In early September, Julien Tornare, CEO of Zenith Watches, took to the stage for an unusual press conference in Le Locle, Switzerland. There he laid out his vision for the LVMH-owned maison. Those lucky VIPs still able to travel looked on, wearing masks while seated in a socially distanced configuration. The rest of us watched from home. It was notably different from the extraordinary press conference held earlier this year in Dubai, where attendees traveled from around the world to celebrate the first LVMH Watch Week, setting a powerful new precedent for the unified luxury group.
Our world has changed dramatically since LVMH Watch Week, but for Swiss made fake Zenith, their underlying message is still the same, to produce their own movements and complications in-house with groundbreaking innovation and outstanding reliability. No matter the circumstances, the main objective is to fulfill these ambitions. It’s what drove Georges Favre-Jacot, the founder of Zenith, to success in 1865. It’s what inspires Zenith today. It informs their ongoing global campaign, “Time to Reach Your Star.” The initiative positions Zenith alongside those who reach for their dreams, regardless of circumstance. In addition, a new “DreamHers” campaign, announced by Tornare in September, places a renewed focus on women. For in a year of shifting politics, impossible setbacks, and financial difficulty, it’s a mantra we can all stand behind. It’s a message of positivity—a message of vision. Speaking with Revolution after the presentation, Tornare exhibits both, sharing great insight on how Zenith — and the rest of us — can move forward.
“I think we’ve learned a lot going through this tough time. All of this has to push us to evolve as a company of the 21st century. Because in the watch industry, you tend to have two categories. You have watch brands that have a long history that are scared and nervous about going forward and not repeating the past,” Tornare says. “We have to preserve our purists, the collectors, saying we should not do this, we should not do that. Other brands can start with a blank piece of white paper and the ability to innovate. They don’t offend anyone from history. I’ve always believed, and I had a long discussion with Jean-Claude Biver [the architect of LVMH’s watchmaking division] about this. The past should not be opposed to the current time we live in or the future. Tradition should not go against innovation.”
Innovative but Timeless
Imagination lies at the core of Zenith’s strength. Always has. It can be found in the creation of the groundbreaking El Primero automatic chronograph movement in 1969. It continues with the remarkable story of how that movement survived the Quartz Crisis, its architecture stashed away carefully by Charles Vermot, a senior engineer at Zenith who hid the El Primero’s technical plans. Hoping that Zenith might return to mechanical watchmaking after management decided to cease production of the El Primero in 1975, Vermot defied his superiors with his company-saving insight for the future. Vermot dared to preserve the manufacturing process needed to build the famous chronograph movement. His decision changed history.
“When I celebrated the El Primero last year, I met many of the people who worked on the movement, people in their eighties, and these gentlemen, they told me, ‘Julien, you should not only repeat and give tribute to what we did in the ’60s. You have to innovate because contemporary today will become tradition tomorrow,’” Tornare says. “Innovation today might become icon pieces in the future. I think it’s our responsibility. I feel very comfortable playing between the past and the future. I think this is a way to show the younger generation the watchmaking industry is not static.”
Storytelling remains essential for watch companies, and today there are faster, smarter, better ways to get their messages out. In observation of social distancing measures, Zenith has found new ways to bring clients, friends of the brand, the media, and ambassadors together like never before. Digital activations — like “live” features on social media, Instagram’s “On Air” initiative, and e-commerce operations — continue to advance with speed. At the same time, Zenith focuses on its boutiques and retailers, introducing limited number editions and exclusive regional editions at a rapid clip.
“We’re a small production and Zenith is still very, very intimate. Whatever Zenith you buy, you’re part of a small club, and sometimes we need to create even smaller clubs,” Tornare explains. “The Manufacture Edition, which evolved from a dial that we found in the attic, makes people crazy right now, just because it’s not readily available. That’s part of the power of luxury, I think. We don’t do it on purpose. We limit the channel of distribution through our manufacturing site and e-commerce. It’s part of the magic, and it’s very important to work smartly around this concept.”
Zenith’s archival references are thoughtful, expressing a balance more in tune with today’s dress codes than recreating museum artifacts. But for Zenith, a lineage of imaginative design and mechanical mastery must be maintained, and in a market often obsessed with vintage, it’s rare to find such a bold approach to inventiveness. It’s easy to replicate the past, but creating real concepts for the future requires courage. It’s why Zenith’s “Defy” range is so aptly named. It’s why Zenith’s entire collection feels so progressive.
“We would like to be seen as innovative but timeless. A perception driven by our ‘Time To Reach Your Star’ philosophy that is reflected in the past, present, and future: be it e-commerce, boutique design, watches, PR, ambassadors, and most importantly, our employees. We will continue to pursue this strategy, focusing on our four main pillars — namely Chronomaster, Defy, Elite, and Pilot — and celebrating women with the Defy Midnight in the ladies’ segment,” says Tornare. “We have just revealed on social media and our website the new global ‘DreamHers’ campaign in this regard.”
These days, vision emerges from Zenith’s Defy laboratory, a testing ground for wild innovations and groundbreaking technical achievements. Look to Defy, a collection built with over a century of knowledge, but with a propensity for maximum visual modernity. The Chronomaster provides timeless interpretations of the legendary El Primero. It’s been a year of bold materials, intense colors, and mechanical wonders based on a legendary chronograph movement, with roots stretching back more than 50 years. Introductions from 2020 continue to propel Zenith forward, but remain invariably respectful of the past. 2021 promises further discovery and innovation. Zenith never lacks vision.
Defy Classic Carbon
This futuristic skeleton, the Defy Classic Carbon, is the first all-carbon watch in Zenith’s history. Incredibly lightweight, at only 65 grams (!), the watch is 40 percent lighter than the Zenith Defy Classic in titanium. The patterning of the carbon occurs during its manufacture, those unique textures picking up light with its dark crystalline iridescence. The classic tonneau-shaped case is redefined in black carbon, with a matching bracelet made of more than 50 components, requiring incredible technical skill to assemble. Limited in number by the complexity of production, the Defy Classic Carbon resembles watches costing 10 times the price.