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Zenith, from Defy to Revival
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Zenith, from Defy to Revival

Wednesday, 17 June 2020
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

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5 min read

As one of the LVMH stable of watch brands that unveiled new products in Dubai in January, Zenith keeps the new releases coming, including a number of “Revival” watches. Chief Executive Julien Tornare filled in the details during a webinar hosted by MPP Middle East Media. Interview.

Auctioneer Aurel Bacs is an authority, known for his ability to set a saleroom alight. So when he makes a pronouncement as to the next big thing, the watch world sits up and takes notice. In a recent interview to Robb Report, he zeroed in on the Zenith – and specifically the El Primero A386, one of three models (alongside the A384 and the A385) that marked this legendary chronograph’s debut in 1969. Last November, Phillips (where Bacs officiates) signed the first collaboration between an auction house and a brand – Zenith – to create three exclusive El Primero chronographs, based on that very A386. A one-off in platinum with a lapis lazuli dial raised $250,000 for charity. The two limited editions of 20 in yellow gold and 49 in stainless steel sold out in 30 minutes.

Julien Tornare (CEO Zenith, partner of Cohiba)
Julien Tornare (CEO Zenith, partner of Cohiba)

This is all music to the ears of Julien Tornare, Zenith’s Chief Executive who last week took part in a webinar hosted by Nader Freiha, managing director of MPP Middle East Media. Not only was this the opportunity for Tornare to show the new releases unveiled in Dubai, namely the Defy Midnight for women, the Pilot Rescue models, a robust Defy 21 Land Rover Edition and another Defy 21, this time namechecking DJ Carl Cox, plus new models in the Elite line, he also discussed the recent “Revival” watches that focus on the legendary El Primero movement. The line-up: a Chronomaster Revival “Shadow” that riffs on an unreleased prototype of the A384, an El Primero A384 Revival with its “ladder” metal bracelet, and a Chronomaster Revival Manufacture Edition, this time inspired by the A386 with a dial based on a hitherto unseen prototype that was found in a box in the Manufacture’s attic. Not forgetting the El Primero A318 Revival “Cover Girl”, a reissue of a 1971 model produced in limited numbers.

El Primero A384 Revival © Zenith
El Primero A384 Revival © Zenith
A 50-year-old movement that's become a legend in its own right: is that a good thing or a bad thing for a brand?

Julien Tornare, CEO, Zenith: It’s an amazing thing, provided you know how to maintain its appeal. You can’t play around with the heart of the movement if you’re to respect the original. At most you can make it even more reliable, which is what we’ve done. At the same time, you have to take care not to get stuck in the past. I had the good fortune to meet the watchmakers behind the original El Primero, and they told me exactly that. Back then, they were constantly hearing how they would never succeed in making an automatic chronograph movement. The message is clear: innovation shapes the future. The El Primero is a legend but we also have to move with the times.

Defy El Primero Double Tourbillon © Zenith
Defy El Primero Double Tourbillon © Zenith
Is that the thinking behind the Defy line, which you describe as a "breeding ground for the future of traditional watchmaking"?

It is. Zenith may be a brand with a long tradition, established in 1865, we need to use this fabulous history to build the future. The Defy line is the epitome of that. It’s a laboratory for the brand, a focus for innovation and creativity with products such as the Defy 21 chronograph, precise to 1/100th of a second, the Defy Double Tourbillon, the Defy Inventor with its revolutionary oscillator, or the Defy Zero G and its gyroscopic “Gravity Control” module. It’s about striking a balance between the Chronomasters that pay tribute to the past and the Defy line that looks to the future. Zenith is a brand rooted in chronometry and precision, and we can never forget that if we are to remain consistent and interest the next generations. We are building our offering around the two flagships of the Defy and the Chronomaster, supported by the Pilot and the Elite. We’re working to stabilise these four lines on the basis of around a hundred references, and not develop products that don’t have a future. Most of all, we must pay attention to price points. The luxury industry has, in the past, had a tendency to exaggerate. In a world where people have instant access to information, our watches must provide real value for the price.

Pilot Type 20 Rescue © Zenith
Pilot Type 20 Rescue © Zenith
What about e-commerce?

An innovative, contemporary brand cannot ignore online sales. We want Zenith to be a multi-channel brand. Physical stores are important because they convey the brand’s values. At the same time, we must also offer online sales as part of our service. Which doesn’t imply neglecting retailers. Zenith watches are highly complex mechanisms and retailers have an important role to play.

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