As Zenith gears up for exciting the launches over the coming months, CEO Julien Tornare shares his thoughts on the industry and what’s in the pipeline.
Zenith is a watch brand based around the philosophy of achieving your dreams. Something that many of us have been reflecting on over the recent months. The latest women’s watches highlight this notion of reaching for the stars with their unique design, created for the 21st-century woman. Julien Tornare CEO of Zenith Watches had the vision behind these new timepieces. For someone who enjoys visiting the markets and presenting Zenith novelties in person to the clients, the recent months have seen a huge change for him.
We recently connected with Tornare through a live Instagram conversation from the comfort of his home in Switzerland where we discussed the latest novelties as well as getting in insight into the work that he does in his role as CEO and how he has been working closely with his team during this time of crisis.
What made you attracted to join Zenith after such a long time in your previous company?
It was a mix of different things. When I started at my previous job at Vacheron Constantin I was just 28 and at that time you think you are going to work somewhere for a few years, but I was so lucky to have many roles at the company that shaped up my expertise. It was a fantastic experience but by the end, I felt that I wanted to try and explore something different.
I have always had a lot of admiration for Jean-Claude Biver, the former President of LVMH Watch Division. He called me and told me about the challenge he had with Zenith and what he wanted to do with the brand. The role of CEO was a global position so I was very excited about that, as it was a great evolution that would allow me to see and learn so much. The second point was to work alongside him because he is a living legend and one of the most important names in the watchmaking industry in the last 3 decades. Thirdly was the fact that I knew there was so much leverage with Zenith. It’s such a beautiful brand that could be so much bigger than it currently is and I knew that there was a lot of potential. So I felt that this was the right time to do something different and this was the right role.
What would you like to see done at Zenith that hasn’t been done before?
I’m pushing my team to be very creative. Creativity and innovation are things that were in the genes of the company from the beginning, but I think for a while it got lost. I ask all of my team to bring new ideas to the table, as we have to be pushing people and challenging them. Even if they make mistakes, that’s is totally OK – I’m asking people to try different things. We were the very first brand to do so many things. I like to push people to do things that are different. Last year I gave my executive committee the objective of bringing me five innovations. This could be a product or a process, but it was a way to try and change the mindset in the company. Sometimes the Swiss watch industry can be very conservative, but for me it’s super important to make sure that tradition doesn’t go against innovation. This was one thing I discovered when I met some of the creators of the El Primero movement from the sixties. They told me not to only repeat the past as at the time when this movement was created they were innovators and that is the DNA of Zenith.
What can you tell us about the latest novelties for women and where are women in the Zenith world today?
When I came on board at Zenith I had a lot of questions but one of the things I heard from all the markets was: ‘why don’t you have a strong women’s collection?’ We had a few watches here and there which women could wear but I knew what they meant. They wanted a watch that was created specifically for women. I often told them that if you make a beautiful watch it could be worn by men or women so there was no reason to create a women’s watch. But then I worked on the DEFY product line which became so important for the brand over the last few years and I decided that we needed a contemporary watch for women of the 21st century. So that’s what we did with the DEFY Midnight. On the dial, we have the starry sky of Zenith. Our logo is a star and the word Zenith means the highest point in the sky – so we have always been connected to this notion. This brings me to the Zenith philosophy of “time to reach your star”. We all have stars that we want to reach in our lives – personal or professional and this is why we have this romantic image with the starry sky on the dial. But I also wanted it to be a watch that is convenient for the 21st-century woman. I wanted to create a watch that could be worn for all the different aspects of a woman’s life, so we worked on an interchangeable bracelet. This in itself is not a new concept, but we decided to sell the watch to the client with the bracelet as well as two options for interchangeable straps. This way we are pushing them to play with the watch and change the look with this easy system. We have had in the past a lot of requests from people asking for different straps and I believe the strap, as well as the dial, can really change the look of your watch more than anything else. So we are looking more into flexibility and interchange-ability within all our watches, but we wanted to do it first for women.
Another thing I want to add on this watch was that we had a lot of questions as to whether we should use a quartz movement and I told everyone; ‘no, why would we?’ First of all, women appreciate mechanical watch movements such as the ones we have at Zenith and women also appreciate having the same level of sophistication of a movement as the men’s watches. There should not be a difference between men and women. I hate the notion of having Quartz watches for women and mechanical for men. So all of the women’s watches have the same movement that we use in our men’s classic watches.
We are going to launch a marketing concept around the watch called “Dream Hers”. We will have women who are leaders in their field and who are achievers and we will be inviting them to share with us how they went about reaching their stars. This is something that means a lot to us at Zenith.
How is Zenith staying close to its clients during these times as well as staying close internally within the company?
When we had to shut down the manufacture on March 17th the first thing I said to my Executive Committee was that we should stay in touch. So we made sure that we talked every day. We had a call at 9am every morning, even if there wasn’t much to discuss we keep in touch and keep the close bond that we have. I asked them to do the same with their teams and of course, we did the same with the markets.
Secondly, we asked ourselves how we could digitalise the company and move faster in the transformation. In terms of marketing, my team has done a very good job at organising online events, gatherings, training, live broadcasts etc. I enjoy giving information to others about the brand so we have done several launches and training sessions around the whole world and it has allowed me to get very close to everyone involved. So this is something I have learnt from the current situation. I’ve received a lot of emails and messages. I have even received drawings of watches that people think we should create. It’s been a tough time and I know there are more tough times ahead, but it has also been a very big learning experience.
Will you be changing any of the strategy of the brand moving forward after COVID-19?
Of course there will be changes. First of all, we have to take a lot of safety measures at the headquarters. It’s very different there now which creates a bit of a strange atmosphere that we need to get used to. We are learning how to work differently. I guess that travel will remain a difficult thing to do for a while and I think we will do more things digitally through screens. These will be the main changes, but I truly believe that we are a people-to-people business. We are in the businesses of selling emotions and stories and sometimes that face- to-face interaction is crucial. At Zenith we have true stories and this is what people buy into when they buy one of our watches so we will at some point, need to get back to the markets and meet the people.
How will you bring Zenith to the next level with its online business?
We have just launched e-commerce in Europe and the rest of the world will follow step-by-step over the next few months. I think when it comes to e-commerce you have to make the experience entertaining. We will start with a regular website but going forward I’m hoping to create a boutique experience online with real interaction. I think that this will be the e-boutique of the future. Also, you have to propose watches that clients cannot find anywhere else. You have to make it very special; otherwise, there are so many other options. So it’s all about creating a great experience.
We recently launched a Manufacture Edition watch. This was initially a watch that would be available only at the manufacture in Switzerland. So customers can only buy the watch if they visit us in Switzerland. At the moment however, I am making a little exception as the manufacture has been closed and we can’t welcome visitors. So we have made this watch available only on the e-commerce platform. But I’m insisting that anyone who buys this watch online has to come and have a tour of the manufacture!
Do you have any Astronomical watches in the pipeline?
Yes we do. Probably at the beginning of next year, we will have a high complication that will be referring to something in the sky. It will be quite amazing and it will come with a very special experience that I don’t think anyone has ever done. It will be a limited edition of 50 pieces.
What in your opinion sets Zenith apart from other brands?
Zenith has a long history. It was founded in 1865. So we have accumulated a lot of knowledge and knowhow. This is very reassuring when you buy an expensive object like a watch. But on the contrary, Zenith is not living in the past. Some watch brands have a long history and they tend to repeat the past because it’s safer to do what’s already been done, but this doesn’t build the future. Zenith is not like that. Of course, we do revival pieces and we pay tribute to some iconic watches, but we continue to create new things and bring innovation to the brand. In fifty years, if we still want to be a strong brand, we need to create now. So our mission is to continue to build the brand for the future. But with all of that said, when you buy a Zenith watch, you buy into a very authentic brand, and to me this is super important. If you want to keep the younger generation interested you have to be authentic through telling real stories and having your own movement in every watch you sell and they need to be sold at the right price. The younger generation wants to understand what they are buying, what is behind the brand and what they are getting for their money. So if you want something very authentic, Zenith is the brand to go for. It’s a fantastic brand with a lot of amazing assets.
What’s in the pipeline for Zenith in the coming months?
A lot of things! We are launching a few different pieces right now. One of these is the Chronomaster Revival “Shadow, which is a very cool interpretation of the A384. We have some animation on DEFY 21 to come. We have a limited edition Land Rover Defender watch coming as well as a new launch with our ambassador Carl Cox. And of course, we have the commercial launch of the ladies DEFY Midnight watch, which will happen in September. So we have quite a few new things arriving step-by-step. Then early next year we will have a very big launch. The closing of the manufacture forced us to postpone some of the launches that were supposed to take place this year but we will have a lot of things going on over the next few months. 2020 was supposed to be the year when Zenith was moving into the next league but I think now 2021 would be an incredible year for us.
As a CEO how do you clear you mind and make decisions and what do you do when in doubt?
It’s a position where sometimes you can feel lonely because ultimately you have to make the decisions by yourself. Yes, you can talk to your colleagues but at some point, you need to make the decision alone. So what I usually try to do is, unless a decision has to be made immediately, I like to sleep on it. A good night’s sleep is sometimes the best way to have clear visibility on what you should or shouldn’t do. Sometimes going for a run or doing an activity for an hour clears your mind. If those tricks don’t work, I have a couple of people who are mentors for me and I like to talk to them. I think professionally and personally, it’s important to talk to people and get a different perspective on things. Sometimes, of course, you have to make a quick decision and in this case, I will listen to my instinct.
Where will be your first destination when you can travel again?
We are opening a new boutique in Ginza in japan that I really want to visit. I want to go back to China soon as I didn’t visit Asia much in the fall. I have to go to Milan very soon. But at the moment I will take it step by step.
What is an objective you can share for the future of Zenith?
Zenith is a beautiful brand and I think what’s important is doing what we do best and doing it in the right way. Zenith is very strong amongst watch specialists. Our number one market today is Japan, which is quite unique for a watch brand, but Japanese people love complicated watches. My challenge is to not only sell watches to watch specialists and Japan; I need to sell watches to other people as well. So I need to encourage more people to understand what a creative, beautiful and authentic brand this is. I want people to know that when they buy a Zenith watch they buy something true. My job is to ensure that more people know about Zenith and more people discover what is really inside the brand and that’s really where I want to take it. That’s why I’ve been travelling so much and why I’ve been talking to so many people. We are going to have more boutiques and a bigger push on e-commerce. We are going to focus on the best retailers because we want to grow that business. The mind-set at Zenith is very young and I want to reposition that brand in a way that combines a fantastic mix of history and tradition with cool contemporary innovation.