The Zenith Calibre 135 Observatoire Limited Edition is a surprising masterstrokeBy Felix Scholz
Zenith is one of the most exciting, agile and dynamic watch brands working in Switzerland at the moment, precisely because they never do exactly what you expect. From revolutionising the escapement with the monobloc 18-hertz Zenith oscillator to the home run that is the revamped Chronomaster Sport Zenith is a brand that zags when you expect it to zig. And they’ve just done it again.
In what might well be one of the greatest power trios watchmaking has seen, Zenith has teamed up with the incomparable Kari Voutilainen and the auction powerhouse of Phillips watches for a very special watch that celebrates Zenith’s history of precision timekeeping.
Together they have come up with the Zenith Calibre Observatoire Limited Edition, a series of 10 watches to be sold exclusively by Phillips. At first blush, these watches seem fairly unassuming, a 38mm platinum case with a black matte dial and silver dial furniture in the style of a mid-century dress watch. Ticking away inside is a special calibre that isn’t just inspired by the golden era of watchmaking; it’s a part of it.
Prior to the advent of quartz technology, mechanical accuracy was a big deal. Observatories in England, France and, of course, Switzerland ran trials to test the best of the best, and Zenith was a proud member of this winners circle, racking up 2330 chronometry prizes over the years. In 1945 Ephrem Jobin developed a movement that would come to dominate observatory tests, the Calibre 135. Produced from 1949 through to 1962, this calibre was made in commercial variants and, more selectively, in a form intended purely for competition, the 135-O. And compete it did, with over 230 awards, it is the most awarded observatory calibre ever made.
Zenith has sourced 10 of these historic movements from their archives, dated between 1950 and 1954. these actual movements were awarded prizes and worked on at the time by Zenith’s maestros of precision, Charles Fleck and René Gygax. In preparation for this celebratory series, the movements were worked on by another watchmaker, Kari Voutilainen, who took the unadorned historic movements and, without compromising them in any way, turned them into works of art, without compromising the chronometry in any way. Hand chamfering, polished edges, bevelled screw heads, snailing, circular graining and more. These reworked calibre 130-O’s look as good as they perform.
Around this historically significant calibre, the platinum case, and historically inspired dial has been crafted, all presented in a walnut box based off the cases Zenith’s chronometry calibres were transported in.
The final part of the puzzle is Aurel Bacs and Alexandre Ghotbi of Phillips, whose interest in the historic calibres inspired this collaboration. A three-way partnership that has borne 10 watches which highlights that Zenith is the right brand at the right time with the right history to make something as spectacular as this happen.
Zenith Calibre 135 Observatoire Limited Edition
Movement: Historic calibre 135, manual, 2.5 Hz, approximately 40 hours of power reserve
Function: Hours, minutes, small seconds
Case: 38mm, platinum, 3 ATM water-resistance
Strap: Black calfskin with white gold pin buckle
Price: CHF 132,900
Availability: Limited to 10 pieces, available exclusively from Phillips