The Leijona brand emerged in 1907 on the Finnish market, imported from Switzerland. Leijona is the Finnish word for Lion. The business and brand was purchased in 1919 by Oy Perkko (Perkko Ltd.). A century later Perkko Ltd. started co-work with Swiss master watchmaker Kari Voutilainen. The project brought a new wristwatch series - Leijona Heritage 1907 - to the high quality market.
The brand history – Leijona
The origin of the Leijona brand logo comes from the Swiss manufacturer of the pocket watches that watchmaker Johan Werner Lindroos (1870-1937) started importing to Finland, in the very early 1900’s. The Swiss trademark archives show that the unique lion with shield logo was first registered by watchmaker Albert Kenel & Co in December of 1880 and continued by Manufacture d’Horlogerie Lion SA from 1892. In 1909 and 1910 there were registry marks with the Finnish name Leijona and a stylized capital L on the shield of the lion by Camille Barré / Montres Lion and Leijona Watch Co.
The Leijona brand choice, made by J.W. Lindroos in early 1900, was well done as the heraldic lion in general symbolized the Finnish aspirations for independence at the time. A rampant lion has been on emblems describing Finland since the 1580’s with a multitude of official uses on such as; stamps, currency and flags. After gaining independence in 1917 the rampant lion has been the National Coat of Arms of the Republic of Finland.
Over a hundred years of selling Leijona watches
The newly established Perkko Ltd. was formed by the three brothers Jalo, Urho and Oiva Perkko in November of 1918. Jalo Vilho Perkko (1885-1942) became managing director of the company. In February 1919 they purchased J.W. Lindroos retail and wholesale business, who sought to sell due to failing health. Urho Perkko (1888-1959) and Oiva Perkko (1881-1934) worked as managers of the Perkko Ltd. owned stores. Ester Perkko (1891-1967), wife of Jalo Perkko, took lead of Perkko Ltd. as largest shareholder, after her husband’s death in 1942.
Perkko Ltd. sales of Leijona watches continued at a slowly growing rate after WW2. During the post war rebuild period, well into the 1950’s, Finland had a set quota on many imported goods including watches, to control the outflow of funds from Finland. Finally in the 1960’s it was business as usual, and the Leijona brand model variation expanded. All were still Swiss made mechanical watches. Towards the mid 1970’s Leijona watches with Japanese made quartz movements entered the market, as the Swiss manufacturers had a hard time to catch up. By the end of the 1980’s, due to customers preferences, watches with quartz movements formed the majority of the catalog. Pocket watches and certain wristwatches remained Swiss made.
Leijona brand sales has exceeded 100 000 units annually since 2009. Perkko Ltd. catalog lists several hundred different Leijona watch models for children, women and men in the basic price range of 40 to 350 euro. Several of the modern watch dials have since lost the iconic lion with shield, and only have the Leijona text remaining. The catalog includes a few 18K solid gold watch models in the price segment of slightly below two thousand euro. In October of 2019 the first Leijona Heritage 1907 models were released, fitting the 2500 to 5000 euro retail slot.
Counting on quality – Voutilainen X Leijona
Success has many parents. One of the Voutilainen X Leijona concept fathers is Jari Sakari Mantila (1971- ), a sales manager of Perkko Ltd. However, he is the first one to remind you that any project is always a team effort involving many professionals and lots of planning and co-work.
Jari Mantila has been employed by Perkko Ltd. since 2015. His career, in the business of watch brand retail sales, started a decade ago. Prior to this Mantila had a long international winter sports career (1992-2003) in Nordic Combined, and is clearly a team player for gold. List of achievements include FIS World Champion Gold 1999, Ramsau am Dachstein in Austria and Olympic Gold 2002, Salt Lake City in United States
A full century of owning the Leijona brand was getting closer for Perkko Ltd. At that time Mantila was working on an idea of having some of the more interesting vintage watches, from the old Perkko catalogs, updated and remade in a new modern level of quality. This has also been a successful recipe and ongoing trend of other watch brands reissuing old models.
After getting the Perkko Ltd. mandate to pursue this project in early 2018, the design sketches were drawn in Finland and sourcing a partner in Switzerland started. As one of Jari Mantila’s capabilities is a flair for visual aesthetics, and one of the main watch components embodying just that is the dial, he contacted watchmaker Kari Voutilainen. Negotiations ended with Voutilainen agreeing to take on the full manufacturing process and assembly of the new line of watches in Switzerland. This successful long term partnership is called Voutilainen X Leijona. We can be quite sure that all involved in this heritage endeavor are very proud parents, and especially Jari Mantila, for landing a top quality manufacturer.
Voutilainen Artisan d'Horlogerie d'Art
Kari Pekka Voutilainen (1962- ) is probably the best known contemporary independent watchmaker from Finland. He embodies craftsmanship, practical innovation and handmade artistry in his work. Founded in 2002 his company; Voutilainen Artisan d'Horlogerie d'Art creates annually small amounts of horological works of micromechanical art in Môtiers, Switzerland, where he has been located since. Over the years he has been repeatedly highly awarded, nominated again at GPHG (Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève) in 2020. Currently he has two subsidiary companies; Comblémine SA is a manufacturer of dials and Voutilainen & Cattin SA is a manufacturer of watch cases.
Voutilainen studied three years and graduated 1986 from The Finnish School of Watchmaking. During the summer leaves he apprenticed at Perkko Ltd. in Helsinki. After a few years of servicing watches at a shop, he continued studies in Switzerland. He completed the two year WOSTEP education (Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educational Program) in 1990. For the next decade Voutilainen worked at Parmigiani Mesure et Art du Temps restoring important timepieces. From 1999 to 2002 he was teaching at WOSTEP, until establishing his own business later in 2002.
The Voutilainen X Leijona watch conceptual design is made in Finland by Perkko Ltd. with inspiration from previous older Leijona watches. The naming of the current three different heritage models – Jalo, Urho and Oiva – are the first names of the three Perkko brothers.
Finalized production blueprints, tools and design are done in Switzerland by Voutilainen, as are all steps of the manufacturing process. The cases are manufactured by Voutilainen & Cattin SA who also assembles the complete watches. The dials are made by Comblémine SA. and the straps by Rhein Fils (Braloba AG).
First launched in 2019 – the Leijona Heritage 1907 series
Last year, by the end of October 2019 the first of the Voutilainen X Leijona series to arrive was the limited 50 unit edition watch 39 mm Leijona Môtiers Classic (reference 19.300.02.311). It is a visually balanced watch, in a rose gold plated stainless steel case and with a blue dial. Overall thickness of the watch is 12 mm. The movement inside is an automatic 26 jewel Sellita SW200-1 calibre. The deeply blue watch face, under the sapphire crystal, is adorned with applied rose gold plated indexes and similar color three hands for hours, minutes and central seconds. Printed on the dial in gold is; LEIJONA with logo, and in white; Heritage 1907 and Swiss Made. The Swiss handmade brown alligator leather strap is produced by Rhein Fils. The model sold out in a few days after launching.
Blue Urho chronograph - New for 2020
The new 42 mm Urho Chrono (ref. 20.100.01.310) launched in July of 2020 is a stunning aesthetic blend of color and quality. The stainless steel watch case has straight lugs fitting a 22 mm strap, a sapphire crystal and a screw down caseback with a sapphire window. Overall thickness of the watch is 15,5 mm. The case is waterproof to 10ATM. The detailed finish and external workmanship of the case is remarkable and must be time consuming to make. Mirror polish and wonderful vertical and horizontal brushed surfaces. This high standard of quality is to be expected when the case is manufactured by Voutilainen & Cattin SA.
The wonderful and complex deep blue dial requires a large amount of different and critical production steps. Voutilainen’s dial manufacturing company Comblémine SA makes these flawless dials to the most intricate detail. It is a treat to look with a loupe at the finished surfaces, printing, the colors and applied lume filled multifaceted indexes. Both light grey subdial counters have lathe cut circular finished surfaces. The silver outer rim of the watch face has the tachymetric scale in blue numbers.
The self-winding movement inside is the 27 jewel 4 Hz Sellita SW510 BHa refined. A horizontal bicompax, cam operated, two push-button chronograph, with an orange hand 60 seconds counter in the center and 30 minutes counter at 3 o’clock also with an orange hand (subdial has an easy read 45 minutes mark in orange). Hours, minutes and small seconds with blue hand at 9 o’clock and date with quick setting at position 6 o’clock. Date has numbers in blue on a light grey background. Fully wound the caliber offers a 48 hour time reserve. The stop second function, when pulling out the crown, makes exact time setting practical.
The visual and practical effect is made complete with a blue supple ventilated leather strap, with white stitching and stainless steel pin buckle. On the inner side of the two piece strap we find black leather, an embossed Leijona logo and also the lizard logo of the Swiss strap manufacturer Rhein Fils.
The references and models
Currently the Voutilainen X Leijona models are divided in four categories; limited edition (Môtiers ref. 300.02), classic (Oiva ref. 300.01), sport (Jalo ref. 200.01) and chronograph (Urho ref 100.01).
The reference has a two digit prefix 19. or 20. which denotes the decade when the model was launched. This being said we can perhaps look forward to prefixes 21. all the way to 99. during the several next decades. Additional catalog reference numbers, behind the basic three digit model number (100, 200, 300), marks if it is a non-limited (.01) or limited edition (.02), describes the color of the dial; white (.11), black (.21), blue (.31) or gray (.41) and last digit states if the watch case is stainless steel (0) or rose gold plated stainless steel (1).
New for 2020 is the four digit random serial number (randomly chosen between 0001 and 9999) engraved on the caseback of the new Oiva chronograph at the end of the model reference (for example 100.01.1180). This gives the watch an individual serial number, but not easily revealing how many have been produced.
The reference .100 is the most expensive of the models and called Leijona Urho Chrono. It is a 42 mm bi-compax chronograph, plus date at position six, with either black, white panda or blue dial. The stainless steel case is waterproof to 10ATM. It also has a sapphire window caseback for viewing the refined Sellita SW510 BHa calibre doing its job. Models offered with a brown, black or blue ventilated leather strap.
Within reference .200 there are the quite large 45 mm Leijona Jalo Sport with blue or gray sunburst dial, and screw down caseback. Waterproof to 10ATM. The movement inside is the Sellita SW200-1. Very suitable for sports watches the 22 mm wide strap is a leather/rubber hybrid made by Rhein Fils.
The non-limited watch models of the .300 reference are called Leijona Oiva Classic and have 39 mm cases in stainless steel, lugs of 20 mm and dials in white or black, and have screw down casebacks. Watches come with brown or black alligator leather straps.
To summarize; it is clear that Perkko Ltd. is strongly set on carrying the Leijona brand heritage with great care into a second century. We are very likely to see several more high end models of Voutilainen X Leijona soon.
About the author
Robie Kulokivi is a wristwatch enthusiast and freelance writer of articles for the trade. The creative pastime is monochrome photography with the occasional art exhibition and sale of works. He retired from a 32 year professional military career in 2015. He’s currently living in North Karelia, Finland and still married to same wife since 1985. Father of two children, and also has a grandson.