A L’Emeraude Kari Voutilainen and A l’Emeraude
The independent family-owned store in Lausanne is proud to be one of just a handful that stocks Kari Voutilainen’s rare timepieces.
Kari Voutilainen was born in Finland in 1962 and knew already at the age of 10 that he wanted to work with his hands and be independent. After attending watchmaking school in Finland (the only one in the world that is privately owned by the country’s watchmaking association), he went on to work in customer service in Lapland. After attending two courses at Switzerland’s WOSTEP watchmaking school, he moved to Switzerland to work at Parmigiani Fleurier on restoration and private label projects. It was during his ten-year tenure in Fleurier that a colleague suggested Voutilainen make his own watch – a project that he finally embarked upon after a period of teaching for three years.
He presented his first watches at Baselworld in 2005 and they were well received, with orders immediately coming in, along with requests for a simpler model. Just two years later the popularity of the Kari Voutilainen brand name was well established and demand was big. But, in order to maintain his independence, Voutilainen decided not to take on the big orders. “At Baselworld in 2007, I refused all but three customers,” he says.
Derek Cremers, CEO of A l’Emeraude, and Kari Voutilainen
Since then the company has gone from strength to strength and now employees 24 people. Thanks to continuous reinvestment, Kari Voutilainen was able to present his own in-house calibre in 2008 and is now almost entirely autonomous, relying on external suppliers only for the balance spring and barrel drum. He makes his own cases in Le Noirmont and movement components and dials at the former Comblemine factory in St. Sulpice, a short drive from the large house in Môtiers that accommodates the workshops and living quarters of Kari Voutilainen.
The benefits of independence far outweigh the minor disadvantages, according to Kari Voutilainen. “On my own I can fix my own objectives and I don’t have to rely on anyone else or accept anyone else’s quality levels. It means I don’t have to carry much inventory, although I do have relatively high fixed costs, such as salaries. But my independence has kept the company very stable over the long term.”
Aside from his activities as a supplier to the industry, producing movement components and dials, Kari Voutilainen produces a thoroughly modest 40 watches per year. The relationship with retail partners is therefore extremely important, since he expects the same passion from them as he has for his own work. “You can very quickly see whether the passion is for the watch or for the bank account,” he says. “Some people don’t even look at the watch and just want to know the margin that I am prepared to offer them.”
He has even refused some orders from direct customers when he felt that this passion was not there. “I put a lot of energy into my work,” he reminds us. It’s only right that the few watches he produces each year go to good homes. Unsurprisingly, he takes his relationships with retailers very seriously for the same reasons. “It’s great to work with A l’Emeraude, and not just because of the geographical proximity,” he says. “They share the same passion as me for fine watchmaking, which is very important because only in this way can they convey the passion that I put into my work and explain my watches adequately to the discerning customers that they have. Like me, they also have a long-term approach, which is what has made our working relationship so successful.”
For Derek Cremers, Director of A L’Emeraude, the close relation with Kari Voutilainen fits perfectly into the long-term vision of the boutique. “We knew from the start when our family bought A L'Emeraude that we wanted to be a high-end watch and jewellery store. But the human and personal relation with each brand that we have the chance to work with was also very important in the long-term vision that we have. We know that if we ask Kari to do something for us he will always have an attentive ear. We have done some joint projects with him that have taken several years, including a minute repeater, unique pieces and a 37mm tourbillon model. The customers who discover Voutilainen and who purchase such fine timepieces are willing to wait. Some others who own actually a couple of them understand what is involved.”