Leijona is the watch brand of Finland. It’s a big statement for sure – how can one watchmaker define an entire country? But not only are they the largest timepiece brand in the country, they’ve been making watches specifically for the Finns for well over a century. Indeed, Leijona’s very logo, a lion with a shield, is a symbol of Finnish independence, an animal that today can be found on the country’s National Coat of Arms. Leijona timepieces have been with them from the notorious Winter War to the 1995 Men’s Ice Hockey World Championships in Stockholm. To say they’re inextricably linked with Finland isn’t hyperbole; it’s fact. Even legendary Finnish watchmaker Kari Voutilainen is in on the brand with the new Kari Voutilainen Leijona Heritage collection.
Needless to say, Leijona timepieces have graced the wrists of some of Finland’s greatest exports, though it has to be said that in recent years their watchmaking isn’t quite what it was in their heyday. Well-made yet accessible watches are their bread- and-butter, with sports pieces like the Järwi coasting around the Euro 300 mark. But there’s one Finnish export dedicated to hammering home just what the Leijona name stands for: the aforementioned Kari Voutilainen.
The independent watchmaking maestro’s very first timepiece was a Leijona diver and, while it’s distinctive tool watch look is a world away from the kind of ornate finishing he’s synonymous with, it evidently had an effect on Voutilainen – so much so, in fact, that he’s gone right back to the source with a collaborative capsule collection.
Don’t worry about the sort of intense, haute horology price tags and unavailability of Voutilainen’s usual work; while the trio of timepieces in the collection aren’t cheap, they are definitely more on the accessible side. Indeed, there are some similarities here with what Hajime Asaoka achieved with Kurono Tokyo, channelling the exceptional skill of a master watchmaker into something more everyday. Yet where Asaoka’s focus was on his home country of Japan, here the emphasis is instead of Leijona’s own heritage.
The Four watches in question are the Heritage 1907 Jalo Sport, Urho Chrono, Oiva Classic and, closest to Voutilainen’s heart, the Försti Diver. The Jalo Sport is chronologically the first, with design language taken from the 1960s. It’s a simple, elegant, cushion cased watch with fittingly sporty overtones, especially in the sunburst grey version. It’s made for ruggedness and legibility, with a silhouette inspired by the Val-de-Travers valley in which Leijona watches have traditionally been built. It’s gorgeous.
Next is the Urho Chrono, which perhaps not unexpectedly channels 70s racing culture. The retro bi-compax layout, mushroom pushers and perforated strap, with the incredibly detailed case, with its combination of vertically and horizontally cut surfaces, hand-finished at Voutilainen & Cattin SA. It’s a masterclass in how to make a refined yet racy chronograph.
The Oiva Classic is, as the name suggests, a more minimal, streamlined dress watch where most of the action – in keeping with Voutilainen’s modus operandi – is on the dial. Based on Leijona models from the 50s, it’s as timeless as they come, especially in the white-dialled version.
Finally, there’s the Försti Diver. While it might look every bit the classic diver of the 60s, it’s actually more directly inspired by the 70s and 80s, in particular the quartz divers Leijona made at the time – which just so happen to be almost identical to Kari Voutilainen’s own watch in the red and black bezelled version.
Aside from the Leijona heritage and their names (each is named after a key figure of Perkko, the company behind the Leijona name), what links these four pieces? As you’d expect from anything Voutilainen has worked on, it’s all in the details. From the stepped cases of the Urho to the silhouette of the Jalo to the dials of the Försti – which despite being in line with a diver’s tool watch vibe, we made in-house by Kari Voutilainen’s own Comblémine SA – they represent archetypal heritage designs but with the thought and attention to detail they deserve.
To ensure accessibility without compromising on chronometric performance, all four use workhorse Sellita movements, nicely finished and, on the Urho Chrono, visible through a sapphire caseback. It worked too; the Försti diver comes in at Euro 4,490 and the Urho Chrono at just under Euro 5,000, with the more streamlined Jalo almost half that. Perhaps more importantly, the use of Sellita movements makes sure that they are easy to service and repair thanks to the sheer ubiquity of the third-party movement.
Leijona is a name that’s been around for well over a century now, a watch brand that has not only been the de facto national watch of Finland during that time, but has used the opportunity to inspire one of the greatest watchmakers of the generation. It’s fitting then that it’s Kari Voutilainen that has given Leijona just the horological shot in the arm it needs.
More details at Leijona Heritage.