Julien Tornare: CEO Zenith

Is this the most important Baselworld in Zenith’s history ?

It is indeed a crucial edition, in that Zenith is currently defining its major new approach and positioning the Defy as its flagship line. As visitors will have noted during our Geneva Days in January, 2018 is the year of brand renewal, a trend that we must consolidate at Baselworld. We are indeed offering an authentic experience for visitors, who are all too often left outside the booths and deprived of a chance to discover anything other than the windows or displays. Rather than staging a marketing show, we are instead giving them access to the Defy phenomenon. We are highlighting the product while reinforcing the line with five new models – alongside the ten unveiled at the start of the year – as well as two new watches in the Pilot range. All these new watches will be ready for delivery in April, a first for Zenith and indeed for most of the industry as a whole.

In which new models do you take most pride ?

While the hundredth-of-a-second El Primero 21 chronograph remains the core of the Defy line, we are launching two other outstanding Defy timepieces at Baselworld. One is a slimmer and more affordable model (at around CHF 7,000 to 8,000) ; while a Grand Complication watch underlines Zenith’s return to the field of contemporary Fine Watchmaking.

Does the realm of haute horlogerie hold significant potential for Zenith ?

Without making Grand Complications a major segment for Zenith, we note that our brand and its Manufacture have a history featuring consistent substance in this territory, and which deserves to be perpetuated. Generally speaking there is some talk that Grand Complication watches are no longer in vogue in recent years, but if brands remain authentic while adapting to consumers’ tastes, as Zenith has successfully achieved with Defy, we think that haute horlogerie models can maintain their reason for being. Zenith has always developed Grand Complication timepieces in relatively traditional cases, and the new direction we are taking consists in giving them a more contemporary character by incorporating them within the Defy collection which is very much on-trend. This will involve three references per year, starting with the Zero G (for zero gravity) presented at Baselworld : a gyroscopic tourbillon reflecting the spirit of the Academy Christophe Colomb, but more smoothly integrated with the case. These few dozen models in gold or titanium will be delivered as of June 2018.

What effects has the Defy Lab been having since its launch in 2017 ?

A great deal of enthusiasm and accelerated growth : the impact has been very positive. During the three months of the commercial launch of the Defy El Primero 21, from October to December 2017, we delivered around 900 of these watches to retailers worldwide, who themselves sold 83% of them during this period – which is an excellent ratio. In parallel, last September we presented the Defy Lab in our Manufacture in Le Locle and it won the Innovation Prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in November. This good news instilled a sense of confidence in our retailers which was perceptible at the Geneva Days by boosting sales as well as enhancing the Zenith brand image. We have managed to stir considerable interest among our sales network and the press, as well as the general public. Zenith has been rejuvenated and will be able to recapture market shares : it is now up to us to build on this strong start by propagating this enthusiasm in a dynamic manner.

 How is Zenith going to surprise its clients between now and the end of 2018 ?

Zenith is already surprising them… to the point where we are in turn experiencing a sense of surprise. But we have to take the brand to the next level. If we were to succeed in commercializing the evolved version of the Defy Lab with the new oscillator as of this year, that in itself would be an excellent surprise. The potential is enormous : we have had 150 orders for this 10-piece limited series presented in September, and we should ideally be able to convert this major innovation into an industrially produced series. It is however important to solve the technical difficulties involved and we are determined to take the time required to do this well. The same goes for communication, which we have refocused on three main areas : we will continue the existing partnerships with Cohiba cigars and Range Rover by creating special series, such as the new Defender and Evoque. We are also starting to organize Zenith Talks to support the Defy spirit of innovation. We will thus interpret the brand’s start-up spirit locally by inviting successful young entrepreneurs to evoke their experiences in 15-minute presentations at Zenith events across our markets.

What did you not expect when taking the reins of Zenith last year ?

A lot of people had told me about the enormous goodwill Zenith enjoys among the public at large, retailers and the LVMH group, with many people eagerly awaiting the brand’s return to center stage. I was surprised by the speed of the awakening and by the dynamic vibe at the headquarters. When I arrived, things were complicated and I thought it would take us far more time to right the ship. Yet within a few months I could sense the first effects of what I was seeking to inject into the brand in terms of dynamism, ably channeled by certain key figures at Zenith who began to believe in it far quicker than initially hoped. We have managed to create an extremely positive sense of cohesion. Retailers’ orders actually quadrupled during our Geneva Days, a strong symbol of progress that did wonders for morale and we can feel a wave of fresh energy.

Brice Lechevalier is editor-in-chief of GMT and Skippers, which he co-founded in 2000 and 2001 respectively. He has also been CEO of WorldTempus since it joined the GMT Publishing stable, of which he is director and joint shareholder. In 2012 he created the Geneva Watch Tour, and he has been an advisor to the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève since 2011. Also closely involved in sailing, he has published the magazine of the Société Nautique de Genève since 2003, and was one of the founders of the SUI Sailing Awards in 2009 and the Concours d’Elégance for motor boats at the Cannes Yachting Festival in 2015.

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