Watch Alert: Zenith x Kari Voutilainen x Phillips Calibre 135 Observatoire

Zenith may be best known for its El Primero automatic chronograph movement first launched in 1969, but any brand that can come up with a chronograph as brilliant as that must have a whole history of movement development behind them, something the brand has in spades. One of the key points of this history was the Calibre 135-O, a movement that as developed specifically for observatory competitions in mid 20th century and went on to win a very laudable 230 awards. In fact, the movement set at record at the time, having won top honours at the Neuchâtel Observatory chronometry competition five times in a row.

Interestingly, this was a relatively overlooked movement by the general masses, at least until recently, when Zenith decided to launch a special edition in collaboration with Kari Voutilainen and Phillips.

What is remarkable is that this special edition is not a reissue, as is common nowadays. Instead, the watch is powered by the actual Calibre 135-O movement from between 1950 to 1954, that has been restored and cased by Kari Voutilainen himself. How cool is that?

This collaboration was first pitched to Zenith by Philips’ heads of watches, Aurel Bacs and Alexandre Ghotbi. Together, the approached Kari Voutilainen to restore the movements and case them. This was crucial since the watches were very old, and required the masterful touch of one of, if not the best watch movement restorers today. The result is a beautiful dress watch that exudes elegance and class. Let’s get into it.

Movement

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Chronometer award winning 1950s Calibre 135-O, 40 hours power reserve, 2.5Hz,, Manual Wind

The movement here is easily the standout, after all, it’s not every day that a movement from the 1950s get a new lease of life, let alone a movement with this many accolades attached to it. The closest parallel I can think of is Omega’s 321 movement, but even that is a reproduction, not the originals themselves. The foundation of the chronometer’s award-winning movement lay in its larger balance wheel which simply put allows for greater stability and hence greater precision. Coupled with Breguet overcoil and a larger mainspring barrel and several other compoents that I would not pretend to understand, this allowed the movement to achieve the accuracy and precision that it is renown for.

The movement is also a beauty to behold. Its original gold plating set the canvas for the brilliant finishing that Kari Voutilainen and his watchmakers added, comprising of sharp polished anglage and hand graining on the bridges. Given that these movements have been on display in the Neuchâtel Observatory for years now, it would have been a shame to hide them now, and so they can be enjoyed in all their glory.

Design & Watch Specifications

Platinum case, 38mm x 46.5mm x 10.35mm, 30m water resistance, 19mm lug width. Black calfskin leather strap

It is not easy to case a movement with this much heritage and still keep up, but Kari Voutilainen executed this to perfection here in my opinion. Housed in a simple small slim case, the watch draws a delicate balance between classy simplicity and bold confidence.

This is nowhere more obvious than on the dial, which features an inner matte black dial, surrounded by a ring of intricately designed fish scale guilloche. This is topped with sharply finished dual triangular markers and equally sharp hour and minute hands. Everything is tied together with a simple concentric circle small seconds complication.

Those who know me will know that I have a general preference for smaller slimmer watches, and so this design is right up my alley, especially in such an elegant dressy package. I quite like the material of choice too, platinum, as it gives the watch a sense of stealth wealth; one that is extremely confident in what it is, but also never crosses into showy territory.

Price & Availability

CHF 132,900, Limited Edition 10 pieces, Sold exclusively through Phillips

With a movement of this much prestige, a dial platinum case and designed by one of the top independent watchmakers today, the watch was always going to be a pricey one. It is extremely exclusive too, since only 10 movements were picked out, hence a limited edition of 10 pieces, and it will only be sold through Phillips.

Concluding Thoughts

Summing up, I have always been a sucker for reissued watches, in fact, the first article I ever wrote for Scottish Watches was about a reissued watch. The fact that this watch houses not any reissue, but the originals themselves, but updated and restored such that they would be far more reliable than any vintage watch would be, is extremely cool. That the restoration was done by Kari Voutilainen himself; and that this movement has won so many awards, makes this a brilliant one-of-a-kind release from Zenith. While it is a shame that the watch is so exclusive, I for one, am thrilled that something like this even exists today.