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Past and future come successfully together for Zenith
Point of View

Past and future come successfully together for Zenith

Tuesday, 22 January 2008
By Françoise Lafuma
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Françoise Lafuma

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5 min read
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In just a few years, Zenith has proved itself to be a hive of creativity and a name to be reckoned with again. By dint of investments, marketing and innovation on every front, this sleeping beauty has stirred from its lethargic state to set off in conquest of every market. At the centre of this new dynamic mood is the opening of a store in Shanghai on January 8th 2008, a key stage in the company’s international expansion, and some surprises lined up for Basel which, a rare event, will be available before the Fair opens.

So Zenith is once again active on all fronts ?

Thierry Nataf, Chairman, CEO and creative director at Zenith : We’re everywhere, with a lot of small concessions in Europe and a strong presence at such prestigious retailers as Les Ambassadeurs. Tourneau in Las Vegas, a distributor entirely given over to luxury, reserves extensive floorspace for the brand. Zenith is present in 55 countries in all, with some 800 points of sale and a network of brand-owned or franchised stores on every continent of this global village of ours. Whether New York, Geneva or Paris, Zenith is always looking to establish itself at the right location on the right street.

Have sales increased too ?

I can confirm 30% annual growth in sales. Zenith has performed remarkably well in the United States, China and Japan. We’ve maintained a balanced position in old Europe while new Europe has been filling its order books. Our strategy is to keep a finely-balanced equation between the three major growth regions of Europe, America and Asia and to limit exchange risks. Zenith has direct control of 16 subsidiaries with its own teams in the field. Building on this structure, the brand has experienced a boom in sales in the Middle East, the new eldorado for luxury, while the new luxury markets such as Australia and India are opening up some highly promising prospects.

What is behind this renewed success ?

Zenith has reignited the spark of its past triumphs and this shows in the huge success the brand enjoys today. I wanted there to be a shock between yesterday and today by creating objects that will never grow old. True luxury is expressed in design, in a way of doing and not being afraid to mix genres. You like it or you don’t, but luxury is something that gets noticed. These choices are illustrated by classic collections such as Chronomaster, Academy or Class, in modern collections such as Port-Royal with its rectangular dial, and of course in Defy Classic and Defy Xtreme whose models are powerfully sculpted in gold or materials that are like a vibration. Each watch imagined and manufactured by Zenith contains between 350 and 700 components and takes from nine months to sometimes as much as five years to skilfully assemble before it is ready to leave Le Locle. The force of the human hand and a culture of fine mechanics are expressed in the talent of our 250 watchmakers, working side-by-side with the technology of tomorrow.

Has the Manufacture been rejuvenated too ?

Inside our workshops, still with their original listed walls, workbenches happily share space with the most extraordinarily precise micro-robots. The most advanced combinations are brought into play, with a pursuit of performance taken from the automotive and aeronautic industries, leading-edge production techniques and traditional craftsmanship as we still blue over a flame. Inside faithfully renovated buildings, high-tech laboratories and new machines work in unison with master watchmakers who work bathed in natural light.

You’ve also placed particular emphasis on innovative materials.

Behind walls steeped in the 145 years of Zenith’s history, the first manufacturing workshop in the history of watchmaking, the materials revolution is indeed under way. Zenithium, used to make all the Defy watch bridges, is the result of five years’ active research. This alloy of titanium for resistance, aluminium for lightness and niobium for shape memory is perfect for absorbing shocks. When developing it and other materials still in progress, we drew on the resources of such major research centres as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the École des Mines in France and the École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne. We look at work carried out for research theses, we recruit on campuses and we work in-house on our own research projects.

How does the Zenith Design Studio operate ?

This competence centre employs some 20 designers and engineer-constructors in the development of products, both exteriors and movements. Although I’m personally very much involved in what goes on there, it’s essential to give the creative teams room to express themselves fully and to manage themselves. As for financial means, they match our ambitions with investments of at least CHF 5 to 10 million to develop a new calibre.

So Zenith put a lot of work into its star collection’s success ?

Defy was inspired by all that is wonderful in cars, boats and planes. The result is there for us to see : there are two sides to us all, one classic and the other extreme. The brand’s seventh collection and winner of the Public’s Award at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, Defy goes very much against the grain. It is a watch that embodies the future and which also lends itself to versions for women while keeping the masculine personality that is its hallmark.

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