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Manual Dexterity

Jonathon Keats

With his shop of six watchmakers, Smith is able to produce 10 Series 2 wristwatches a year. Their manual skill combined with CNC allows him to devote some of his time to special commissions such as a unique tourbillon with a moon phase currently under way, and to make a small run of 35th Anniversary wristwatches, based on a Daniels pocket watch, designed in collaboration with Daniels in his final years. Yet he’s still intimately involved with the Series 2 because "every single one is unique," he says. "What’s exciting is that I can see the improvement with each one as our skills are refined. It’s obsessional, but George always said that your harshest critics will be your fellow watchmakers."

One fellow watchmaker whom Smith admires, and who admires him in kind, is Kari Voutilainen. Training at the Finnish School of Watchmaking in Tapiola, Voutilainen did not encounter George Daniels directly, yet Daniels’s reputation was a crucial inspiration. "I looked at how Daniels made watches by himself, and I looked at how handwork was disappearing from the industry, and I realized that I also have to make things by myself," Voutilainen says. "I’m a practical person and I get my satisfaction from doing things."

Voutilainen found a mentor in Charles Meylan, a 70-year-old watchmaker he met while building complications for Michel Parmigiani in the 1990s. Meylan worked at the bench next to his, and taught him about "the ways watches were built in the past so that they should last forever," Voutilainen says. "If something was worn out, you could replace it easily. Today it’s another philosophy, with the hairspring soldered and the main plate riveted." The tourbillons and repeaters that Voutilainen made for Parmigiani reinforced his appreciation for traditional methods, since the watches were built using handcrafted antique movement blanks, known as ébauches.

When Voutilainen opened his own shop in the Swiss village of Môtiers in 2002, he brought along Meylan’s philosophy and adopted Parmigiani’s method of modifying and hand-finishing classic ébauches by LeCoultre and Piguet. They served him well—allowing him to produce innovations such as a decimal repeater within several years of launching his brand—yet their great age made them increasingly scarce. Like Smith, he had to create his own calibre.

"With the Calibre 28, we are entirely independent," he says. "I have the flexibility to make technical improvements—like my double escape wheel, which needs less energy—and also we have control over quality." Ébauches are prepared on a CNC machine. "Without it, we couldn’t really exist," he insists. "Making an ébauche by hand would take 50 times as long, and it wouldn’t be better. We can concentrate on beveling and polishing, where working by hand can make a difference."

Voutilainen and his 13 watchmakers all share these tasks on the 50 watches they manufacture annually, and he has no plans to change the arrangement when he begins also to produce his new large-date moon phase chronograph movement. "Working together, we keep each other motivated," he says. "We all share in the daily joy of making."

For Voutilainen, joy is perhaps the most important quality that can be conferred by handcraftsmanship. "A mechanical watch is full of emotions," he says. "There’s none of that in a quartz watch. Once the battery runs flat, it’s dead."

Atelier Loiseau, +41.21.806.1122, www.atelier-loiseau.ch; Montblanc, 800.995.4810, www.montblanc.com; Roger W. Smith Ltd., +44.162.489.7943, www.rwsmithwatches.com; Voutilainen, +41.32.861.4832, www.voutilainen.ch

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