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Zenith START. STOP. RESET.
The brand most famous for its historic El Primero Chronograph looks to the stars with the new Defy Midnight and Elite Classic.
Julien Tornare took the reins at Zenith at 2017, and since then has ignited the revival of one of the industry’s most beloved brands. For the first time, in this open and unrestricted conversation in Dubai during the inaugural LVMH Watch Week, he shares with WorldTempus the challenges he faced when first coming to the brand, his plans to bring historical elements back into focus at Baselworld 2020, and how he sees the 21st-century woman.
Maybe it’s too soon to say for sure, but how do you feel about LVMH Watch Week so far? What expectations did you have and do you think those expectations have been met?
So far yes, because what we wanted to do first of all was to test another format than the traditional trade show. Because we can do press trips or events, we do these all year long anyway, but it’s not the same here. Here, we have a kind of hybrid, where we meet, we can have time together. You only have four brands to focus on, and you’re in a dedicated environment for this, which is what we wanted.
So I would say that our objectives have been totally met so far. I always wanted — in addition to a show in Switzerland — to have a show abroad. I think it's a good and dynamic perspective coming from a brand to say we are going to the market to present something. You know me — my background was always in the markets, and I always believed that this is how you keep a brand rooted in the reality of today’s world. Today we are in Dubai, but hopefully next year we could be in Singapore or in Shanghai, after that maybe Miami or New York. I would keep a Swiss one, for sure, because at the end of the day we are making Swiss watches. It's important to keep an institutional trade show somewhere in Switzerland. But I really like this dynamic of a second show abroad.
LVMH Press conference, Dubai 2020 © LVMH
Has it dramatically changed the way you work during the year?
You have less time to prepare your watches. This is clear. On our side, we’re probably showing you about 30 percent of what we're going to present in 2020. That means a big chunk will still be for Baselworld, but for me, it was very important for us — more than anything — to be able to present the Defy Midnight here. It’s a very big launch for us, and we worked a long time on that watch. Looking at the Elite, which was us being ready to revisit top levels of elegance, where we have this thin case, nice lugs — we invested in the dial to have these great textures and effects of colour, and you can see it turned out so well. We’ve been waiting for a long time to do something like this. And on top of that, we have two tactical launches, with the Defy 21 Land Rover Edition and the Carl Cox Edition. It’s a great start to 2020 for us.
Defy Midnight © Zenith
I’m really happy to see the Elite calibre being given a strong focus again. The El Primero will always be a strong pillar of Zenith, but in a way the Elite is equally strong, because it offers versatility and the possibility to form the base of a solid collection for women.
Literally on day one, when I started to travel and visit different markets for Zenith, people asked me for that. “What are you coming out with something for women, something with a feminine touch?” And of course it was something we were always going to do, but we can’t do everything at the same time. My first thoughts about this was that the Elite and Chronomaster had too many references, they were not turning around fast enough for me. That was my problem two and a half years ago, and I can talk about it with you now. But thankfully we got the Defy, our growth engine, which allowed us to focus on one collection and let things cool off a bit on the others for a while. People believed that I wanted to do only the Defy and kill off the other lines. They were wrong. I never wanted that, but I couldn't say so at the time. So, thanks to our refocusing on Defy, we had great success and because of this, we got the numbers we needed to move towards other things.
Then, behind the scenes, I worked on redesigning Elite the way I just described. We also worked on the Chronomaster, because you know last year Chronomaster had kind of a rebirth, what with the El Primero celebrations and the Revival editions. We could definitely feel the interest there. But we’ve also seen a lot of excess in Chronomaster in the past — with the big case, big crown, big everything. That was not what a Chronomaster should be. We have to go back to pure designs, three counters, simplicity. Crazy colours, limited editions — we have the Defy for that now. I can have as much fun as I want with this line. For Chronomaster we have to go back to a certain line of conduct. And this is what you will see in Baselworld.
Defy 21 Land Rover Edition © Zenith
What factors did you consider when putting together the essential elements for a feminine Zenith timepiece?
Everybody was asking me for a woman’s watch, a feminine watch. I said to myself, “Okay, who is the woman of the 21st Century?” First, I thought, we need to bring a story. We need to bring emotion. We need to bring something a little bit, you know, romantic. The campaign for the feminine watches will be centred on the concept of “Time to reach your star”, which is something that’s been in our DNA since forever. That’s why we worked so hard on the rendering of the sky in these watches, because we all have a star that we want to reach. You want a watch that you can link to your identity as a doer, an achiever, and this is what the Defy Midnight dial is reminding you every day when you look at it.
Another aspect here is something a little more concrete — that I believe women are so much better than men at multi-tasking. You do so many things successfully. I wanted the watch to correspond to this. Hence the multi-strap system. It’s not entirely new, other brands have done interchangeable straps before. But not at this level, not with equal interchangeability between bracelet and three strap options that come together with the watch, and not at the high end. We are the first to do this. It's a watch that you can really adapt to what you’re doing in life, in the day or at night, at work or on a night out, at the gym or playing sports. And I didn’t want to use a quartz movement in this watch, even though people still think that ladies favour quartz watches. We don’t categorise people or watches like that. What’s more, we are a mechanical brand, and we are going to continue like this.
Elite 36mm © Zenith
I have this little analogy that I like to use with Zenith, because of how strongly it’s identified with the El Primero chronograph. Over the years we could say that the development of the brand has gone through starts and stops, but you could say you’ve brought a reset to Zenith. (Start, Stop and Reset are the three phases of chronograph function.)
Yeah, you're right. It's a reset, which allows us to start again on a fresh page. Sometimes you have to, when you have long history like this. I mean, I am 47 years old. Who am I to break things and remake brand history? I think about what I can do, what work we can do, to make things better. But I’m just one person, at the end of the day. We keep our feet on the ground. But we still reach for the stars.