Is Chief Executive Jean-Frédéric Dufour the man who saved Zenith? Yes, say the judges of the “Man of the Year 2010” award who distinguished him with the prize, set up four years ago by the late Italian journalist Eugenio Zigliotto. Previously at the head of product development for Chopard, Jean-Frédéric Dufour’s task since June 2009 has been to restore Zenith’s chipped lustre. The first step in this vast endeavour was to refocus products and collections on the brand’s founding values and two outstanding calibres, the legendary El Primero and the Elite, and leave past excesses in the past. The second step was to go out and see what the markets, in the person of retailers, had to say.
“Jean-Frédéric Dufour likes to stay close to the ground,” says Andrea Csiki, the firm’s international communications manager. “He lost no time in visiting the brand’s main markets where he could analyse data in the field. It quickly became clear that Zenith’s image is widely recognised and that the new focus on its history has been crowned with success.” And it shows, as Zenith posted double-digit growth last year, evenly spread across the 16 subsidiaries with a clear stepping-up of sales in China.
Tribute to Charles Vermot
These travels also set the ball rolling for the products which the brand is presenting this year. Zenith, which is owned by LVMH, unsurprisingly intends strengthening its image with products whose new classicism has clearly hit the right note, within a more competitive range of prices. The Captain collection is joined by three new models with an Elite base movement: a power reserve, a dual time zone, and a moon phases with large date. Meanwhile, the El Primero equips a new Chronomaster Open with power reserve, a distinctly technical timepiece that fits the brand down to the ground, despite its more recent past. Also worth noting is the tribute to Charles Vermot, the watchmaker who saved the El Primero from an abrupt end.
As Andrea Csiki recounts: “In the 1970s, when quartz was all the rage, the people at Zenith received the order from the company’s American owners to scrap the machines used to make mechanical watches which, the Americans were convinced, were a thing of the past. They believed quartz was the way ahead for the brand. Charles Vermot, however, had other ideas. In 1975 he began hiding away the tools used to make the El Primero movement. When you think that 80% of our ranges are now based on this movement, you can see how much Zenith owes him.”
The Manufacture gets a face-lift
The company has gone on to celebrate this “heroic deed” with a series of limited editions, each of 1,975 pieces, across its different collections. This year, it presents a Captain El Primero, a Captain El Primero Windsor annual calendar chronograph, and an El Primero Tourbillon Chronograph, all inspired by the movement’s now famous rescuer. Zenith’s Port Royal Calibre 2572 makes a comeback in the women’s ranges, while the Zenith Stratos Chronograph with a ceramic bezel and innovative steel/chrome alloy case gives a new look to the brand’s sports watch range.
Boosted by this new product offering, Zenith is intent on furthering reconquering the markets with two major events in 2011. The first is a complete renovation of the Manufacture buildings in the same industrial spirit as when the first stone was laid, 146 years ago. The second will be more travelling after last year’s halt at the symbolic location of Greenwich for the launch of the Zenith Christophe Colomb. Every one of the 75 watches in this limited edition is already spoken for. The next stop will be somewhere in Switzerland.