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Review: A-Grade Retrograde – The Voutilainen 217QRS Retrograde Date

by Frank Chuo on September 25, 2018

Voutilainen 217QRS Retrograde Date

Mention Voutilainen and one’s mind wanders towards an imagery of the Vingt-8. The watch, with its open-tipped hands, guilloché dial, and teardrop lugs, has become synonymous with the Voutilainen brand and its creator, Kari. So iconic is the Vingt-8 in independent watchmaking that oftentimes, we forget that Voutilainen makes other watches too! The latest to be introduced to the brand’s ever-growing catalogue is the 217QRS. At first glance, the 217QRS looks just like the Vingt-8. But upon careful examination, you’d sooner realise that you’re not in Kansas anymore. First presented in SIHH 2018, the 217QRS is an evolution from the Vingt-8 we’re all so familiar with. Here, we bring you the details and our thoughts on Voutilainen’s latest debutant.

 

 

The Case, Dial, and Hands

At just 39.00 mm in case diameter, the 217QRS is elegant in size and should fit most wrists. Its 11.50 mm height means that it’s neither thick nor thin, and should slide under a dress cuff without hassle. The case of the 217QRS is slightly more contemporary in design than its sibling, the Vingt-8. The new design sees a rounder case middle implemented, as well as longer, more faceted teardrop lugs. While the Vingt-8 case is undoubtedly the iconic one, the modernised case of the 217QRS is itself easy on the eyes and refreshing to see.

 

The 217QRS features a new, modernised case in either rose gold or platinum.

 

But as impressive as the case is, the dial is more spectacular still. Voutilainen dials are known to be some of the most intricately crafted in the entire industry. This is made possible by the fact that Kari Voutilainen owns his own dial manufacture, allowing his direction and vision to flow into the dials unadulterated. Indeed, self-sufficiency is the independent watchmaker’s dream. Crafted in silver, the dials are adorned with multiple guilloché patterns, which is what Voutilainen timepieces have become known for. The 3rd, 9th and 12th hours are marked by applied Arab numerals while the rest are marked by applied baton indices. The seconds sub-dial is located at the traditional 6 o’clock position. The hours and minutes are indicated by open-tipped Breguet-style hands while the seconds are indicated by a lancet hand with a ring-like counterbalance; they are all immaculately polished and very substantial.

 

True to the Vingt-8, the 217QRS is equipped with a dial with multiple guilloché patterns and Breguet hands for the hours and minutes.

 

A timepiece that showcases artisanal crafts typically lacks additional displays so as to avoid disrupting design purity and cohesion of the dial. The 217QRS however is no typical artistic piece, as it features a date display that has been seamlessly incorporated into the dial. Instead of a date window or a separate sub-dial which are more disruptive, the 217QRS opts for a retrograde date display inboard of the hour track. The retrograde date display’s arc spans from around 8 o’clock to 4 o’clock. The date is indicated by means of a crescent-tipped hand with a contrasting colour to that of the other time-indicating hands to avoid confusion.

Summarily, the case, dial, and hands of the 217QRS are flawless in quality and design. The 217QRS retains plenty of the DNA of the Vingt-8; this can be good and bad. Good, because the Vingt-8 design is a winning formula and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Bad, because the 217QRS may be forced to live indefinitely under the shadow of the legend that inspired it.

 

The retrograde date is indicated by a crescent-tipped hand.

 

The Movement

Powering the 217QRS is the 39-jewel, in-house Calibre 217QRS-01, a manually wound movement possessing 65 hours of power reserve. Its main attraction is its huge 13.60 mm balance wheel, also made in-house. Beating at a lazy 18,000 vph, its dance is mesmerising – almost hypnotic. It is fitted with rose gold timing weights, as well as a balance spring with both a Phillips overcoil and a Grossman curve. Also of note is that the movement is equipped with Voutilainen’s direct impulse escapement, with two escapement wheels. The escapement wheels give a direct impulse to the balance through the impulse roller/jewel. This escapement is extremely efficient and requires much less energy than traditional lever escapements, offering benefits in terms of longevity and stability in day-to-day use.

 

The 217QRS-01 as seen through the sapphire crystal case back.

 

The movement is finished to the same level as the Vingt-8’s (the movement from whence it was derived from), that is to say “beyond excellent”. The balance bridge, which allows an almost unhampered view of the escapement and free sprung balance, is pleasingly rounded and expertly polished. The rhodium-plated German silver bridges are decorated with highly textural Côtes de Genève on the surface while its edges are chamfered and polished. These edges feature plenty of outward and inward angles, highlighting the skill and dedication of Voutilainen’s finisseurs. While wheels are typically made of brass and finished with a circular grain, in the 217QRS-01, they are made of rose gold and mirror polished – no expense spared. Voutilainen movements feature some of the most detailed finishing in the industry, and this trend continues with the newly christened Calibre 217QRS-01.

 

What’s more impressive than a mirror polished balance bridge? Mirror polished rose gold wheels!

 

The Competitive Landscape

The Voutilainen 217QRS may well be the most finely crafted date-only timepiece today. It is probably one of the most expensive, non-jewel-encrusted date-only watches today as well, at an eye-watering CHF118,000 for the rose gold version, and CHF128,000 for the platinum version. True enough it takes lots of money to craft works of art, even more so when you only make a couple dozen each year. But still, you’d have to be a pretty big fan of the watch to be willing to part with (shoebox) apartment money. Direct competition is tough to find at such a stratospheric level, but there are a couple of less opulent albeit worthy alternatives available in the market.

 

The 217QRS is priced at CHF118,000 for the rose gold version, and CHF128,000 for the platinum version.

 

A fine example is the Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Moon Phase And Retrograde Date. The watch is appreciably more simplistic and classic in design than the 217QRS, making it a more versatile piece. It features not just a retrograde date function indicated by an arrow-style hand, but also a moon phase display that gives the dial a welcomed pop of colour. The automatic Calibre 2460 R31L within is Hallmark of Geneva certified and as such one can expect a level of reliability, precision and finishing that is worthy of haute horlorgerie. Of course, the 217QRS is better finished still. But with a price tag of around USD40,000 (33% of the price of the 217QRS), the rose gold variant of the Patrimony Moon Phase And Retrograde Date undeniably offers better value. If a classic retrograde date timepiece with the standard trappings of haute horlogerie is what you are looking for, then look no further from the Vacheron Constantin’s Patrimony line.

 

The moon phase display is highly precise, requiring only a one-day correction for every 122 years.

 

Something even more accessible would be along the lines of the Blancpain Villeret Grande Date Jour Retrograde. As described in its long name, the watch features a big date, as well as a retrograde day display. Instead of flicking back to the start every 31 days, the hand in a retrograde day display resets at the beginning of each week, or every 7 days. The Calibre 6950GC that powers the watch is automatic winding with a 3-day power reserve. Its finishing is neat and attractive, though nothing really to shout about when compared to the Voutilainen or even the Vacheron Constantin. What’s worth making a noise for, however, is its price tag; at USD14,000, the Villeret Grande Date Jour Retrograde is bang for buck, serving as an excellent on-ramp for those curious about the retrograde function.

 

The Blancpain Villeret Grande Date Jour Retrograde features the signature double-stepped bezel of the Villeret collection.

 

Final Thoughts

The Voutilainen 217QRS is more than likely the world’s most fancy retrograde date timepiece, and its ransom reflects that notion. It is a watch that represents the very nature of high-end independent watchmaking, with its obsessively fine craftsmanship and limited production numbers.

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