Last year, an early-2000s Formula 1 Ferrari V10 engine known as the F2003-GA, capable of 845hp at 18,300rpm, was auctioned off for 36K EUR. The power unit was a piece of history, having taken Michael Schumacher to his sixth championship title. Here it was, separated from its context, sold alone. What, if anything, is the honorable thing to do with such a meaningful lump of metal? Create a coffee table? Link it up to ancillaries like a worse-off patient on a hospital bed and make it sing? Perhaps tour that glorious V10 soundtrack like a concert act? Find it a home in a chassis it was never intended for? This is the precise problem that Zenith faced in late 2019.
Zenith received a ring from Phillips after their first small run of collaborative El Primeros stating that they’d love to continue collaborating. But where to venture next? Well, Zenith had an ace up their sleeves. A very small stock of calibre 135s known as the 135-O, the -O denoting Observatory. These movements were thoroughbred racehorses, designed to compete in the Neuchâtel oberservatory competitions, never to be cased. Compete the 135-O did, winning over 230 best-in-class chronometry prizes throughout its production thanks to a very massive Guillaume balance wheel and mainspring barrel. As these were intended purely to compete, the decoration was minimal. In automotive metaphor, this truly is a Formula 1 engine without a chassis to call home.
The solution seemed obvious: Zenith and Phillips illuminated the bat signal to watchmaking’s best in order to give the chronometer a place on one very discerning wrist. The result was a individually handcrafted dial by Kari Voutilainen’s workshop in sector style with discreet guilloché. Instead of Swiss, the dials are signed Neuchâtel, underscoring the Swiss Canton which is home to both Zenith and Voutilainen. Last year, 10 of these watches were cased in 38mm platinum and sold immediately. There was just one movement leftover in Zenith’s stock.
This year, Zenith and Phillips have decided to add one final eleventh watch with that movement. This final watch is something entirely unique. Its calibre 135-O, traced by its movement number, actually competed in those trials. This is the equivalent of Schumacher’s actual engine. Additionally, its dial is a one-off salmon tone. But perhaps most notably, the case is hewn from Nobium. Nobium is most frequently used in MRI machines and particle conductors, with a hardness similar to titanium and sheen all its own. I am highlighting it here as its aim, nobly, is to be auctioned for charity next month. But, if I’m honest, it deserves a feature here on its own merit anyway.
Find this Calibre 135-O here as part of Phillips 2022 Geneva Auction XVI set to hammer 5 Nov 2022 (estimated 104,000-208,000 USD).