Shak­ing Things Up

Zenith CEO Julien Tornare talks about liv­ing in the present

DA MAN - Caliber - - CONTENTS -

Within the Swiss watch­mak­ing in­dus­try, it’s hard to see a ma­jor player with­out a his­tory stretch­ing back for at least a cen­tury. The bur­den of that kind of her­itage, how­ever, is the need to bal­ance it against the chal­lenge of be­ing con­tem­po­rary. This has been quite the chal­lenge for Zenith.

But, things are look­ing up. Last year, a new CEO was ap­pointed, and he has re­ally shaken things up with new ini­tia­tives, new prod­ucts and even the in­tro­duc­tion of the “startup spirit” to what is es­sen­tially a tra­di­tional craft based in the pas­toral moun­tains of Switzer­land. That man is Julien Tornare and this is a glimpse into some of the ways that he is tak­ing Zenith for­ward into the fu­ture with a firm hand on its glo­ri­ous past.

DA MAN: Can you tell us about the mar­ket that Zenith is aim­ing for? Julien Tornare: When I met Mr. Biver [Jean-Claude Biver was at the time Pres­i­dent of LVMH’s watch di­vi­sion], we agreed on a few things im­me­di­ately: That Zenith was a beau­ti­ful brand, with a long his­tory, a very se­ri­ous man­u­fac­ture. And that every­body likes Zenith, every­body wants Zenith to be­come stronger and stronger. But, Zenith was also cov­ered a bit by, I would say, dust. It’s a lit­tle bit old-fash­ioned, some­times a lit­tle bit bor­ing. We needed to cre­ate en­ergy. It’s fan­tas­tic to be 153 years old, but just be­cause you are 153 years old you don’t need to dress like a grand­mother. You still live in the 21st cen­tury and you still sell watches to peo­ple liv­ing to­day. So, the idea was: Let’s start from our his­tory, let’s build from the his­tory, but let’s be a con­tem­po­rary, dy­namic brand, liv­ing and work­ing in the 21st cen­tury—which means be­ing in­no­va­tive, cre­ative and chang­ing the spirit of the brand.

That said, there are two other el­e­ments that I brought on. We want to re­main very au­then­tic. To­day, too many brands—in my opin­ion—claim they are a man­u­fac­ture but they don’t make their own move­ments. At Zenith, to­day, we can say that we use 100-per­cent in-house move­ments. It’s a very clear state­ment. And also the price. We be­lieve that, fol­low­ing what I would call the Chi­nese boom for a decade and a half, many brands went crazy with their pric­ing.

DA : How would you de­scribe Zenith’s cur­rent con­sumer de­mo­graphic? JT: That’s al­ways a very dif­fi­cult ques­tion, be­cause I’ve been trav­el­ing a lot dur­ing the last year and I met many of our clients, and it’s dif­fi­cult for me to put all of them in the same box. But, I would say, they are peo­ple that are look­ing for some­thing au­then­tic. Usu­ally they will ask

ques­tions about the brand, they want to un­der­stand.

And it’s peo­ple of taste; it’s peo­ple who don’t want to look like the guy next door. They want to buy a beau­ti­ful watch that cor­re­sponds to their per­son­al­ity and one that they can talk about. This is why the Defy 21 is meet­ing so much suc­cess now. Vis­ually, many com­pli­ca­tions are too com­pli­cated to ex­plain. This one you press and you can see the spi­ral move­ment of the chrono­graph. It’s the fastest chrono­graph in the world to­day. Peo­ple love to do it be­cause you don’t need to say any­thing.

DA: You men­tioned about chang­ing the spirit of the brand. What, then is the DNA of Zenith?

JT: For me Zenith is about her­itage and his­tory. But it’s also about chronom­e­try—we are known for chrono­graphs—and pre­ci­sion. My ob­jec­tive is not to change this DNA. We have to build from that, we have to build from the his­tory, but in a con­tem­po­rary way. If you think about this year, we are launch­ing a chrono­graph that mea­sures 1/100th of a se­cond. And you might also have heard about the Defy Lab with the os­cil­la­tor which im­proves pre­ci­sion. So, we are be­ing very in­no­va­tive, very cre­ative, but we stay in our field.

Many peo­ple ask me: “Are you go­ing to make a con­nected watch?” I say, no. I re­ally agree with Mr. Biver, we don’t do con­nected watches. The se­cond thing they of­ten as is: “Are you go­ing to mix up the ma­te­ri­als and so forth?” I said: “No, that is not Zenith.” We will never do art of fu­sion. My ob­jec­tive is to make sure we stay within our field and re­spect our past. But re­spect­ing our past doesn’t mean that we only repeat the past.

If we can man­age to have her­itage and his­tory in a con­tem­po­rary way, fully in-house and at the right price, then we have a very good po­si­tion for the brand. That’s what we’ve been miss­ing. I be­lieve that to­day, the world goes so fast. Every­thing is chang­ing so fast. Smart­watches are com­ing. I think it’s good; I don’t think it’s a threat. We’ve learned that from the quartz rev­o­lu­tion: Quartz didn’t kill me­chan­i­cal watches. I think it’s the same to­day. Smart­watches are not go­ing to kill me­chan­i­cal watches if we con­tinue to cre­ate, be­cause the young gen­er­a­tion don’t want to have mu­seum brands. They want to have some­thing dy­namic. DA: So, dig­i­tal watches are not part of Zenith’s fu­ture. But how about dig­i­tal re­tail­ing? JT: Of course, e-com­merce is here. It’s part of to­day’s world. So, we have to. Now, we are not yet ready, but at some point, for sure, we will do e-com­merce. I hope that within 18 months we can start a di­rect kind of e-com­merce, but we have to do it very smartly.

I’ll tell you why: To­day we use part­ners. We are al­ready work­ing with Mr. Porter, for ex­am­ple. In China we work with and Tmall. But we don’t want to be in di­rect com­pe­ti­tion with our brick-and-mor­tar stores. If we do e-com­merce, I don’t ex­pect huge vol­umes im­me­di­ately, be­cause it will take time. We could do, for ex­am­ple, a spe­cial edi­tion avail­able only on­line, lim­ited quan­tity. It has to be as much of a busi­ness tool as it is a com­mu­ni­ca­tion tool.

You know, when I came back to Switzer­land, I had to buy a car. As you know we have part­ner­ship with Range Rover, so I said I’m go­ing to buy a Range Rover. For that I went on­line. Now, the car in­dus­try is much more ad­vanced in terms of on­line con­fig­u­ra­tors. So, I did my car, click, click, click, I fin­ish it, print it out and say: “Great, I have my car.” All I need to do is go to the car dealer and it will only take 20 min­utes. I went there and spent two and a half hours.

“My ob­jec­tive is to make sure we stay within our field and re­spect our past. But re­spect­ing our past doesn’t mean that we only repeat the past”

Close-up of the Defy El Primero 21 in rose gold Op­po­site page The Defy Clas­sic

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