Supporting charities through the sale of luxury items is nothing new. However, this particular auction of a salmon-dial Zenith Calibre 135-O single edition was quite special because there was only one of this watch made and there won’t be a second. Ever. While it’s one thing to auction out regularly stocked items, whether it’s watches, jewelry, or cars, I was particularly interested in this watch, again, because of its unique nature and context. And not only is there only one of these, but it is the story behind it that is particularly interesting. 

I am by no means a Zenith expert, but that is OK since Brandon wrote an excellent article about the ten Calibre 135-O pieces released this past summer. Brandon went into the nitty-gritty of what made that ultra-limited edition unique, so I won’t rehash all of what he said, but only that which fits within the context of this auction piece. And as you might have gathered already, “unique” is the theme of this release by Zenith

The meaning of these auctions

Before we get into the unique salmon-dial edition of the Zenith Calibre 135-O, let’s talk about benefit auctions. I worked for many years in the nonprofit world and on auctions. Organizations are creative in selling unique experiences — such as a dinner with a celebrity or an exotic trip — or auctioning off unique items that were once owned by a celebrity. Yes, I’m thinking of Steve McQueen’s Daytona, which sold for $2.2 million. And that is all well and good. But it has been fascinating to see the involvement of horological houses in creating singular pieces to support charities.  

From brands big and small, single-production units have been made to support cancer research or food banks. It’s great to see watch brands going out of their way to create one watch that only one person can buy and own while supporting the betterment of humankind. Studio Underd0g did something similar to support Mary’s Meals with the limited-edition Pumpkin Chronograph and so did MB&F with the HM10 Panda in support of research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy. 

Zenith once again partnered with Phillips and Kari Voutilainen to support the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s efforts in breast cancer research and prevention. 

The revived Calibre 135-O and watch specifications

As Brandon pointed out, Zenith’s Calibre 135-O is a masterpiece of horology. This movement was so precise that it won 230 awards in chronometry within its 13-year production period. The movement existed in two versions — the 135 and 135-O. The former was made available to the public under the hood of different models. The latter was only made for contests and never to be worn otherwise. As such, it’s a big deal that Zenith had Kari Voutilainen restore and refinish ten of these calibers for last summer’s black-dialed edition. 

Zenith caliber 135-O 6

What made this ultra-limited edition special is the fact that a watch was specifically made for this caliber. The watch that houses the movement is only referred to by the caliber number, the production number of which was also individually indicated on the small-seconds sub-register. The watch in itself is a gorgeous piece of horology. It comes in a 38mm platinum case with high-polished surfaces and a fish-scale guilloché pattern on the dial. 

Further specifications include a 46.5mm lug-to-lug distance, a 10.35mm thickness, and a 19mm lug width. The hands are made of German silver, plated with ruthenium (an element belonging to the platinum family), and highly polished. This watch comes with 30 meters of water resistance and is paired with an elegant black calfskin leather strap with a titanium buckle. 

Zenith Calibre 135-O

The uniqueness of the Susan G. Komen salmon-dial version

The Calibre 135-O that powered last summer’s limited edition had been taken apart and refinished by Kari Voutilainen (there is much more that went into it, of course, but I’m trying to keep things simple here). It had been adorned with a yellow gold finish that looked gorgeous. This unique piece for the Susan G. Komen auction, however, features a movement finished in rose gold. In a way, the movement and dial have similar color tones. 

Zenith Calibre 135-O

The two colors, although slightly different, work in unison in this piece. From a technical standpoint, the work that Kari Voutilainen accomplished is beyond my understanding. From a visual standpoint, though, I am in awe of the quality of the movement’s finishing. I have never seen anything like it in person, but the photos, I’m sure, do his work great justice. This is one case where I would have spent the CHF 315,000 that this watch sold for at the auction. 

Zenith Calibre 135-O

While the previous limited edition was made of platinum, this time, Zenith opted for niobium, a first for the brand. Niobium is an ultra-oxidation-resistant alloy used in jet engines and rockets. It is as hard as titanium and can resist extreme pressures that would normally deform objects made of regular stainless steel. Setting aside the technical mumbo jumbo, niobium is a rarely seen alloy in watchmaking. Aside from this watch having an outstanding hand-finished movement and dial, the use of niobium alone makes it quite special.

Final thoughts

Although I did not go into details regarding the watch itself (because Brandon said it better than I ever could have), this unique Calibre 135-O is simply quite fascinating. As a watch enthusiast, I relish the attention to detail, finishing, and uniqueness of the materials in this piece. It’s also refreshing to see a luxury brand produce such a unique but tasteful watch for an auction like this.

This unique piece made in collaboration with Kari Voutilainen and Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo is, at its core, made in support of a uniquely crucial nonprofit organization. A lot of attention to detail, time, and effort went into making this watch — again, I refer you to Brandon’s article to get a better understanding of what went into reviving the Calibre 135-O — which is a testament to Zenith’s dedication to supporting life-saving breast cancer research. 

Beyond the auction, what do you think of this timepiece? Should brands do more unique releases to support charities? Please leave your comments below.