Zenith celebrates a Modern Masterpiece With Its Latest Collaboration

Lindsay Judge   |   09-07-2022

In a partnership with Phillips auction house and renowned independent watchmaker Kari Voutilainen, Zenith has revisited one of its most extraordinary movements that has a history dating back to the 1950s. This unique collaboration will see a series of 10 exceptional pieces sold exclusively at Philips in association with Bacs & Russo.


In an exclusive event in Geneva to reveal this exciting project, VIP guests were invited on a journey to the 1950s and back with the premiere of a short film that recounts this one-of-a-kind collaboration. The story began during the last great decade of observatory chronometer competitions, an era of watchmaking that was brimming with creativity and the pursuit of chronometric perfection. It was during this decade that Zenith solidified its reputation as a prominent maker of precision chronometers with the Calibre 135-0; the most highly awarded observatory chronometer ever made.



Today, seven decades later, Phillips auction house, whose expertise in the field of rare and sought-after vintage pieces of historical significance as well as modern artisanal watchmaking is unmatched, come together with Zenith for a new challenge: To work with one of the most highly esteemed living independent watchmakers in order to restore and decorate a handful of Calibre 135-O movements that actually took part in and won observatory chronometer competitions, and to house them in a totally new watch that is at once historically inspired and contemporarily singular.



ZENITH CEO Julien Tornare said of the project, “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? The beauty of having such a rich patrimony as Zenith’s is to share it.”


The Calibre 135 was an in-house movement produced by Zenith from 1949 to 1962 in two iterations. The first was used commercially, and the second was made solely for taking part in chronometry competitions at the Observatories of Neuchâtel, Geneva, Kew Teddington, and Besançon. These “O movements” as they were called, went through rigorous testing through drastically different temperatures, shocks and running in six different positions and they consistently offered tremendous results. With over 230 chronometry prizes, the Calibre 135-O holds the most awards of any observatory chronometer calibre in the history of watchmaking. Ten of these movements have been chosen for this limited edition collection. Each movement was restored and finished by master watchmaker Kari Voutilainen, one of the few in the world with the expertise and knowledge to work with movements such as these.



Known as the Calibre 135 Observatoire Limited Edition this watch is inspired by past commercial wristwatch versions of the Calibre 135, drawing on elements of several 1950s references by combining the most emblematic details with contemporary accents. The 38mm 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 unique serial number. The dial is signed “Neuchâtel” at the bottom, as Zenith, Kari Voutilainen and the historical Observatory where the Calibre 135-O competed and won during the golden years of chronometry competitions are all based in the Canton of Neuchâtel.



For the first time in the history of the Calibre 135, the observatory chronometer movement that has been impeccably decorated and finished by Kari Voutilainen is visible through a sapphire display back. Cleaned and finished by the master restoration watchmaker, the aesthetic of the historical movement has been refined with hand chamfered and polished edges on the gold-coloured bridges, bevelled and polished screw-heads, and circular graining on the main plate, snailed brushing on the ratchet and crown wheels and much more.


The collection of ten pieces is to be sold exclusively by Phillips auction house.