Date "Night Sky" Piece Unique Ref. 217QRS

Design Details

We could easily write an entire essay on Kari Voutilainen’s masterful casework here — between the elegant teardrop lugs, mirror polishing, and a hundred other little details. We could also spend more time repeating what’s been said over and over again about Kari’s beloved multi-piece hands. If you’re looking for that deeper dive, David Klint covered it in a review of the Vingt-8 Salmon dial that passed through EWC previously. What we need to talk about more than anything is the incredible amount of handwork that went into this dial.

The dial on this piece is an absolute masterclass in artful handcraft. The dial plate was engraved first to create the raised surface of the moon, stars, Saturn, and other celestial forms. From there, wonderfully subtle hand painting is applied to pull even more depth out of the details. You’ll also note some intentional work done to give the dial a bit of age, with light browns painted on parts of the minute and date tracks. Kari’s work always has a bit of a vintage feel to it, if only on account of his traditionalist methods, however this piece pushes things just a touch further.

Kari Voutilainen Retrograde Date "Night Sky" Piece Unique Ref. 217QRS

Inner Workings

Built from a base of the existing Vight-8 caliber — the 217QRS features German Silver bridges, a free sprung balance with Breguet/Grossmann balance spiral, and rose gold timing weights bopping along at a leisurely 18,000 vph. The big differentiator with the Retrograde Date 217QRS is really only visible functionally — something we’re not too upset by given how fantastic the finishing of the Vingt-8 base is.

A retrograde date function, or really any retrograde function, is something we’ve all seen before. The hand reaches the end of its track, then snaps back to the start, right? Not here. The date hand on the 217QRS embarks on a leisurely journey backwards, taking a few seconds to get there. Kari built the date in this manner to avoid the bouncing or inaccurate return (landing on “2” instead of “1”) that can happen with instantaneous retrograde mechanisms.

Kari Voutilainen Retrograde Date "Night Sky" Piece Unique Ref. 217QRS


Buying a Kari Voutilainen of any variety speaks to a deep appreciation of craft and tradition, as well as a willingness to support makers that live outside the big-box, high-volume sector of the market. With a piece like this — a watch specially commissioned by a collector with said loves and appreciations — I hate to type the overused trope of grail, but I’m not sure there is a term more fitting than that. A piece unique from Kari is about as coveted as it gets, and the kind of watch we hope will land in the hands (and on the wrist) of a collector who will wear and enjoy it for decades to come.

Kari Voutilainen Retrograde Date "Night Sky" Piece Unique Ref. 217QRS

Versus the Competition

This is tough territory, to say the least. Obviously the list of brands that can compete is small to begin with, and adding the exclusivity factor of this one slims things down even further. We were tempted to stick to other piece unique options, but that’s not entirely fair. It’s an emotional watch, with art and craft in its essence, so we broadened the field a bit. 

F.P. Journe is fairly and safely the first place to start when looking for things to compete with the Retrograde Date 217QRS, as much for the brand’s overall aesthetic as for its impressive movement design and finishing. Opting for something more classical — Journe doesn’t really do “whimsy” — while keeping an eye on rarity and value, the T30 Tourbillon was an obvious choice. It’s an impressive manually-wound caliber out back, with a properly traditional dial and hand set out front, designed to mimic the aesthetic of Journe’s original 1983 pocket watch.


If the T30 is perhaps a touch too traditional, the next option would be the Romain Gauthier Prestige HMS Ten Piece Unique — a watch filled with a mix of purist traditional watchmaking, and modern manufacturing and movement design. Similar to Kari, anything from Romain Gauthier can be considered quite scarce, as he produces fewer than 100 pieces a year under his own name (while also spending time manufacturing complex components for other makers).

Lastly, the Grönefeld 1941 Remontoire Constant Force with a dial by Kari Voutilainen can comparatively be considered a “value offering”. Tim and Bart Grönefeld build some of the most stunning movements available on the market today (entirely from stainless steel), and when paired with a dial from Kari’s own manufacture, you’ve got a winning combination that joins two of the indie scene’s best into a single watch.

Final Thoughts

What can be said that hasn’t been said already? This is one of those rare times where a watch does all of the talking for us — to even imagine, something as special as a one-of-one steel cased watch from Kari Voutilainen, with such a unique and beautifully executed dial just rolling through our doors in the first place. We’ve seen some special watches over the years, of course, but when it comes to Kari’s offerings, this is about as good as it gets, and it won’t last long either!

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