Schwarz-Etienne Roma Synergy by Kari Voutilainen for Oster Jewelers: Beauty Without Brand Baggage
by Tim Mosso
Whether collectors admit it or not, scarcity is a winning sales pitch in the luxury watch space. Often, exclusivity is rendered in the form of fixed-number editions issued by a brand for sale throughout its retail chain or a company boutique network.
But within the limited-edition genre, there’s a sub-genre of vendor editions. In general, these take the form of micro-series for individual retailers, and many of these watches never surface on manufacturer websites or appear amid media coverage of new models.
Brands as large as Omega and as small as Schwarz-Etienne inhabit this niche, and the latter’s Roma Synergy by Kari Voutilainen for Oster Jewelers is the focus of this survey.
Oster Jewelers is a Denver-area luxury watch retailer founded in 2002 that has developed a predilection for offbeat indie brands. And its recent track record with dealer-bespoke editions from these partners has been impressive.
Schwarz-Etienne, an integrated manufacture out of La Chaux-de-Fonds, is uniquely amendable to this kind of request. Although established in 1902, Schwarz-Etienne — hereafter, “SE” — populated most of its 121-year history with white-label contract manufacturing. Clients knew who to call when they wanted to offer their own lines of branded models without tooling and staffing a full watchmaking factory.
Recent watch brands, including Chopin, Ming, Massena LAB, and Havid Nagan have relied on SE to provide the lion’s share of engineering and fabrication for various products sold under those marques. GoS, Dunhill, Chanel, and others have availed themselves of SE watchmaking resources to differing extents.
Starting in the 2000s, SE undertook massive upgrades to its in-house engineering and fabrication capabilities, and it began to emphasize watches sold under its own brand name.
Under new owner Raffaello Radicchi as of 2007, the company embraced a diminutive version of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s historic role as a “watchmaker’s watchmaker” that also sold its own hardware under a proprietary brand name.
And yet, despite multiple impressive calibers including micro-rotor automatics, twin-barrel manuals with four-day power reserves, and a unique series of manufacture tourbillon regulators, SE struggled to produce a complete watch that amounted to a breakout product.
Cue the pandemic and Kari Voutilainen. 2020 was a confusing and unprecedented period for the world and the watch industry. Despite extraordinary impediments to travel, commerce, and manufacturing, 2020 and 2021 witnessed a boom of “revenge buying” on the part of house-bound wealth.
Dubbed the “Roma Synergy,” the model was a 39mm exclusive edition of the existing 42mm Roma with a dial, movement execution, and decoration by Voutilainen’s growing constellation of specialist ateliers.
Though initially launched in a one-time series of 100 pieces split evenly between grey and blue dials, the Synergy became an unexpected hit and the basis for an ongoing franchise.
Enter the 2022 Schwarz-Etienne Roma Synergy by Kari Voutilainen for Oster Jewelers. The design of the watch is as sharp as the name is exhausting. Two variations — both steel — exist in the form of eight 39mm examples and as many in 42mm. The featured watch in this study is one of the 42mm variants.
As with the 2020 Synergy, the new model leaves the original Roma case lines untouched and comes out swinging with a multi-mode dial by Comblémine SA, Voutilainen’s cadranier to the indie watchmaking world.
And it’s gorgeous. The dials were cut by traditional rose lathe — true reductive guilloché — from a base of sterling silver discs. Lush green soleil (sun), écaille de poisson (fish scale), and vague (wave) grace the outer, inner, and sub-dial, respectively. While all three read as slightly different shades, Oster intends for this dial to be read as Colorado-inspired “evergreen.”
There’s no escaping the reality that the SE RS by KV for OJ draws mightily from successful designs proven elsewhere. Just about the only original element is the faceted alpha handset.
The tri-Arabic numerals and dial tropes borrow liberally from Voutilainen’s signature Vingt-8 dress watches and, to a lesser degree, certain versions of Philippe Dufour’s Simplicity.
From its very debut in 2018, the current Roma case was born with significant similarity to the Simplicity, and that continues here. Moreover, a green dial in 2022 was about as unique as junk mortgage bonds in 2008. That said, the total world population of all three aforementioned Synergy models is so low that each remains exclusive and special.
Moreover, Voutilainen is only plagiarizing himself with that dial. He has a credible argument that similar Voutilainen dial elements employed across a range of models amount to a legitimate designer signature.
If endless Mondrianesque primary colors by Alain Silberstein and blazing chunks of lume by James Thompson (Black Badger) can be deployed to acclaim across innumerable collaborations, KV has every right to export his classical style on co-brandings.
And to hammer home the glitterati auteur point, Voutilainen signs the dial at six o’clock.
Although the standard SE caliber ASE 200 is appealing in size and architecture, its finish in stock form is perfunctory; atelier Voutilainen terminates that shortcoming with extreme prejudice. All bridges include a spectacular rosette guilloché that expands from an imaginary origin point atop the balance.
Bridges are beveled in a fashion that likely starts with a milling machine but ends in mirrored arcs indicative of manual execution in the final phase. A rose gold micro-rotor includes a prominent logo, raised satin relief borders, and chamfers on each side.
While most of the components are executed to a great-but-not-Kari level of detailing, the ratchet wheel atop the barrel truly looks like it was jacked from a Vingt-8.
The ratchet’s center well is black polished across its concave, and the outer rim of the wheel boasts stunning solarization. Ratchet wheel teeth are micro-beveled — a veritable signature of ultimate haut-de-gamme.
From a technical standpoint, the ASE 200 movement is impressive. The 30.4mm size means that it was designed from the outset to fill the casebacks of contemporary watches.
Launched in 2013, the micro-rotor automatic ASE 200 includes obligatory modern features like hacking seconds, an extended power reserve of 86 hours, and bridges designed with equal attention to architectural appeal and function.
While the 3Hz beat rate is anachronistic, it does help to extend the power reserve, and a high-inertia balance wheel is employed to offset the potential timing compromises of a low rate. Impressively, SE goes a step beyond most integrated movement manufactures in its production of the escapement, balance, and hairspring hardware. SE division E2O is one of the smallest outfits in Switzerland that can produce hairsprings as well as full escapements.
While not a feature of the movement, the Roma’s water resistance qualifies as a technical curiosity. Although the 50-meter water resistance is only 20-meters beyond the industry standard for dress watches, its unexpected combination with a screw-down crown opens the door to surface swimming if equipped with a different strap than the calf leather factory spec.
The Oster-specific strap combines brown leather with a subtle and complementary green contrasting stitch. And befitting of a watch that retailed for over thirty grand, a double-deployant clasp with trigger release prevents inadvertent skydiving during your morning trip to the dresser.
Retailer editions are great solutions for the value-conscious and dubious propositions for the status-conscious. The relative obscurity and rarity of these models mean that few onlookers will ask to Instagram your wrist, but the payoff is a watch that often trades at reasonable preowned prices relative to its quality.
In a world where the $39,800 F.P. Journe Chronomètre Bleu becomes a $90,000 commodity the moment it hits chrono24, it’s a relief to know that the manifold qualities of the MSRP $36,800 Oster-ized Roma can be had for around $26,000 used — on the rare occasion that one of the 16 surfaces.
Long on quality, value, and its marathon name, the Schwarz-Etienne Roma Synergy by Kari Voutilainen for Oster Jewelers is an indie brand option for enthusiasts who favor beauty without brand baggage.
For more information, please visit www.osterjewelers.com/products/schwarz-etienne-x-oster-roma-synergy-evergreen-dial-by-kari-voutilainen
Quick Facts: Schwarz-Etienne Roma Synergy by Kari Voutilainen for Oster Jewelers
Reference Number: WROVMA07SS02CUBC
Case: Stainless Steel 42mm (39mm optional), 50-meter water resistance
Dial: green sterling silver with hand guilloche by Comblemine Cadrans
Movement: ASE 200, automatic, 86-hour power reserve, hacking, 3Hz, decoration by Voutilainen, 30.4mm diameter
Retail Price: $36,800
Preowned Market Value: Approximately $26,000
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