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Zenith Revives Its Record-Breaking 1950s Observatory Chronometer

Prior to 1967, the exactitude of a second was determined by the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. In Geneva, Observatories of Neuchâtel held an annual competition where various awards were given out based on the accuracy of chronometers under stringent circumstances over a 45-day period. Between 1949 and 1962, Zenith produced its iconic Calibre 135. Two versions were made: one for commercial production and one for competition only, dubbed “O.” The Calibre 135-O won the overall competition at Neuchâtel five years in a row from 1950 to 1954 — a record that’s made even more impressive by the 230 total wins during the movement’s 14 years of production (also a record).

To honor the legacy of the Calibre 135-O, Zenith, in partnership with Phillips, has tapped famed watchmaker Kari Voutilainen to restore and decorate a batch of actual chronometers from the company’s five-year streak in the early ‘50s and insert them into a new custom watch. And so, this is the first time the public will be able to purchase one of these highly-coveted movements. However, only 10 are being made in total, so good luck getting your hands on one.

Phillips became interested in the project after another Zenith revival, an El Primero chronograph, was auctioned off at the company’s charity auction back in 2019. From there, Phillips’ Aurel Bacs and Alexandre Ghotbi spearheaded another revival for Zenith. The movement is housed in a 38mm platinum case with a sterling silver dial finished in matte black. A small seconds subdial is at the 6 o’clock position, engraved with the serial number of the movement.

A monolith in precision and functional beauty, the Zenith Calibre 135-O is a grail piece for vintage watch enthusiasts all over, and yet only 10 examples will be produced. Sold exclusively through Phillips’ website, the exclusive timepieces will be sold for 132,900 CHF (~$138,033).

Purchase: $138,033