In the land of watchmaking, when a brand makes it to a century and a half, this is generally the cue for sumptuous celebrations crowned by a range of truly exceptional products. After all, companies that can lay claim to such a ripe old age are sufficiently rare; certain brands even jump the gun and put themselves in the spotlight long before any such milestone has been reached. Zenith, it seems, is taking the opposite tack and has embarked on its 150th year without any great ado. Granted, late last year the brand did present the Academy Georges Favre-Jacot, an anniversary edition limited to 150 pieces. Driven by a high-frequency El Primero 4810 constant-force calibre with fusee-and-chain mechanism, this watch with its characteristic nineteenth-century architecture perfectly embodies the technical face of the brand. In comparison, the rest of the line-up, presented at this year’s Baselworld, came across as something of an also-ran.
All brands are equal…
When it comes to the pure play in the LVMH portfolio, namely Hublot, Zenith and TAG Heuer, all the major manoeuvring has so far been directed at just one of the three. Ever since the trio came under the stewardship of Jean-Claude Biver, the man who put Hublot on the map, TAG Heuer has been the focus of attention, with a string of announcements and a restructuring process as the brand prepares to reposition itself in more capricious markets. From a purely sales point of view, these efforts are clearly warranted. TAG Heuer is said to turn over around a billion Swiss francs. Zenith and its 35,000 watches a year weighs five times less. It should come as no surprise, then, that TAG Heuer stole the limelight in Basel, including when it announced its partnership with Google and Intel.
We're well aware that not everyone can walk around with a CHF 20,000 timepiece on their wrist.
Compared to this, Zenith’s anniversary fare may seem a little on the light side, with a commemorative book, an incursion into motor sports via the El Primero Stratos historic rally team led by Erik Comas, and a partnership with footballer Eric Abidal’s children’s foundation. On the product front, the “brand with the star” pulled out an El Primero Sport and the Elite 6150 calibre, which is in fact the modern version of the Elite movement which the brand rolled out in the 1990s as an alternative to the legendary El Primero. “We want Zenith to be seen as a quality brand, but this doesn’t mean our watches are expensive,” comments Aldo Magada, who was made Chief Executive in summer 2014. “This positioning dictates our actions. We’re well aware that not everyone can walk around with a CHF 20,000 timepiece on their wrist.”
Focus on the manufacture
With heightened competition in a segment that now includes in-house movements positioned in the lower price echelons, Zenith’s job is to explain why it is different from the rest. “More than anything, we need to highlight Zenith’s image and its products,” says Aldo Magada. “and show the world there is more to Zenith than El Primero. In a similar vein, we will be putting the manufacture at the centre of our communication. We came under fire last year for equipping certain Pilot watches with Sellita movements. We realised this could have made sense if Zenith had been a high-volume brand when, for the moment, we are still a niche brand.” Aldo Magada wants Zenith watches to become “clearly identifiable” within a “legible” assortment which, he says, “isn’t currently the case. Hence we are going to reduce the number of models and work the depth of the ranges.”
Zenith has set its objective: to get close to people who enjoy watches and whose budget will stretch to a CHF 10,000 timepiece. The brand also knows that value and service are its best weapons. Forget bling-bling, those days are gone. Zenith is rooted in tradition and intends building on this foundation, including when teamed with the Rolling Stones, who are something of a tradition themselves!