One look at the El Primero 1/10 Second Chronograph, one of Zenith’s flagship models for 2010, brings confirmation that a new era is beginning at the Manufacture, under Jean-Frédéric Dufour. Since taking over the helm from Thierry Nataf in June 2009, Jean-Frédéric Dufour has made it his business to retrain the spotlight on Zenith’s fundamental values and 145-year history. The El Primero 1/10 Second Chronograph is the perfect illustration. Driven by the legendary 36,000 vibrations/hour calibre, whose 40th anniversary Zenith celebrated in 2009, its chronograph hand sweeps the dial in ten seconds for complete ease in reading tenth-of-a-second intervals. Here is a timepiece steeped in the classicism that has built the company’s renown, though not without the contemporary touch of a stylish watch that instantly says… Zenith. The same sobriety and classicism prevail in the Elite 681 Ultra-Thin, another of this year’s new models with small seconds at 9 o’clock and just 7.6 mm high.
Listen to the retailers first
“The first thing Jean-Frédéric Dufour did on arriving at Zenith was to go out and meet the retailers to find out what their needs were.” Andrea Csiki, Zenith’s International communication manager, explains. “And their wish was clear: reduce the number of collections to deliver a single, clear message about what Zenith represents. The brand had diversified to a point that there could be no clear communication, which complicated the sales process. Jean-Frédéric Dufour wants Zenith to grow as a classic but contemporary brand. Zenith also has a heritage of more than 2,000 historic pieces that we will bring to life as inspiration for future collections.”
The first signs of this new direction haven’t been slow in coming. The number of references has been cut from 800 to 150, based on the brand’s best-sellers, including the thirty-something new pieces introduced since Jean-Frédéric Dufour’s appointment. The collections are now divided into three categories in a pyramid structure, with Fine Watches at the top, the Academy and El Primero lines in the middle, and the Defy and Elite sports models at the base. Pricing has also been revised, with the Zenith Ultra-Thin entry-level model at CHF 3,950 (EUR 2,700), the El Primero Retro Timer at CHF 6,900 (EUR 4’700) and the steel Academy Tourbillon Chronograph, which joins the Fine Watch segment this year, at CHF 49,900 (EUR 34’000). By way of comparison, in the pre-Dufour days, a Zenith Elite started at CHF 6,500 (EUR 4’400).
Occupy the entry-level segment
“Our new strategy is to position Zenith as the entry-level brand in Manufacture watches,” Andrea Csiki goes on to explain. “Anyone looking to purchase their first chronograph will obligatorily think of Zenith and its El Primero models. We have revised our price structure accordingly to make Zenith accessible to people with an appreciation of prestigious timepieces and Manufacture movements.”
A lot of ground has been covered in six short months to streamline the collections, deliver a coherent message, focus communication on the brand’s history and rebuild Zenith on its foundations. “I have to say that the six months we’ve just been through at the Manufacture are the kind that mark a career,” Jean-Frédéric Dufour observes. “In return, initial feedback shows that we’re achieving what we set out to do. In the first two days of our presentations in Geneva, coinciding with the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, we reached the budget we’d set ourselves for the entire week.” A figure which had apparently doubled by the next day. After years of exuberance, whose merit has been to reposition the brand at the centre of Fine Watchmaking, this new philosophy is no less of a break with the past aimed at putting Zenith back at the centre of… Zenith.