Zenith will make its most awarded movement “from the golden age of chronometry competitions” available again, thanks to an idea from Phillips’ Aurel Bacs and Alexandre Ghotbi. Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo also managed to bring in independent watchmaker Kari Voutilainen to restore and hand-decorate a batch of Zenith Calibre 135-O movements, all of which took part and won in observatory chronometer competitions. The result is a contemporary chronometer produced in a series of only 10 pieces, and sold exclusively by Phillips in association with Bacs & Russo. Zenith CEO Julien Tornare: “I’ve known Aurel Bacs and Alexandre Ghotbi for years. We’ve had discussions about Zenith’s patrimony and what were the hidden treasures that remained to be uncovered. Specifically, they asked about the Calibre 135. Then I had the idea, why don’t we collaborate with Phillips to create a special series around this movement?”
Since its foundation in 1865, Zenith has won well over 2’330 chronometry prizes, with one movement outshining all others during the golden era of observatory chronometer competitions, the Calibre 135-O. Developed from 1945 onwards by Ephrem Jobin, the Calibre 135 was produced from 1949 until 1962 in two distinct versions: a commercial variant, and a second iteration made solely for taking part in chronometry competitions at the Observatories of Neuchâtel, Geneva, Kew Teddington, and Besançon. These “O” movements, which were never commercialized nor cased in wrist or pocket watches, underwent exhaustive testing through drastically different temperatures, shocks and running in 6 different positions, consistently delivered optimal chronometric performance with minimal variations in rate. With over 230 chronometry prizes, the Calibre 135-O holds the most awards of any observatory chronometer calibre in the history of watchmaking.
“Wouldn’t it be great to do a sort of super limited edition with Calibre 135? Julien and Romain [Marietta, Head of Product & Heritage at Zenith] came back to us and said ‘guys, we have a surprise for you.’ But who would’ve thought that they would come with the real, observatory tested, sort of Formula 1 winning movements? This is how it all started.”
The 10 movements chosen for this very limited edition belong to the “serial winning” years from 1950-1954, when the 135-O won the competition 5 years in a row. They were prepared for the competitions and fine-tuned yearlong by the Zenith Laboratoire de Chronométrie. All 10 movements were awarded prizes within the 1st category range and had all been regulated by celebrated Zenith chronométriers Charles Fleck & René Gygax, who worked on the prize-winning movements five years in a row. Tasking Kari Voutilainen with the restoration and finishing of these historical movements elevated them from raw competition pieces to haute horlogerie creations of the highest order. Alexandre Ghotbi: “These calibres were made for competitions. They were not made to be worn or to be aesthetically pleasing. So, if we’re going to make a wristwatch out of this legendary calibre, who should we ask to take it to the next level? Immediately we said, Kari Voutilainen. He’s an absolute master”.
Calibre 135 Observatoire Limited Edition
The Calibre 135 Observatoire is inspired by past commercial wristwatch versions of the Calibre 135. The 38-mm platinum round case features tapered lugs that seamlessly fit under the bezel, as well as an oversized notched crown emblazoned with the modern Zenith star logo. Beneath the sapphire glass box, the slightly domed black dial in sterling silver by Kari Voutilainen’s Comblémine atelier features guilloché engraving in a fish-scale motif. Triangular hour markers and applied polished dot markers in rhodium-plated German silver and solid gold hands are juxtaposed in a blend of vintage elegance and contemporary opulence. The oversized second counter at 6 o’clock is inscribed with the movement’s serial number, denoting the unique nature of each of these watches and how each was thoroughly regulated by revered chronométriers Charles Fleck or René Gygax, then passed on the supremely skilled hands of Kari Voutilainen and his dedicated team of watchmakers. The dial is signed “Neuchâtel” at the bottom, as Zenith, Kari Voutilainen and the historical Observatory where the Calibre 135-O competed and won.
The observatory chronometer movement is visible through a sapphire display back. Cleaned and finished by the master restoration watchmaker, the movement has been refined with hand chamfered and polished edges on the gold-coloured bridges, bevelled and polished screw-heads, circular graining on the main plate, snailed brushing on the ratchet and crown wheels and much more. Kari Voutilainen: “The persons working on these movements were the best watchmakers at the time. They had the know-how to make things precise. That precision doesn’t disappear after 70 years. Our duty was not to touch that performance.”