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Rise and shine, Zenith

Rise and shine, Zenith

Tuesday, 28 November 2017
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

“The desire to learn is the key to understanding.”

“Thirty years in journalism are a powerful stimulant for curiosity”.

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5 min read

After years of near lethargy, Zenith will be using its capacity for innovation to dust off its image. Speaking at Dubai Watch Week, Chief Executive Julien Tornare fills in the details.

While Dubai no longer resembles an Arabian Nights fantasy, its Watch Week makes the ideal setting in which to recall a different tale and a certain “sleeping beauty” – although the question most people are asking is whether a single kiss will suffice, or will Prince Charming have to use other, more convincing means to rouse Zenith from its slumber? Julien Tornare, appointed CEO in May this year, talks about his plans to awaken the brand.

Julien Tornare, CEO © Zenith
Julien Tornare, CEO © Zenith
Presumably you have a lot on your plate?

When Jean-Claude Biver, head of the Watches Division at LVMH which includes Zenith, hired me as CEO, he warned me there was work to be done. And he wasn’t kidding. Zenith trails a dusty, slightly dull image. Fortunately the foundations are solid. The brand has only suffered a few slight dents and goodwill towards it remains intact. We’ll be working from this base to reconnect Zenith with its capacities for innovation, one of its longstanding strengths, and appeal to today’s young buyers. This will mean reworking the equation that has labelled Zenith a classic brand.

Is the Defy collection expected to contribute to this?

When we showed the Defy 21 at this year’s Baselworld we sent out a signal. You’d be entitled to ask what is the purpose of a wrist chronometer that can measure 1/100th second. Well, this watch shows that the Zenith spirit – the same one that produced the El Primero in 1969 – is alive and well, and that we are again able to push the boundaries of mechanical watchmaking. The Defy Lab, whose monobloc silicon oscillator is a huge innovation in terms of timekeeping precision, gives further demonstration of this. After the ten-piece limited edition that we presented a few weeks back, we’re now preparing for industrial production. Our aim is to come to the next Baselworld with something solid to show. Needless to say, this is a major development for the brand. The Defy line, which is slated to grow, and the Pilot collection are the two ranges on which we intend to build Zenith’s contemporary image, alongside the Elite and the Chronomaster lines which stand for tradition.

Defy El Primero 21 © Zenith
Defy El Primero 21 © Zenith
Are we right in supposing that's only part of the job?

We’re also in the middle of a rationalisation process, beginning with the number of references. When Thierry Nataf was running Zenith a decade ago, the brand had 828 references. Now there are 168 and we’ll be reducing that number further to settle at around one hundred, i.e. those which really contribute to sales. We’re also streamlining our distribution network, where we have gone from over 800 points of sale to 622 so far. The objective is to shrink to 500 points of sale by 2019 and concentrate on our best partners. We’ve been far too dispersed in the past.

What are the plans for the brand's communication?

Again, we’re looking into this. Zenith’s marketing went off in too many directions. We want to focus on what makes sense for the brand. The partnership with Bamford Watch Department is an excellent example. Very few brands can pull off the difficult task of personalising their flagship designs. Customisation is a trend that can’t be ignored, and something Bamford does wonderfully well. This is why we’re delighted to be able to work with them, particularly as we have the final say over what comes out of their workshop. Another example is our 170 square-metre pop-up store on Place Vendôme, a dream location. The space became vacant for a few months after Louis Vuitton moved. Many of the group’s brands were happy to fill in, but at the end of the day Zenith was chosen by Bernard Arnault in person. We’ll be using this opportunity to host a whole series of events in keeping with the new face of Zenith.

So to sum up, I would very humbly say we have plenty to keep us busy!
Julien Tornare
Which markets do you see offering the best potential for Zenith?

We already have a strong customer base in Japan. The Japanese typically appreciate watches with substance and one of Zenith’s strengths has always been to only propose watches with in-house movements at fair prices. The average price of a Zenith watch today is around CHF 7,500 which shows that unlike certain other brands these past few years, we haven’t continued to push prices up. Building on this, we intend to make our place in the sun in China, where we’re addressing a young, connected generation that travels and through this has become more attuned to watchmaking than the previous generation. We want to reach out to these global citizens with innovative mechanisms and contemporary designs. Our second priority is the United States where we also want to strengthen our position. So to sum up, I would very humbly say we have plenty to keep us busy!

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