Friday, September 25

Review: An Extra Serve of Tradition – The Voutilainen Vingt-8 with Black Enamel Dial

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Voutilainen Vingt-8 with Black Enamel Dial

The Voutilainen Vingt-8 needs no introduction. In the industry, it is known as one of the most finely crafted watches and certainly, one of the most well-known watches to have risen from independent watchmaking. The brainchild of ultra-talented master watchmaker Kari Voutilainen (and all-round nice guy), the Vingt-8 made its debut way back in 2011 and has since become Voutilainen’s most popular offering. What makes the Vingt-8 such an adored timepiece is manifold. For one, it is absurdly well-finished. For another, it is equipped with some of the most intricate, alluring dials anyone has seen.

In SIHH 2019, a number of new, stunning Vingt-8 variations were introduced at Voutilainen’s booth. In a line-up of Vingt-8s with dazzling dials, one particular debutant caught our attention: the one with a plain black dial. Now, Vingt-8 dials have always been about striking colours, or opulent engravings, or both at once. To see one with an all-black dial and no engravings was almost akin to encountering a glitch in the matrix. A surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one. It was the most traditional-looking Vingt-8 we’ve seen in years and it oozed elegance. Here, we bring you the details, and our thoughts on the Voutilainen Vingt-8 with black enamel dial.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

The case of the Vingt-8 is typically the most classic part of the watch. Its design is relatively simple, with some nuance – something you’d find commonplace in Swiss high-end watch cases. The solidly constructed body is entirely polished (except for the back, which is brushed) for a refined look. But where the case truly stands out is in its lugs. Teardrop lugs (cousin of the cow horn lugs) are a craze among watch connoisseurs and it’s what’s served up on the Vingt-8. They are sensuous, nostalgic, and, frankly speaking, far more interesting to look at than stock standard lugs, so there’s no reason not to love them. In this particular variant of the Vingt-8, the case is rendered in red gold. It matches with the black dial and leather strap rather stunningly. Measuring 39 mm in diameter, it is neither too small for modern tastes nor too big to be a dress watch.

Teardrop lugs have always been one of the most beloved feature of the Vingt-8.

Moving inwards, we are greeted by an atypically sober dial. Where usually an acid trip-worth of colours and surface textures can be found, it is now just the one and one: black and smooth. The dial in this particular variant is in fact grand feu enamel in pitch black. Enamel dial-making is today a rare craft, a decorative art that is mastered by only a handful of craftsmen. Grand feu enamel dials, as the name would suggest, are usually fired in a kiln at temperatures of 800 – 900 degrees celcius. In high watchmaking, enamel dials suffer a high rejection rate due to the immense difficulty in getting them absolutely perfect. The ones that do make it, though, are as beautiful as they are durable. Enamel dials have always been coveted by connoisseurs throughout the ages for its dreamy quality. Indeed, that is what we see on the Vingt-8: a smooth, luscious and blemish-free enamel dial.

The blue ring on the hour hand highlights the brand marquee as it passes from 10 to 2 pm.

Its deep black hue serves as the perfect backdrop for everything on it. This includes the charming Breguet numeral appliques that mark the hours. They appear to be flatter and more stylised than the usual fare. The minutes and seconds tracks consist of white dots, which add further to the classic vibe of the watch. The only other elements that are on the immediate surface of the dial are the manufacturer’s marquee and the ‘HAND MADE’ inscription at 6 o’clock – both are also executed in white. We simply love how clean and restrained the dial is, which is not something you frequently associate with the Vingt-8. If we had to nitpick on something, it’d be the blue on the hands. While it isn’t a deal-breaker by any stretch of the imagination, it does seem a little out of place. Perhaps the idea was to maintain a sliver of Vingt-8 playfulness on the otherwise dressy dial.

The Vingt-8 with black enamel dial cuts a dignified stance.

The Movement

Driving the Vingt-8 is a calibre that fans will be familiar with. It is an in-house movement designed, built, assembled and finished in its entirety in Voutilainen workshops. It’s most notable feature is the enormous, in-house manufactured balance wheel and its bridge. The balance wheel uses a unique hairspring system; its exterior uses a typical Phillips overcoil, while the interior uses the little known Grossman curve.

The legendary Vingt-8 movement as seen through the sapphire crystal case back.

The escapement wheels of the Vingt-8 movement provides a direct impulse to the balance through the impulse roller/jewel. This configuration results in an escapement that is notably energy efficient and requires much less energy than traditional lever escapements, offering benefits in terms of longevity and stability in day-to-day use.

To the surprise of no one, the movement is superbly finished, from the Geneva waves, the perlage, and the snailing, to the exterior and interior angling, and the polished bevels, screw heads and rounded balance bridge. The plates and bridges are rendered in German silver and, interestingly, they can be plated with rhodium, yellow gold, rose gold or even black gold, according to a client’s wishes. All in all, the Vingt-8 calibre remains one of the most well-finished and aesthetically pleasing movements in modern watchmaking.

The maillechort plates and bridges of the movement can be plated according to a client’s desire. The piece in the photo is a customised example with a rose gold-plated movement.

The Competitive Landscape

The 2019 Vingt-8 with black enamel dial is as close as the Vingt-8 gets to becoming a dress watch. And it does so without losing its identity as a contemporary timepiece either. When it comes to time-only watches, it seems the independents do do it best. The Vingt-8 with black enamel dial is pristine and immaculately crafted not just at the shop front but also in the business end. It is the standard that every independent watchmaker who wishes to be the very best should strive for or surpass. Unfortunately, as one would expect, a timepiece bearing such high standards of craftsmanship always comes with a steep price; the Vingt-8 with black enamel dial is priced at CHF86,500.

The watch sits on the wrist with panache and will slide under a sleeve with ease.

There aren’t many watches out there that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Voutilainen Vingt-8. But if there’s one watch that can, it would be 2019’s most sought after and talked about independent piece: the AkriviA Chronomètre Contemporain. Also anointed with an enamel dial and a gold case, where the Chronomètre Contemporain truly shines is in the finissage of its movement. The Calibre RR-01 has been compared to the works of Philippe Dufour, and rightfully so. Priced at CHF55,000, the Chronomètre Contemporain is expensive but we believe what you get is worth its ransom and more.

The AkriviA Chronomètre Contemporain is the brand’s first watch to be signed ‘REXHEP REXHEPI’, the name of the brand’s founder.

There are also several options available from mainstream manufacturers, and we feel that the Breguet Classique 7147 from Baselworld 2017 is the best one. Unlike the Vingt-8 and Chronomètre Contemporain, the Classique 7147 is fitted with a white grand feu enamel dial. It features a subtle yet charming indentation at 5 o’clock that serves as a pseudo-sub-dial for the petite seconds. We love how clean and elegant the dial looks with the slender Breguet-style numerals and hands and not much else. The self-winding Calibre 502.3SD that powers the watch is well-finished but definitely not to the extent of either the Vingt-8 or the Chronomètre Contemporain. That’s okay though, because the Breguet Classique 7147 “only” costs USD21,000, making it far more accessible than the other two candidates and offering decent value for money.

The Breguet Classique 7147 features many of the brand’s signature design elements, such as the fluting of the case band, the straight lugs, the open-tipped hands, and the Breguet numerals.

Final Thoughts

The Vingt-8 represents the pinnacle of haute horlogerie and is a favourite amongst enthusiasts of independent watchmaking. Typically quite bedazzling with its dial aesthetics, this black enamel dial variant provides a welcome respite through its sheer sobriety. Were it not for the signature Voutilainen hands with dashes of blue, the watch could absolutely be passed off as a pure dress watch – not that it was meant to be a pure dress watch in the first place anyway. At the end of the day, the Vingt-8 serves somewhat as a sandbox for Voutilainen’s dial-making workshop. We’ve seen many amazing dials become the visage of the Vingt-8, including this immaculate black enamel dial. Fans of the watch would undoubtedly love to see what’s in store for the Vingt-8 this year – is it a new fancy dial? A new complication? Whatever it is, all will be revealed come Baselworld.

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6 Comments

  1. Great review!

    I think you got it right when you say that the blue on the hands adds a bit of playfulness. I really love that bit of colour on the otherwise quite conservative dial. I feel it would be just too plain and dull, but that’s just me.

    The Akrivia is a good comparison, but as far as I know, it’s not possible to order one anymore. I would suggest the Tsunami from Hajime Asaoka as another comparison, but one can’t order that one anymore either. Sigh.

    • Hi Daryll,

      I felt that the AkriviA had to be mentioned because it was, in my opinion, last year’s most important independent timepiece, and it is most similar to the Voutilainen. Thanks for suggesting an alternative; another candidate could be the Credor Eichi II, though that one has a porcelain dial, not an enamel one.

    • Chia-Ming Yang on

      Yes the Eichi II definitely deserves a mention and after handling all watches mentioned above, my personal choice is it. It’s much more affordable (after discount) but at the similar level in my opinion.

    • Thank you for your comment Chia-Ming. Indeed, the craftsmanship of the Eichi II is mind-blowing. There are some notable differences in design, build, and techniques used, but it is a true connoisseur piece. And as you have mentioned, the price is pretty reasonable for what it is.