Zenith CEO Julien Tornare on the Latest Novelties and an Exciting Year Ahead

Lara Mansour   |   16-03-2021

It is no secret that the watch industry, like many, has been deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Early in 2020, thousands of stores were forced to close across the world and brands have found it difficult to provide the same experience with clients as they have done for many years. With many events still being cancelled globally and the travel industry far from recovering, key players in the industry are finding dynamic ways to share their latest novelties with prospective clients. This January saw the second edition of LVMH Watch Week taking on a digital format with brands including Zenith, Hublot and Bvlgari showcasing their latest novelties. After the success of the first event in Dubai in January 2020, this presentation had a whole new look as attendees saw watches through their screens without being about to touch and feel. But the excitement was still there.


Zenith unveiled its biggest launch of the year; the Chronomaster Sport. This revival watch is a remake of a model from the past and is inspired by several watches in Zenith’s archive. For CEO Julien Tornare this is a landmark launch and something he has been working on for a long time. When he joined the brand three years ago, Tornare was challenged with bringing it into the 21st century while not forgetting its heritage; a task he has been striving to achieve. Now, for the first time, the brand’s portfolio is coming together in the image he imagined and it starts the beginning of an exciting new chapter for Zenith. We discover more.


Zenith Chronomaster heritage pieces inspiration


LVMH Watch Week had its first edition last year in Dubai and the second this January with a digital format – how do you rate this new concept after the first two editions and is it as effective as you anticipated?

I believe it is very effective but it is difficult to compare with what we did in the past because the concept is so different. With the coronavirus situation and the digital presentation, it’s very difficult for us to determine whether it was as successful as it would have been if we’d had physical shows. But I think it has made us evolve and I do think that things will change moving forward and continue to be a mix of digital and physical. This situation has pushed us all to move much faster than expected. At the Dubai show last year we wanted to get as many people as possible here – we didn’t talk to anyone via Zoom, but I’m sure in the future with such shows, we will have a “Zoom Room” for those who cannot physically come. So I do believe moving forward it will be a combination of both digital and physical. Having said that, had we not been limited by the COVID-19 situation, I’m sure we would have had a few more physical shows around the world already. We would have gone to China and probably Miami for the Americas, but instead this January we were 100 per cent digital.


When it comes to clients are you following this same pattern connecting with them digitally? 

Yes but this year has created a lot of limitation in all areas; whether it’s press, retailers or clients. When you are behind a screen, how much of the experience can you really give to the other person? It’s very limited and that’s why I’m so happy to be here in Dubai because I haven’t been out to the markets since the situation began. The minute I knew I could visit Dubai safely I decided to come because you will never beat face-to-face interaction. At large events, there is always a formal part but there is also an informal experience and that crucial part is the part you lose with digital events.


In my ideal world, when the COVID-19 situation is over, my perfect scenario would be to have one institutional trade show. I would love to have everyone within the watch industry come together to create one big show. The upcoming Watches & Wonders event is a good start as we are expecting to be 50 brands to participate, which is a very good sign and I’m happy to be part of it. So yes, I think we should have one big event and then brand by brand or group by group, individual things can happen around the world to promote the brands in the markets.


Chronomaster Sport


Tell us about the new Chronomaster Sport that is receiving great echoes so far.

This watch is a very important timepiece for us – not only because we just launched it or because it’s been a great success, but because we have been working on it for three years. In 2017 when I joined the brand, we launched the DEFY collection which had a very contemporary approach and some people were eager to see something that looked to the history of the brand. I have been reassuring them that I wasn’t forgetting what was done in the past, but I believed that we needed a good balance between the two. But this takes time. So, the DEFY line allowed me to increase the success of the business for a few years while working behind the scenes with my team on what Chronomaster is all about and the design and roots of the watch and ask ourselves ‘how can we come back to this particular watch collection?’ That’s why in 2019 we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the El Primero, and I started to introduce the revival pieces. In the footsteps of these revival launches, we were supposed to present the big comeback of Chronomaster in 2020. Obviously, COVID-19 happened so I decided to keep the Chronomaster Sport on hold, as well as the Chronomaster Classic, which will be released during the upcoming Watches & Wonders. So it’s very clear that now we have revival, sports and classic watches within the Zenith range. And finally, we have two key pillars: DEFY which talks about today and the future and Chronomaster, which is about yesterday and today. Plus of course, we have our Pilot watches and some new concepts that are going to be happening in 2021. I knew Chronomaster Sport would be something special, but never to the extent that it has been received so far.


What’s in the pipeline for Zenith in the Middle East? 

Aside from the UAE, we are looking very closely at Saudi Arabia, which is a very important market that we haven’t really tapped into yet. And of course, the two other main strategic countries are Kuwait and Qatar. So these four countries are our focus right now.




What can you tell us about women at Zenith in 2021?

We will have the continuation of the “Dream Hers” programme in which we had women offering their testimonies of how they reached their star or achieved their dream. The only problem was that we had planned to bring all of these women together on one stage somewhere in the world, but of course, that couldn’t happen this year so instead, we had virtual talks and Instagram Lives etc., which worked well, but again we had the limitations of digital. The aim this year is to reinforce the “Dream Hers” programme, as well as the DEFY Midnight watch, which has been a great success.


But more than anything I want to change the codes of communication with our watches in terms of men and women. In other words, at Zenith we will never talk again about men’s watches or women’s watches. I believe that this is something in the past and sometimes watch brands look too much at what has happened previously. I think we need to make beautiful watches that can be worn by both men and women. As simple as that! Who are we as a watch brand to determine which designs are for men and which are for women? The customer should be deciding on what he or she wants to buy. I think it is similar with cars – I remember when I was young and people would say “this is a men’s car” or “this is a women’s car” – today that doesn’t make any sense. The Chronomaster Sport for example is very wearable by both genders. One thing we haven’t done yet, but we will do, is create a visual with women for the Chronomaster Sport. We have already sold quite a few of these watches to women and it is a unisex watch, so this is something we will rebalance. But overall I think we will be one of the first brands to stop completely talking in this way.


What do you think will be the biggest challenges for Zenith this year and what is the strategy you have to overcome it?

We have been working really hard for three and a half years and the main challenge for us today is the environment and external factors. We have everything ready at Zenith, what we need is more wind pushing us from behind rather than in our face! That’s what we have had over the last year and a half, beginning with the second part of 2019, which was not so good because of what happened in Hong Kong, and then, of course, we had COVID-19, which has led the entire industry to be at minus 25-35%. It’s not that bad if you consider the situation and the fact that there were times when everything was closed but we need to move forward. Overall the resistance to the situation has been quite good but now we just need better days. For me, as a brand, that’s the main challenge. We have been working on brand awareness and desirability and it’s starting to take off. The launch of the Chronomaster Sport in the middle of a situation that is still problematic shows us the huge potential that we have.


What is the master message you are spreading at Zenith this year?

“Time to reach your star” continues as well as the comeback of Chronomaster, which for me is the biggest highlight of the year. It’s the biggest because it’s creating a link between DEFY and Chronomaster as the two main pillars and connecting what the brand is all about. I think this year, for the first time we can see a completely new brand. Wait until we launch our new boutique at The Dubai Mall. It’s a boutique that people love wherever we put it. I think it’s a year where Zenith enters a new league.




What is the message you would send to your clients in the Middle East?

I would like to tell them that Zenith is a brand that needs to be understood in the right way. It is a brand that has a long history of 156 years and in the watch industry, brands that have a long history tend to turn to the past, whereas new brands do all kinds of creative things that can be quite dynamic. But today, customers are much more attracted by authenticity than you can imagine. The world is moving at a rapid pace because communication is so fast and customers want to be linked to something true and authentic. We are one of the last four or five brands in the watch industry that can say that 100 per cent of our watches have an in-house movement. So in summary we have history, heritage and authenticity but we are very dynamic and creative.


Tell us about the Zenith Icons.

Last November we launched a programme called Zenith Icons. It was born at the beginning of the confinement period and it’s a programme in which we acquire back iconic watches from the past and restore them inside. We don’t touch the outside as we want to keep the traces of the past but inside we restore them to their original state. And then we resell them with a certificate of authenticity and a booklet with the entire history of the watch. Everything has been guaranteed, certified and restored by the Zenith HQ. These watches are on sale only in our boutiques. When we produce a Zenith watch it’s for forever – so when you buy an Icon watch it could be a timepiece that has already had 5, 10, 12 lives and someone young today will wear it because of its history. It’s a neverending, sustainable watch that will never be thrown away. I’m very pleased to be able to link the past and future in this way.