Kari Voutilainen is a small—and we mean tiny—independent manufacturer, and the brand’s watches have proportionally short production runs. Due to the combination of size and Kari’s high standards, the brand produces less than 50 watches a year. However, the watch we have here is rare, even by Kari Voutilainen standards. In fact, it’s the only one of its kind. Feast your eyes on the 2021 white gold Vingt-8 with a salmon dial, a one-of-one creation by a watchmaking maestro.
Kari Voutilainen as a brand hasn’t been around very long—it was launched in 2002—but its namesake founder has been passionate about watchmaking for most of his life. The former professor of the WOSTEP School of Watchmaking is dedicated to producing accurate and beautiful timepieces known for their high-quality hand finishing work. Just a glance at the dial and movement of this watch—or any Voutilainen creation—and you’ll see multiple gorgeous hand-finishing techniques on display.
This unique Vingt-8 is a part of one of the brand’s most famous watch lines. The original Vingt-8—which translates to 28—was introduced in 2011 as the successor to the Observatoire. It was the first timepiece made by Kari to house and in-house movement. This new caliber named the caliber 28 (hence the name of the watch) was a huge step forward for the brand and helped assert the Kari Voutilainen name as one to be reckoned with in the watch world. Today his finishing techniques and artisanal approach have garnered him a reputation as one of the best contemporary watchmakers making unique creations like this just that much more desirable.
The case and lug style on this watch will be familiar to any fans of the brand, with its classic round case and hand-welded teardrop lugs being very much in line with the Voutilainen design style. The lugs are deceptively simple due to the pristine welding but don’t let that fool you; they require some serious old-world craftsmanship to look this clean. Proportionally this model measures 39mm in diameter, with the lugs measuring 20mm apart. These measurements would likely be touted as consensus favorites by the watch enthusiast community as the diameter will wear well on most wrists, and the lug width makes finding new straps very easy.
I love the case and really love the lugs, but like most of Kari’s creations, the dial is the star of the show. This unique salmon-colored dial is made of sterling silver and showcases several types of guilloché finishing. On the outermost border minute track, you have a circular-grained brushed finish. In one layer towards the center and housing the hour markers and numerals, is a hobnail guilloché. In the small seconds subdial, you’ll find more circular brushing, as well as crosshatch finishing at the center, and finally at the center of the main dial, is a gorgeous and complex rosette finishing that radiates out from the center like ripples on a pond. This buffet of finishing almost makes the dial look as if it’s on fire, and it is, without a doubt, the standout feature of the watch.
Other details of note are the white gold hand assembled multi-part hands, which are done in Kari’s trademark observatory style. I also really love the clean, modern numerals and the deep blue alligator leather strap. Overall this watch strikes a great balance between classic and contemporary styling, which I think will allow it to transcend style trends over time.
Powering this timepiece is the caliber 28, after which the model is named. The movement is a manual wound movement with a 50-hour power reserve and notably uses a double wheel escapement that is the first of its kind. The two escapement wheels give a direct impulse to the balance via the impulse jewel and, in doing so, require much less energy than a classic escapement. This helps ensure long-term reliability and accuracy day today. On top of being mechanically innovative, this movement is one the best finished I’ve ever seen.
The crown wheel, click spring, and click are all black polished, and even the teeth on the wheels are hand beveled. In stark contrast to the black polish, all the bridges are frosted in a style that’s reminiscent of pocket watches. This contrast has the effect of narrowing your focus on components in isolation in a way that allows full appreciation of each and every piece. It’s a brilliant technique to ensure all that hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.
Versus The Competition
This Kari Voutilainen Vingt-8 is unique—as I’ve mentioned a couple of times—and owning a watch that is the only one of its kind can be a huge draw for a lot of collectors, but it also means it’s pretty likely that you reading this can’t buy it. So, in that case, here are some other watches that I think are spiritually similar and worth your attention.
First this F.P. Journe Octa Automatique Lune with a Havana dial. It’s not salmon, but it is salmon adjacent, and I think any lover of a salmon dial is a lover of non-traditional dial colors in general. This rich mocha brown color was developed over the course of many months in-house. The color, a combination of gold and ruthenium, had to go through multiple formula revisions before this shade was settled on. Like Kari, F.P. Journe is a small independent with an insatiable desire to create the highest quality timepieces possible. The finishing inside and out on this watch is next level, and the movement is a bit more complicated, having a moonphase and date complication. Additionally, while this watch isn’t unique, the Havana dial series was only produced for a couple of years and is pretty rare. Valued at $109,500, it is a little more expensive than the $93,500 Vingt-8, but depending on your taste, that premium will be worth it.
Next, we have a budget alternative or relatively budget at $55,900. This Grönefeld 1941 Principia is an elegant salmon dial alternative from a family-owned independent. This is an extremely high-quality timepiece that’s been hand-finished and assembled. The movement also utilizes the contrast between frosted and polished surfaces like the Vingt-8. Where this Grönfeld really has a leg up is its versatility. This watch is automatic and stylistically can be dressed up or down with ease. Among the three, this is hands down the best daily wearer option while still offering the wearer indie street cred.
This watch is for someone who loves to feel connected to the craft of watchmaking. They want an artisanal timepiece, not some mass-produced hype piece. This is for someone who likes the intimate feeling of owning something produced with care and consideration, and while you can get that with other Kari Voutilainen pieces, it just doesn’t get more intimate than a piece unique.
With the current watch community climate being so focused on a few uber-popular pieces, many are trying to separate themselves from the masses with more interesting choices. If you’re a fan of Kari Voutilainen timepieces, then I’d say you probably fall in that camp. If you want something different, this watch is hard to top. A one-of-one wristwatch is as different and distinct as it gets.