Well, I can’t believe I’m writing this. Kari Voutilainen is making smartphones. Or at least making parts of them and slapping his name on the final handset. Essentially what you get for a few thousand dollars is an ostentatious leather-wrapped phone from Chinese maker 8848 with a strange “dial” made by Kari stuck to the back. It’s about the furthest thing I can imagine from an actual Voutilainen watch and it kind of makes me want to cry.
I first discovered the story on HorologiumÂ and after digging have turned up a reasonably complete picture of what’s going on here. On October 18 at an event in Beijing, Voutilainen joined 8848’s founder Du Yingying to announce the collaboration. The duo are making a limited run of 180 phones, and it’s unclear whether or not the buyer can customize with different leather wraps, engravings, and “dials” on top of the titanium body (like with most of 8848’s phones) or whether these four colorways you see above are set options. I have dial in quotes here, because these aren’t actually watch dials â they’re just dial-like discs (presumably made in Kari’s own dial manufacture) numbered one through eight.Â
The prices for the phones range from approximately $2,925 to $4,400. For that, you’re getting a Chinese-made phone running a years-old version of Android with all kinds of skins and other software built on top of it. If you can show me that using these phones is anything short of a miserable experience, I’ll eat one. And, oh yeah, they’re hideous.
I’m not a fan of the blinged-out phone thing in general. Even Vertu, which makes perfectly nice hardware, suffers from janky software and the “how is this actually any better than an iPhone or the latest Galaxy” problem. I’ve never actually seen an 8848 phone in person (they’re only available in China), but I’m pretty sure I don’t have to. I’ve had the chance to use various “luxury” phones over the years and I’m yet to find one that hasn’t left me pining for my more common handset.Â
But these are particularly bad. I’m a huge fan of Kari Voutilainen’s watches. Like, huge. When you combine the high degree of movement finishing, the technical innovations, and the unbelievable dial finishing and styling, I think Kari is making some of the most compelling watches on the planet. I aspire to order one of my own some day. Just look at these beauties.
Now look back at the phone. I hope you’re as disappointed as I am. I know bills have to get paid, PR has to be done, new customers have to be reached, etc., but there’s no way for me to rationalize this as anything other than a cash grab that cheapens an otherwise incredible brand. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Kari a number of times and want to give him the benefit of the doubt here, but I’m coming up blank. This is super lame. No two ways about it.
I still aspire to own a Voutilainen someday. But if we’re being totally honest, today’s one day I’m glad I don’t own one already.