Zenith CEO Julien Tornare Discusses the Current Position and Future of the Brand

Lara Mansour   |   09-02-2023

Since joining Zenith in 2017, CEO Julien Tornare has been on a mission to redefine the brand, its product lines, and the way it is communicated with the world.


With several record years, it seems as though he is well on his way to completing that mission. This year the brand has many key launches, beginning with a focus on the DEFY line this January. Here we find out more about the new novelties, as well as what can be expected from the brand for the rest of 2023. 



In your opinion, how do you think the LVMH Watch Week platform is a good moment for the brand to showcase its latest novelties?


I believe it is a good moment, it’s just after Christmas, just before Chinese New Year and we catch the super important moment. It’s a very nice format and I hope we’ll continue to move forward with this. Of course, there is always some stress, the fact that it was right after Christmas is not so easy because everyone is exhausted and ready for a break in December, but we knew we had this show coming so it brings more work, but once you are here there is a positive momentum because we can set the right tone and rhythm for the year from day one. And it also means we are presenting watches throughout the year and what we’ve learnt during COVID is that we could drop products all year round. In the past, watchmakers would show everything once a year, now we have two shows, and we keep some other little surprises for the rest of the year. 


At the upcoming Watches & Wonders in March, we are going to talk about Chronomaster and we are going to have something quite important happening on the Pilot line, but now we are focusing mostly on DEFY here.


DEFY Midnight Blue


Why did you choose to focus on DEFY ?

Why not?! It was because we had to choose between two big launches for this year, DEFY Skeleton was one of them, and the feeling was that it was better to launch it now. But only a year ago, we were still thinking about doing the opposite and keeping the DEFY for Watches & Wonders and vice versa. We decided on the final timing in the summer, and it was partly because we believe that what we present at Watches & Wonders had a better space for that and things can be expressed differently, and it’s more of a global fair. 



What are the current pillars right now for Zenith?

It’s quite simple. We have two main product lines: Chronomaster and DEFY. Then we have two that I would call more tactical: Pilot and Elite. When I came on board in 2017, we relaunched the DEFY which was originally from the sixties, and that gave us business and therefore time to re-work the design of the Chronomaster and to manage a very successful comeback for that in 2021. The following year we reinforced DEFY with the DEFY skyline. 


The Pilot line is also very important to us. We have been working on a lot on the Pilot line to show you what we will reveal in a few months in Geneva. The Pilot line will play an important role this year and will represent a third engine. I think it’s time for Pilot to present a new direction. And of course, there is Elite, which is the segment I would say is not so strong now. People are looking more for sports watches, but I believe it’s like fashion trends and things will come back around, so I’m already anticipating that and working on something strong. 


DEFY Came back to bring a lot of contemporary spirit into the brand, and today it’s still a laboratory for creativity and innovation. When I brief my product team on DEFY I tell them it is an open book, they can do whatever they want. Then they show me some ideas, sometimes I say yes, sometimes I say no, but the creativity is limitless. 


DEFY Skyline 36 Green



To what extent do you feel restrained by the history and heritage at Zenith? 

It’s simple, for me there are zero constraints because heritage should be a source of inspiration. I’ve always said in the past that in the Swiss watchmaking industry, we tend to have brands that have a long history, and they are stuck in that history, repeating the past, and there was clearly a risk of losing stories of the past. On the other side, you have brands with very little history who can start from the beginning with crazy, innovative ideas. There have been great success stories over the last few years with such brands. With Zenith, we have the past and the heritage, we have the Manufacture, so we have the authenticity (any Zenith watch we produce has a Zenith movement), and these two aspects are very serious in a way, but they translate into a contemporary approach. That’s why we have been very successful over the last few years because that’s what was missing at Zenith. When I came on board, we already had the history, but the brand was weak, and that’s what we’ve been working hard on over the last few years. Of course, we have been working on the watches themselves, but also on the brand platforms, the marketing strategy, the ambassadors, the website, the social media, and the ecommerce, I could continue. These are all huge work fields that we have been putting together and now it’s paying off because the brand is totally different. We have rejuvenated our clientele in five years. It’s been about keeping our DNA and remaining who we are but looking very different. 



You recently launched some Revival watches that are targeting mainly watch collectors tell us about that and where you see it in the future.

Revival is crossing all our other product lines because we have or will have Revival pieces across all the other lines. Revival is a souvenir of where we come from. It’s a re-edition of iconic watches that we had in the past. Then on top of that, you have the Zenith Icons. These are not reproductions; these are vintage watches that we have restored. But they are also part of the product portfolio. 





Tell us about Zenith in the Middle East today and some of the projects in the pipeline for the region. 


Dubai is fantastic and it’s been a very important market for us. I have to say since we took over the boutique and we have been showing our retail expertise, it gave us a new dynamic and success. The Dubai boutique is a great success it’s always in our top three boutiques and I’m happy to say that Dubai ended up being our number one boutique in 2022, with an incredible record month in March. We will soon have a boutique at the Mall of the Emirates which will be a second important milestone. This will make Dubai the only city in the world that has two boutiques. We are also opening our first boutique in Saudi Arabia in Kingdom Mall. We have many projects happening around the region. People are believing in the brand, and they want to invest. So yes, it’s growing a lot, the Middle is booming for us and we still have a lot to do. 





The 36mm DEFY Skyline seems to be a way to bring in more female customers to the brand without compromising on the design. 

Absolutely but I like to say that we don’t talk about male or female watches anymore at Zenith. If you claim to be modern, it’s not only because you bring a new material or something new, but also the whole attitude of the brand and the values of the brand, and for me today, this is about having a genderless approach. And we are the first ones to do this. I can also go further than that because everyone believes and claims they are client-centric – if you say you are client-centric, how can you decide for the client if the watch is for a man or a woman? If you want to be client-centric, you should say ‘we make beautiful watches, it’s the client’s job to choose which watches they want to wear.’ That for me is the perfect approach.