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Zenith, Phillips & Voutilainen Revive the Historic Competition Calibre 135 with the Observatoire Limited Edition (Live Pics & Price)

Zenith, Phillips and Kari Voutilainen unite to bring the historic chronometer calibre 135 movements back to life.

calendar | ic_dehaze_black_24px By Xavier Markl | ic_query_builder_black_24px 5 min read |
Phillips x Voutilainen x Zenith Calibre Observatoire Limited Edition - historic Calibre 135

Decades ago, before the advent of the quartz watch, observatory trials were extremely important. Beyond the chronometric science, the marketing benefits associated with these timing trials were considerable. For decades, observatories witnessed and vouched for the level of precision that watchmakers were able to achieve. Well aware of the prestige they could acquire, higher-end brands submitted specifically prepared movements to these trials. Among these brands is Zenith, whose movements have won over 2,300 chronometry prizes over the years! Half a century after the end of observatory trials, based on an idea initiated by Phillips Watches (specifically Aurel Bacs and Alex Ghotbi), Zenith presents a series of 10 watches powered by the historic chronometer Calibre 135, brought back to life with one of the most respected and talented indie watchmakers, Kari Voutilainen. Let’s have a closer look at the Zenith Calibre Observatoire.

Phillips x Voutilainen x Zenith Calibre Observatoire Limited Edition - historic Calibre 135
The new Zenith Calibre Observatoire, next to a vintage Port Royal Chronomètre with Calibre 135

The Zenith Calibre 135

While the El Primero chronograph is the name that comes to mind when thinking about Zenith and its movements, the Calibre 135 might well be as emblematic and important. Presented in 1948, the calibre 135 was created by Ephrem Jobin who was tasked by Charles Ziegler, Technical Director of Zenith. This chronometer calibre was specifically developed to meet the norms of the Neuchâtel Observatory competitions. Back then, at the height of the battle at observatory trials, such competitions were extremely important. Beyond the chronometric science, the marketing benefits associated with these timing triumphs were considerable.

With the trials in mind, the Zenith Calibre 135 was designed with a 30mm diameter (the maximum dimension to enter the wristwatch category competition) and a 5mm height. Its design was based on the idea of having an extremely large 14mm balance wheel to enhance precision and rate stability, and a large barrel to deliver consistent power to the regulator. This required rebuilding the movement architecture with several updates. For instance, off-setting the minute wheel to free space. Beating at 18,000 vibrations/hour, the balance was fitted with a Breguet overcoil spring and a swan-neck regulator for optimal adjustment.

Phillips x Voutilainen x Zenith Calibre Observatoire Limited Edition - historic Calibre 135

All of this makes the calibre 135 a movement of exceptional quality. 11,000 units would be produced until 1962 and the vast majority of the production was chronometer-certified. As the Neuchâtel Observatory was not capable of delivering so many certificates in time, the certification was conducted with the Le Locle Technicum. This movement also enabled the brand to win numerous chronometry awards: the Calibre 135 garnered 230 honours, many of which were first prizes. With this calibre, Zenith achieved an unprecedented and impressive record with five consecutive first prizes for chronometry in the wristwatch category (from 1950 to 1954) certified by the Neuchâtel Observatory.

Phillips x Voutilainen x Zenith Calibre Observatoire Limited Edition - historic Calibre 135

The Phillips x Voutilainen x Zenith Calibre Observatoire Limited Edition

Among all the different versions of the Zenith Calibre 135, the 135-O movements were iterations made solely for participating in chronometry trials at the Observatories of Neuchâtel, Geneva, Kew Teddington and Besançon. It is precisely 10 of these 135-O movements, original observatory-tested movements, belonging to the historical 1950-1954 serial winning years, which have been restored for the modern limited edition released by Zenith in collaboration with Phillips and Kari Voutilainen. These movements were prepared for the competitions and fine-tuned yearlong by the Zenith “chronométriers” Charles Fleck and René Gygax. Each of them was awarded prizes in the first category range. 

Phillips x Voutilainen x Zenith Calibre Observatoire Limited Edition - historic Calibre 135

Decorated in collaboration with Kari Voutilainen, the iconic 30mm hand-wound movement appears under a new light. The finishing is sober yet superbly executed. As Alex Ghotbi of Phillips explains: “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.” In this respect, the idea was to remove as little material as possible from the movements, with traits tirés, hand-chamfering or snailing. There are even slight differences between the different movements, for instance, their engraving or their index (single or double arrow-shaped index).

Phillips x Voutilainen x Zenith Calibre Observatoire Limited Edition - historic Calibre 135

The limited-edition watch housing these redecorated historical calibres is an elegant, understated 38mm dress watch. Made from 950 platinum, the 38mm case features short tapered lugs and a relatively large fluted crown emblazoned with Zenith’s modern logo. Under the box-shaped sapphire crystal, the black dial, crafted in Kari Voutilainen’s Comblémine workshop, is made of sterling silver. It is slightly domed with a guilloché fish-scale pattern, triangular hour markers and applied polished dot markers at the periphery. The large subsidiary seconds counter at 6 o’clock is adorned with a guilloché concentric circular pattern. It is inscribed with the movement’s serial number. Lastly, the Neuchâtel caption at 6 o’clock is a nod to the Observatory trials and to the Canton where the Zenith Manufacture is based.

Phillips x Voutilainen x Zenith Calibre Observatoire Limited Edition - historic Calibre 135

The Zenith Calibre Observatoire is worn on a black calfskin leather strap. It is delivered in a walnut wood box with brass fasteners, inspired by the containers in which the chronometry competition calibres were transported from the Zenith Manufacture to the Neuchâtel Observatory. 

Availability & Price

Released in 10 pieces only, the Zenith Calibre Observatoire Limited Edition is sold exclusively by Phillips in association with Bacs & Russo. The price is set at CHF 132,900. For more information, please visit www.zenith-watches.com and www.phillips.com/watches.

https://monochrome-watches.com/zenith-calibre-observatoire-limited-edition-with-phillips-voutilainen-historic-chronometer-calibre-135-revived-review-price/

4 responses

  1. Hats off to Phillips, Zenith and Voutilainen for this impressive collaboration. This is a great way to bring the brand’s history in today’s daylight.

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  2. Widely available and fairly priced . Who else is going to pick one up ?
    I kid of course , this is an exercise in marketing and money grubbing . I am sure with the idiots on the internet , this going to be a successful raising of the zenith halo , which was the goal.

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