A&E Interviews: The Newly Appointed CEO Of Zenith, Julien Tornare

Eliza Scarborough   |   24 - 01 - 2018




You’d be forgiven for archiving Zenith in your minds, but it was once a brand that many saw as a beacon of creativity pushing boundaries. However, it has relied on the success of El Primero, the first automatic chronograph made in 1969, for too long which has led it to a stand point and eventually out of the spotlight. The newly appointed CEO Julien Tornare believes it’s time to shake off the old and bravely focus on the new.


Everyone has been waiting to see the changes you’ll bring Zenith. What has been your focus since becoming CEO six months ago?

When I met Mr. Jean-Claude Biver, we talked about a sleeping beauty and how we were going to wake her up, and the idea is to bring back some innovation in the brand, which is exactly what we are doing this year between the Defy Lab and the Defy21. We strongly believe that today our industry has been too focused on the past and repeating it, as if they are jailed by tradition. We believe that you shouldn’t be jailed and instead use it to build the future. That’s why the idea for us isn’t just to bring innovation, but it is also to make the brand more contemporary, reaching younger clients whilst still respecting our heritage in a very contemporary way.

In your opinion, what was the weak point of Zenith that held it back from moving forward with other brands?

Zenith was always focusing on El Primero, the first automatic chronograph made in 1969, and although this invention is really great, we are today in 2018 so we have to know what we want to do with it. Zenith was a little boring and repeating itself in the past, and that’s why it didn’t excite the client. There were a few years where Mr. Nataf brought a lot of excitement to the brand, but then he suddenly became a little bit quiet. Therefore, we need to be louder and we must be proud to represent the brand and what it has done.    

How challenging is it for you to revive the brand and make a space for it again when both luxury and retail industries are suffering? 

It is certainly challenging because we didn’t enjoy the 12 to 15 golden years that we had behind us before the crisis started to hit in 2014-2015. So, of course if you did not enjoy those fantastic years it is even harder to climb mountains. It is a big challenge, but we need to go back to the basics, which means reviewing the distribution, the marketing strategy, and the product. We need to start with the product because it is the most important thing in our business, and right now I am working on re-organising the company on different levels.

What do you think makes a brand successful?

I think it is about people and energy. To be honest, I knew it was a tough challenge for me, but I was very excited because when I met Mr. Jean-Claude Biver we shared a lot of ideas and we had common views about brands, brand building, and all the things that we wanted to do. He has so much energy and wants the brand to be back on track as well as successful and that is what I want too. So, two people are already easier than being on your own. Now my job is to bring the whole company with us and to bring energy to them. I go every day to the company and I tell them how they should change their mentality, as you have to be energised and proud to represent Zenith.

How was your experience at Dubai Watch week, and what are your plans for the region?

In the region the potential is huge. We have changed the team and hired a new person in charge of the brand here who is very smart and has a lot of experience. He is just like me because he wants to turn the brand into a success. I think that Dubai is a priority market, we have a lot of work to do and we will concentrate on 4 or 5 key markets to start in the region, and go from there. However, Dubai Watch Week is definitely important, and I really wanted to attend it. We will surely make an exclusive watch for the region, and although it’s not yet finalised we are working on the project.


You’ve won recently the Innovation watch prize at the ‘Grand Prix D’Horlogerie de Genève’ tell us more about the Defy Lab and what makes it so special?

Defy Lab is really unbelievable, it is a revolution. Today we can say with this new oscillator that we have created the most precise mechanical watch ever made, and we only vary by less than one second per 24 hours, while most watches vary by 2 or 2.5 seconds. After 24 hours, when the energy of the watch goes down the drops, our new system is stable all the way until the end of the prism, so it really is an improvement.

How important are the women’s watches to the brand, and what is your strategy for growth in this sector?

Women are the most important. It is clear that Zenith today is in a funny situation because we never really worked on a lot of female product lines, but still we sell today 25% to 30% in this sector. What we need to do next is to find the right way to talk to women, not only with watches but with the right product environment. We need to bring femininity to the watch, and understand that women and men want to be equal on many levels.

What watch are you wearing today?

I am wearing the Defy21, which is a watch that you have not seen before because it will be launched next year with a blue finish. I also asked my production team to create a rubber strap which we will also introduce next year. It is the only chronograph in the world made in a series like this that can measure the 100 per second based in El Primero history. It is my favourite design.

How do you see the future of the Swiss watchmaking?

I am very positive. I think what we learn from our industry is that it will survive even with a connected watch. It is not because people with connected watches are on their cell phones all day and forget the watch, it is because these watches are as important as the cell phones because they are part of the personality.

Do you have any regrets in life?

I don’t have regrets, I only have thoughts about things that I could have done differently. I believe if you have regrets it means you always look backwards, and something I learned is that you need to look forward.

What’s your favourite book and why?

I would say my favourite book is ‘Ma Vie’, which was written by my grandmother. It is about her life and is very interesting. She passed away a few years ago so I read it again and saw it in a different way. It teaches a lot about life, but also about my history, my grandparents and where I came from, so every time I read it I learn new things.

What is a life lesson that you can share with us?

We all tend to put limits on ourselves, but we shouldn’t. I think by putting limits in place, we will never be able to succeed or to overachieve things. For example, if you enter a tennis court thinking that you’re going to lose because you’ve lost before to the player, or I should not take over Zenith because it is a difficult brand to put back on track, you are already putting limits on yourself and you won’t succeed.

Life is always trying to challenge you so if you don’t face the challenges it means that you are walking backwards. However, I think naturally it is all about your mind set. That is what I am trying to teach my children, if they have a difficulty I want them to know how to cooperate with it so they can finally make it through instead of giving up quickly.

What’s your motto?

My motto is ‘never give up’. Sometimes I do give up, but I am trying not to even if it is hard and I am feeling that I am going through difficult times. I think it is super important not to give up, which I have learnt from sports and am now trying to apply to my daily life.

What do you do in your spare time?

I work and travel a lot, but when I do have spare time I like to spend most of it with my family.

What are you like as a CEO?

I believe in people and think that you can be demanding but respectful. I have always been that way as I want people to believe in our projects so that we can move in the right direction and make it happen. 


Is it easy for you to say no on a professional level?

I don’t like to say no just to say it, I prefer to explain why. I am not saying it is easy, but if you’re honest with people, usually 95% of them will understand.

What are your goals for the year?

The last six months have been busy, so it’s become important for me to get a better work life balance in the coming months. My professional one is to capitalise on what has been done already since I have joined. I am starting to feel the vibe, a change in Zenith.

By Charline Deek