Julien Tornare, CEO at Zenith Watches Discusses the Latest Novelties

Lindsay Judge   |   06-10-2021

Since joining Zenith as CEO in 2017, Julien Tornare has been on a mission to reposition the brand and embrace its incredible history, while looking forward to the future with innovation and the finest in watchmaking skills. So far, it’s been a great success.


He has introduced two pillar collections – DEFY and Chronomaster – that are propelling the brand to becoming a market leader in its field. When the global pandemic hit last year, despite having to close the Zenith factory for two weeks, Tornare refused to sit back and wait. Instead, he pushed forward with the launch of Zenith’s e-commerce platform, as well as taking up opportunities for digital interaction with clients and fans through a multitude of channels. This allowed the brand to continue to be active throughout the last 18 months and keep up the momentum it has been building for the past four years. Now, as the global watch industry continues to resume, Zenith is launching several new novelties and there will be a special focus on the Middle East in the coming months. Here we discuss the recent launches and find out what’s in the pipeline for Zenith.


We’ve seen some great new novelties including a lot related to the Chronomaster – tell us about some of the latest launches?

We launched the Chronomaster Sport at the end of January and it’s been a huge success. We knew it would be a great hit but not to the extent that it has been – there has been a tsunami of requests and orders which has been fantastic for us! 2021 is a very important year for the repositioning of the Chronomaster collection. Starting with the Sport of course, which was inspired by some specific watches in the past, and of course the original; the very classic, elegant interpretation of the Chronomaster. It’s been a great welcome and that has taken up a lot of what we have been working on over the past few months.


What can you tell us about the latest updates to the DEFY line and what can we expect to see from this moving forward?

We recently launched DEFY Extreme – we named it “Extreme” because it was really about pushing the proportions and the elements of the DEFY collection. It’s a great watch that’s also had tremendous success over the last few months. I have to say, every launch we have done this year has been a great success. So yes, we are going from one good momentum to another.


DEFY Extreme


The past 18 months have been challenging for all – what can you tell us about the business at Zenith during this time and have you changed anything moving forward?

2020 in particular with the lockdown, was a really tough time, we had to cut production for a few weeks and of course, everyone was working from home. One of the first things I did was to ask our employees how they could turn their jobs into digital ones. Obviously, for watchmakers, it’s not really possible, but for around 99 per cent of the other employees at Zenith, they managed to adapt. We have been recognised for being one of the most active brands during the pandemic on social media, and through the new ways we connected with our clients, so, while 2020 was a tough year on one side, on the other hand, we have been gaining market share. This is being proven now with the great results of 2021.


Can you tell us about the progression of the online business at Zenith?

From a business perspective, we kicked off e-commerce last year in July. Originally, it was supposed to be deployed in around a year and a half but because of the pandemic, we did the whole process in a month and a half! Step by step we are covering the whole world with our e-commerce platform. For those who are still sceptical about how we can sell luxury watches online, I can tell you that we have been so successful that now, the e-commerce business is half of our business in the American market. Which is fantastic. We are living in a digital world and the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the digitalisation of the brand. I see it more as another channel. A channel that is not only here to make sales but also to provide a service for clients. What we forget is that many people around the world may not live close to a watch retailer or a Zenith boutique. In vast countries such as China, The United States, Russia, Australia etc. there are large areas of land without big shopping centres, so in order for us to provide a great service, we can enable clients to buy a watch, even when they are thousands of kilometres away, through our online service. Currently, the US is number one for us when it comes to e-commerce sales, but step by step the rest of the world is catching up and I would say again, with the COVID-19 lockdown, most households have started to buy more online than they did before.


DEFY Extreme


How do you ensure the experience and services live up to the in-store experience when you are selling online? 

Of course, there are limitations and with e-commerce, we are never going to match the kind of experience our customers will have in the physical boutique, but we still offer advice via our chat and our social media. We respond to every client that contacts us and we can also offer a concierge service for some specific watches where we can offer advice. By doing this, we try to minimise the things that customers are missing from the physical experience.


We know you had a lot of digital experiences last year to keep the clients engaged – what was the feedback on this and is this something you will be continuing to do moving forward? 

We have to continue and it’s been a big learning curve. When you make mistakes you have to learn from them, but when you do great things, you should also consider how you can integrate these new ways of working and interacting with clients in our new world. And I think it’s very important for us at Zenith to continue with these methods. As I said earlier, we have been recognised as one of the most active brands and I know for a fact that we gained market share, awareness and desirability during the lockdown, so it’s proving that we absolutely need to continue moving forward in this way.


Chronomaster Sport


We know collaborations with inspiring people are something very important at Zenith – how do these projects help you to share the message of the brand and what do you look for in your partners? 

Zenith is about three key things: The first is heritage – we have 156 years of history. The second: authenticity – in the way that every Zenith watch has a Zenith movement and very few brands can say that all of their watches have in-house movements. And thirdly, we are innovative. All of our marketing stories are authentic but we have turned to the future in an innovative and very creative way. And I think this is summarised with our brand motto: “Time to reach your star”. From the beginning of Zenith to today this sums up our brand and I believe it’s a good way to explain who we are.


So when I’m looking for partners I’m not looking only to make what I would call the “red carpet effect” – this is the easy part – what I want is opinion leaders or celebrities that can share their story and whose values are exactly in line with the “Time to reach your star” philosophy. That’s why we don’t always go for the biggest names but instead, we choose people that really embrace our philosophy. All of the partners we work with had a vision of where they wanted to go and they worked very hard from the beginning to reach their own star. This is what I look for.


The last time we spoke we discussed the Dream Hers project and ladies watches specifically – what can you tell us about this and what is in the pipeline for this project? 


We decided, under the umbrella of the “Time To reach Your Star” concept, to dedicate an initiative to women. Dream Hers represents women who have achieved incredible things in their respective fields. We know that the road is often more difficult for women than it is for men, they have been fighting harder and working hard to reach their stars and we want to pay tribute to these women. Unfortunately, we started the project in 2020 so we were limited on what we could do and how we could communicate on this because of the pandemic. We started with some Instagram Lives and a few communications here and there, but finally, I’m so happy to say that this month we will have an event called “Meet the Dream Hers” in Madrid, Spain and most of our Dream Hers ladies will be attending. We will bring them all together to talk about their achievements and they will be there to inspire other women to go for their dreams. I’m really looking forward to this because I have wanted to get all of these women on stage together and celebrate what the campaign is all about for a long time.


Dream Hers


In this issue, we are recognising Breast Cancer Awareness month and we know Zenith is working on something related to this with a special creation – what can you tell us about it?

It’s important for us at Zenith to work with causes that we find important and try to help others. The Pink Ribbon charity auction is a very important event held in Switzerland and throughout the world in October. In Switzerland, breast cancer is something that still affects far too many women per year, so I think it’s important that more people are aware that they need to be checked regularly because as you know, if the disease is found early, it makes a huge difference to the chances of survival. I think the more we talk about it and communicate on it, the more women we will save. That’s why we decided to contribute to the event for the second year. We have made a unique piece; a DEFY Midnight watch with a pink gradient dial and we will be auctioning it on October 30th. 100 per cent of proceeds will go to charity and the idea is to create more awareness. Also, at the Zenith Headquarters, all the face masks that staff are wearing during October will be pink!


Can you tell us a little about how the ladies sector at Zenith is doing?

It’s growing a lot. The data that we have been collecting confirms that we are getting more and more women buying Zenith watches and I think that’s because Zenith is becoming more of a contemporary brand that’s touching both men and women equally. Currently, around 35 per cent of our customers are women and 65 per cent are men, but the percentage is growing every month. What’s important to mention however is that at Zenith we believe that we shouldn’t be making men’s watches or women’s watches – this is something I want to ban. Who am I to say this is a watch that women should wear or vice versa? It’s more important to say that we make beautiful products that can be worn by both genders and this is the direction we want to move in.


Ghizlan Guenez – Dream Hers


Dubai Watch Week is coming up soon – will Zenith will be involved and what can we expect to see from the brand in the Middle East over the coming months? 

Dubai is not only an incredible market but it’s been a great surprise for us. The boutique in Dubai Mall has been a huge success and this year we are renovating it into the new concept which will be finished in a few weeks. We will have a grand opening in November during Dubai Watch Week.


Not only will we be in the buzz of Dubai Watch Week, but, during the same week, we will also be present as part of an event at Expo 2020 Dubai in an event that will gather the Chambers of Commerce from different countries. We were approached by the Swiss Division as they believe we are a brand that is very representative of the Swiss watch industry and we are the only watch partner of this event. We will be at the Swiss Pavilion at Dubai Expo 2020, representing Swiss watchmaking during the same week. It’s a great compliment to be asked and I think they picked Zenith because of our legitimacy and the way we remain super authentic. We are very much a real manufacturer and that is something that means a lot to the Swiss authorities.


Are there any shifts or changes in the industry that you have seen over the past year?

I think as we mentioned earlier, today, more than ever, brands that are adapting to the new environment faster will be the strongest moving forward. We have such a big change of environment brought on by COVID-19, and advancements in the digital era, so many things are changing very fast, and we must adapt. And again, I think Zenith did a very good job at adapting quickly and we are gaining in terms of market share thanks to this. I believe as a watch brand today you must sell online, and you must be true. We often think that young people, because they are online and connected all the time, want things to move very fast. But it’s because they have so much access to information that they want to be sure that what they get is a true, genuine, authentic and a real product. We are seeing more and more young people telling us that they have been researching the brand and they are interested to invest into it. I think there is a shift that we should not underestimate.


Moving forward into next year, what is in the pipeline for Zenith that you can share with us today? 

What I can tell you is that this year will be a record-breaking year for Zenith on many different levels, and then of course next year, we have to go higher and reach another star. So after having strongly repositioned the Chronomaster line this year, we will certainly bring some more animation on it next year. The main launches will be early in the year – there will be an incredible totally new product coming as part of the DEFY collection. And then later in the year, we will be coming back strongly with a new Pilot’s watch. Pilot watches are very important for us as they have been part of the brand since the early 20th century, so the idea is to present our historical and vintage watches, but also to bring the pilot line into a more contemporary world.


What is a message that you would send to our readers and your clients in the Middle East on what they can expect from Zenith soon?

What you can expect is for Zenith to be one of the very top brands in the watch industry and for the brand to surprise you, show you things that will be truly amazing and unbelievable – I think we have started doing this already, but we will continue to surprise, and continue to offer our clients three things that are super important: the history, the legitimacy, and the authenticity. When you buy a Zenith watch, you buy into a brand that doesn’t just look to the past, it continues to innovate for the 21st century, and there are not many brands who can say they do that. I don’t see why we shouldn’t be the brand that connects our heritage to the future and to innovation.