Kari Voutilainen 28ti: The Flip Side Has Never Looked So Good

In product development and marketing, listening to the consumer can be a very sketchy proposition. When done correctly, market research and focus groups deliver key insights into how the consumer uses a product and what direction is best suited for the market.

But when done incorrectly, brands can miss the meaning entirely and put out a product that fails spectacularly. The key is knowing what questions to ask, what ideas to pay attention to, and what the goals of the brand or product truly are.

When focus groups first became a tool for companies to discover what consumers thought about a product, they were run by academics that understood psychology, sociology, and psychoanalysis; professionals could interpret subjects’ responses while subtly directing them to reveal motivations that they might not even have been aware of.

These professionals had conversations that engaged with people on a deeper level, allowing the researchers to conclude things that weren’t explicitly said. This led to real understandings about why people liked or disliked something, and why they might be likely to buy something new that filled an unconscious desire.

But as usually happens in corporate America, instead of hiring specialist consultants, companies eventually brought the process in-house to save money, and the expertise in asking the right questions and then correctly interpreting the answers was lost. Over time the process has largely devolved into round-robin question sessions with extremely pointed questions that by design limit answers to those the interviewer is looking for.

Instead of discussing what makes people proud about their family life, they are asked if the blue light on this appliance makes them feel calm or agitated.

Sure, similar lines of questioning can tell you that 36 percent of people prefer blue and 22 percent prefer green, but that data doesn’t really get to anything meaningful aside from a distribution of preferences, and not what a customer actually needs.

Blindly following customer preference or excitement without understanding the meaning behind such things led to the introduction of Crystal Pepsi, coffee-flavored soda from Starbucks (Mazagran), and, more recently, the birth and swift death of consumer 3D television sets. It’s clear that knowing the right move forward often isn’t just giving the people what they want.

For a very deliberate man like Finnish watchmaker Kari Voutilainen, this fact is crucial to long-term success. So it might come as a surprise that after all these years he listened to a portion of the “crowd” that comprises his consumer base and created a watch that fulfills an oft-repeated desire: “I almost want to wear the watch backwards because that movement is so beautiful!”

Voutilainen 28ti

Kari Voutilainen 28ti

The fans asked (repeatedly), and Voutilainen surprisingly answered by releasing the 28ti, a rather simple name for a very cool and unusual watch. The “ti” stands for “titanium inverse,” referring to the case material and the fact that the movement is installed in the case inversely – putting what previously was hidden on the back now front and center for all to see.

This is only the second time that mechanics have been the focal point for a Voutilainen watch (the Minute Repeater 10 featured an open dial design), and it is absolutely marvelous.

Kari Voutilainen 28ti

Given that Voutilainen’s “brand” is largely based on exquisite yet traditional watchmaking that is much soberer than Finland’s other renowned independent watchmaker, Stepan Sarpaneva, creating a watch that has no dial and proudly displays the mechanics is a large step off the typical path.

Voutilainen is famous for his spectacular dials and even owns an independent dial manufacturer that supplies all the dials for the brand as well as others in the industry. The variety and complexity of the various dial designs have come to define the Voutilainen brand just as much as the incredible movement underneath.

But for movement lovers, what is inside (or on the back side) has always been the highlight of a Kari Voutilainen watch, and now the 28ti has given the hardcore mechanics nerds exactly what they wanted all along: a Voutilainen that you are basically wearing backward.

Voutilainen 28ti

Kari Voutilainen 28ti

But hold on for just a second: don’t start thinking that all that Kari Voutilainen did was flip the movement over and call it a day. No, he had to rework the movement (which began as the movement in the Vingt-8) in a variety of ways to clean up the old “dial side” of the movement, which now has become the rear.

He changed bridges and plates to eliminate visible pins and as many through-holes as possible that would clutter the dial side visually but that are normally on the main plate.

Next, he reversed the direction of the hour and minute hands to rotate counterclockwise to the previous orientation and relocate the staffs to the new dial side. Since the hour wheel is commonly mounted on top of the main plate in many gear trains, this meant a new minute-to-hour train had to be added to the movement on the other side.

Creating two new bridges and a reversed gear train, the minute and hour wheels are now found on top of the original main bridges, adding some thickness to the movement. The additional mechanics make the “dial” just a bit busier than when it was on the rear of the watch, but it is certainly welcome as it clearly displays problem solving in action.

Outside of these changes, the movement looks largely the same on this side as it would in the Vingt-8.

A new rear for the Vingt-8 is here

Of-course it doesn’t stop with the back becoming the front. As I mentioned before, Voutilainen reworked the old “dial” side to make it visually cleaner, but he also created a standout running seconds and a power reserve display. Most of the wheels are skeletonized, and the main plate been cut away in sections to reveal the workings underneath.

The back of Kari Voutilainen's 28ti

The back of Kari Voutilainen’s 28ti

As fitting a Voutilainen watch, all of the components on this new rear side (and everywhere else) are hand-finished to the highest degree, adding to the perception that they always were meant to be on display on the rear of the movement.

If the entire concept behind the 28ti wasn’t reversing the entire movement, the work done to the old “dial” side of the movement could fool anyone into thinking this was how the movement was designed from the beginning.

The movement isn’t hugely different from the Vingt-8, but it is different enough to stand on its own as a unique caliber, one inspired by and based off the Vingt-8 but that has gone in its own direction.

The incorporation of the power reserve mechanism adds a serious touch of horological complexity to a generally basic movement. The original Vingt-8 movement is a simple three-hander, so any addition increases the movement’s technical prowess beyond just being a beautiful handmade movement.

But the party is really celebrated on the front, and that is kind of the point.

Voutilainen 28ti

Kari Voutilainen 28ti

Voutilainen has spent years perfecting his craft, and the movement architecture and finishing on every movement that comes out of the workshops is hard to beat. I have always been a fan of mechanics more than the basic concept of a watch, so a movement will almost always hold my attention more than a stunningly unique dial design. Well, almost usually.

Voutilainen has no shortage of stunning dials, luckily, and if the two Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève he has won trophies in the Artistic Crafts category are any indication, they will be among the best in the business for a long time to come.

Yet the 28ti was meant to showcase the underlying reason for the watch in the first place: the awesomazing movement inside. Too often the hard work of craftspeople goes unnoticed during normal use as the movement is hidden away, with perfectly polished bevels and crisply grained edges remaining in relative darkness.

That fact has been changed, at least for this model. But we didn’t know if we would ever see such a thing; Voutilainen has until now spent most of his time being as traditional as possible while creating the masterpieces he and his team so skillfully make. And among the independents, Voutilainen has survived well, likely thanks to his commitment to his brand’s corporate identity and what it means to collectors.

So a watch that sort of flies in the face of the Voutilainen brand (at least a little bit) is still a risk for the independent watchmaker. It isn’t a sure bet (though I would wager it is fairly secure) that it will be both well received and fully supported with sales.

Since it is a limited edition of eight pieces, it might be safe to assume that Voutilainen will be able to swing that number of sales, but will it lead to more models that go down this road?

Even if it fully sells out, that wouldn’t mean that it should be available as part of a more permanent collection. It could be easy to miss the forest through the trees and read too deeply into the true desires of the core collectors.

The brand has a strong identity, and chipping away at it could drive the more conservative collectors elsewhere if they were to believe that the focus had shifted and the likelihood of another desirable watch for their tastes appearing was reduced.

Making sure you hit the hardcore horophiles while also covering the more refined upscale clientele is a good strategy, but it is always a delicate balance.

Voutilainen watches probably should, on average, be what they always have been: straightforward, impeccable wristwatches for a discerning group using only the finest materials and craftsmanship.

Voutilainen 28ti

Kari Voutilainen 28ti

The 28ti is a fantastic watch, and it seems the reception from the broader public agrees with me. But we will have to wait and see if it goes the way of Crystal Pepsi or the Apple iPhone. It could be an absolute gamechanger for the brand, or it could be an experiment that fades into the catalogue of past watches. I would hope it’s the latter.

  • Wowza Factor * 9.4 I never thought I would see the day: an inverse Voutilainen!
  • Late Night Lust Appeal 94.9» 930.651m/s2 Inching up on a 100 Gs of lust for such a stunning piece!
  • M.G.R. * 66.2 Any movement from Voutilainen, especially in this orientation, is gonna rank high on the geek rating!
  • Added-Functionitis * Mild Power reserves are still one of the most useful added complications on manual-wind watches. Yet it is only one additional function, so all you need is children’s strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream for the surprising horological swelling.
  • Ouch Outline * 11.2 Waking up to an arm that hasn’t had circulation in an hour! You know the moment you wake up and roll over, but your arm doesn’t come with? That feeling of a sandbag attached at the shoulder that you have absolutely no control over. And then the feeling starts to come back . . . and it burns! Terrible, yet I would gladly take that every day if it meant getting a 28ti on my wrist!
  • Mermaid Moment * Wait, that’s on the right way?! The sheer surprise of discovering the 28ti is being worn properly and you actually get to stare at the movement all day is enough to make you start taste testing cakes and looking at linens!
  • Awesome Total * 832 Add together the number of pieces in each metal (8 + 8 + 10) and multiply by the number of jewels in the movement (32) for a supremely inverted awesome total!

For more information, please visit www.voutilainen.ch/item/28ti.

Quick Facts Kari Voutilainen 28ti
Case: 39 x 13.4 mm, titanium, platinum or tantalum
Movement: in-house manual winding 28ti caliber with Voutilainen direct-impulse escapement with two escape wheels, German silver base plate and bridges, white gold wheels, 299 components, 65-hour power reserve, free-sprung balance with pink gold timing weights, 2.5 Hz/18,000 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds: power reserve indication
Limitation: 8 in titanium, 8 in platinum, and 10 in tantalum
Price: 86,000 CHF in titanium, 98,000 CHF in platinum, 118,000 CHF in tantalum

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2 replies
  1. Gil
    Gil says:

    It’s the first Voutilainen watch I’ve seen that I can’t like, no matter how hard I try. My eyebrow rose involuntarily at the idea that some would prefer to see this rather than his usual art, and fail to find exactly the same satisfaction from merely turning the watch over.
    Variety is the spice of life, though, so it’s good to try different things.

  2. Tam O' Banter
    Tam O' Banter says:

    Thanks to this and other websites, I have gone from being equally outraged & perplexed as to why a wristwatch should be worth as much as a luxury car (or these days, an education), to understanding exactly why some watches are (while others just pretend to be).
    As for “giving the people what they want”, we can see that has been an abject failure. A recent survey discovered that the average number of times an American under thirty years old wears a piece of clothing before throwing it away is now seven. Seven times.
    Buy garbage, treat it like garbage, then throw it in the garbage. Repeat until the planet dies.


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