A unique take on Kari's new complication from the folks who know him better than almost anyone.
Two things the watch industry loves more than anything are collaborations and anniversaries. When the two are combined in the right way, you can get a very special timepiece that exceeds what any single entity could have imagined on their own; when combined poorly – and boy can it be done poorly – you get hackneyed watches with inflated price tags and fluffy marketing campaigns. Luckily, the watch we have here today is a near perfect example of the former, and doesn't contain a trace of the latter. To celebrate their 30th year in business, Manfredi Jewels of Greenwich, Connecticut, has teamed up with Kari Voutilainen to create a set of eight complicated, customizable watches in stainless steel. Yeah, like I said.
When I first heard about this project over beers in Basel, my jaw dropped. Luckily the folks at Manfredi were kind enough to send me the very first piece just hours after it cleared customs here in the United States. To say I was excited to see this watch in the metal and to write this story would be something of an understatement.
The watch most people know from Voutilainen is the Vingt-8, a time-only piece with a blend of idiosyncratic style and precise chronometry that has become the house signature of the brand. But Voutilainen does make other watches and the latest is the 217QRS, which takes many of the stylistic cues from the Vingt-8 and adds its own flavor with a retrograde date complication and a slightly more modern case shape, with a curved bezel and caseband and longer, straighter lugs. The 217QRS is a genuine evolution of the Vingt-8, not simply a variation of it.
The Voutilainen Manfredi 30th Anniversary Watch is unique in that it actually sits somewhere between the two. It has the familiar 39mm case of the Vingt-8, with its short, teardrop lugs and sloped bezel, but rendered here in polished stainless steel. However, technically speaking the watch is a 217QRS through and through, with the new movement lurking inside. There are also a few aesthetic choices Manfredi and Voutilainen have made here that make this watch distinctive, though many of them are optional, as customers will be able to customize their watch upon order. The only thing that must stay the same is the steel case – everything else is negotiable to some degree or another. As a side note, Voutilainen recently acquired their own casemaker, so even these steel cases are made "in-house" if you want to get pedantic about it.
Let's start with the dial. If you're not aware, Kari Voutilainen has owned his own dial manufacture for some time already (under the name Comblémine) and he makes dials for many of the top-tier independent watch brands in addition to those for his own watches. What Voutilainen is known for is the combining of multiple guilloché patterns on a single dial. For this watch, Manfredi decided to run with that, and the silver dial shows three different patterns – hobnail on the hour track, waves in the center section, and crosshatch in the subsidiary seconds dial – all done by hand. The depth of the guilloché means you get a lot of light reflection, really playing up the tactile quality of the engravings. You might expect three patterns to be too much, but they balance exceptionally well and enhance, rather than detract from, one another.
To complement the guilloché work, Manfredi has opted for a silvered finish with blue accents and a bright red applied "12" at the top, punctuating the set of frosted, applied Arabic numerals. The use of brushed finishes for the outer chapter ring, the seconds chapter ring, and the retrograde display frames the guilloché as well, giving the dial some visual structure.
The complication that makes this watch special is an unusual retrograde date display. The middle ring of the dial shows the odd numbered days from 1 to 31, with a blued hand pointed to either the numerals or the interstitial dots. On most QRS models, the hand has a crescent at the end, but Manfredi opted for a straight, blued steel hand instead to keep things simple. To advance the day, you simply press in the crown (no, I didn't leave it pulled out in all the photos you see here) and it jumps a day instantaneously. The best part though? Instead of snapping back to one at the start of a new month, the hand gently glides back over the course of a second or so. It's a beautiful little thing that only the wearer of the watch will ever get to enjoy, and it's a perfect synecdoche for what makes Voutilainen watches different. The movement is Voutilainen's own 217QRS-01, and boy is it a beauty. I mean, look at it! This is about as good as finishing gets on a caliber these days and it's all done by hand in a small workshop that produces just a few dozen examples per year. What I love about Voutilainen's finishing is that it mixes traditional Swiss elements with more modern touches, and while it's extremely high level it's not showy or in-your-face at all. The dark rhodium treatment on this movement (another signature of the limited edition series) brings out the texture of the wide Côtes de Genève, and the contrast that you get from the snailed and black polished wheels next to one another is outstanding.
Once you pull out a loupe or really focus in, you start to realize that the caliber is even more special than it looks at first glance. Everything is executed to a truly superlative standard, from both performance and aesthetic perspectives. The anglage on the edges of the plates and bridges is sharp and not overly dramatic, the mirror polishing and radiusing on the balance bridge is so perfect it seems almost impossible, and everything from the shape of the countersinks to the finishing of the wheels is at the level of art. I could stare at this caliber for days.
Now, if you think all of this is just fancy window dressing, you're sorely mistaken. The movement is totally in-house (obviously) with the plates and bridges made from solid German silver. Even with the complication and the energy that needs to be saved for that gentle hand return, you get 65 hours of power on a single wind of the barrel, and Kari has refined his direct impulse escapement, which uses a pair of escape wheels for less friction and more precise timekeeping. This is serious modern horology through and through.
The ring of steel around the sapphire back contains all the necessary info for this limited edition. First off, you've got the "Manfredi Jewels" signature right next to the crown, with the "30th Anniversary" notation nearby (just below the one o'clock lug). Additionally, these are numbered pieces from an edition of eight and the "X/8" number sits near the five o'clock lug. Above you can see that this is watch number one. Opposite Manfredi's signature is the typical all-caps Voutilainen signature, finishing things off.
I've long said this about Voutilainen watches, but you can't really understand them until you put one on your wrist. On their own they can look a bit maximalist, with all manners of patterns and colors coming together in a strange-but-effective balancing act. But on the wrist you notice that the overall forms and architecture are so well considered that at a glance the watch can feel quite bold and graphic, with the little flourishes only revealing themselves when you want to pause, linger, and enjoy the beauty of what you're sporting.
I've always been a fan of the original Voutilainen case shape too, and it doesn't disappoint here. In steel, it's extremely light and the shorter lugs let the strap hold it tightly to the wrist. There's no overhang and no bulk. I wouldn't describe the watch as thin by any stretch, but it's not thick either, and I've never had any jacket or shirt cuff issues with a Voutilainen in my limited experience. The biggest question for me is whether this watch is a dress watch, and everyday watch, or a casual watch, and I think it's very much down to how you choose to style the details. You choice of guilloché patterns, strap material, and colors can make a huge difference here.
As you've probably gathered by now, this is a watch that is made by obsessive people who don't leave anything to chance. In line with that, the package is probably the most beautiful I've ever seen for a wristwatch. It's a hefty wooden box that slides open in both directions to reveal the watch in a fitted tray inside. The entire thing is made by hand and the brass fittings are actually made by Kari Voutilainen and his team, with the final box being assembled in the same place where the watch itself is made. When you slide the two halves apart, there's just the right amount of resistance – it sort of reminds me of what Apple packaging might be like were Sir Jony Ive a Finnish watchmaker in the Vallée instead of a British designer in Cupertino.
I spoke with Manfredi founder and owner Roberto Chiappelloni about why he wanted to work with Voutilainen to commemorate this special occasion, and his answer was equal parts emotional and aspirational. "I think I first met Kari when he was still with Parmigiani. We always had a good friendship and we go back a long time. From the beginning," he said. "And his sensibility is perfection. It's his good taste. He’s fanatical about the quality of his work – he’s his own worst critic.” Can't argue with that.
The Voutilainen x Manfredi 30th Anniversary Watch is a limited edition of just eight numbered pieces with a retail price of CHF 117,000 (conversion to USD is done upon delivery). The piece shot here is the first of the edition, with an additional piece delivering every two months or so until the edition is closed out. Numbers 1, 5, and 8 are spoken for, but the others are still available and you can of course customize your watch within certain parameters upon order (only the steel case is 100% unchangeable).
Special thanks to Hodinkee for this amazing article. For more information please visit Hodinkee website