Zenith CEO Julien Tornare Discusses the Coming Year and the Latest Novelties From the Watchmaker

Lindsay Judge   |   09-02-2020

Every time we meet with Zenith CEO Julien Tornare there is something new to discuss. Last year it was the 50th-anniversary celebration of El Primero which happened all over the world for a period of twelve months. So when we met this time it was to look forward to the coming year and the future plans for the watchmaker.


Tornare was in Dubai as a part of the LVMH Watch Week where. Zenith was participating. This was the first time such an event has taken place outside of Geneva so it was particularly exciting for the brand and for the region. Zenith presented a number of new novelties at the Watch Week including the eagerly anticipated Midnight DEFY range – the first women’s collection to be introduced under Tonare’s reign. Here we discuss the launch of Midnight DEFY as well as the other novelties that will be introduced throughout the coming year.


What can you tell us about your experience of LVMH Watch Week in Dubai?


It’s been fantastic. We have seen tremendous attendance from people from all around the world and we’ve had some amazing events at night. I have to say that I didn’t expect it to be of this level so it’s great – I’m super happy. It’s been nice because we have done things in a totally different way and the press and retailers have really had time to appreciate the watches. It’s been very relaxed.


What can you tell us about the coming year for Zenith?


In 2020 we have quite a few things happening. First of all, we have two shows – this one in Dubai and Baselworld later in the year. We will be introducing new products during both of these. When we launched DEFY two years ago it became our core growth engine so we are going to further expand this line but we also have new launches within the Elite and Chronomaster lines.


ZENITH Elite 36mm


What can you tell us about the new Elite Watches?


I had issues with the previous design of the Elite line. It was too round, too bulky, it didn’t have the elegance that I was looking for. If you want to have a classic product line, the main thing you need to focus on its elegance. This is what people need from this type of watch. Designing a classic watch is the most difficult thing to do. There isn’t that much that you can play with so it can be difficult. But we are launching a new Elite watch here in Dubai and it’s had great feedback so far.


You mentioned Chronomaster – what have you been working on for this?


The Chronomaster has historically been designed in so many shapes and sizes and we realised last year that what people really want is elegance. They want the watch to be as refined as it was in the sixties and seventies. So with Chronomaster, we are going to be launching two new directions in 2020 which we will be presenting at Baselworld later this year.


ZENITH Defy Midnight


Can you tell us a little more about the DEFY Midnight collection?


Since day one people have asked me why we weren’t making any watches for women. Zenith has previously made watches for women but since I joined we haven’t really been focusing on this. I wanted to do something strong, targeting 21st-century women. It logically made sense to me to launch women’s watches as part of the DEFY line, and I wanted to focus on two things – the first was to have a story and emotion, something that will touch hearts. So for that, we looked to our logo of the star and the brand’s motto; “time to reach your star”. We all have a star we are reaching for and this is what Zenith has always been about – pushing the limits to reach your star. So we produced what we call the ‘starry sky’ on the dial to bring this dream and emotion to the watch. The second part is that we wanted to offer something that is designed for today’s woman. This is why we introduced interchangeable straps. We didn’t invent this idea but what we have done differently is that when the customer buys the watch it will come with a metal strap and they will also get three different straps. So immediately they can play with it and have four watches in one. I believe this is a great tool for 21st-century women who are multitasking and have to be dressed suitably for every occasion. I believe we have created something that’s elegant and functional but also contemporary because it’s part of the DEFY line.


We had a debate internally about the concept of making only mechanical watches for men and quartz for women. This is something that I have always hated. Firstly I don’t believe it’s necessary and secondly, I hate the segmentation between women and men. It’s so old fashioned. So in DEFY Midnight, I kept the same mechanical manufacture within this watch so it has a real watchmaking movement. We have had so many great comments so far and I think it’s the right way for us to resume our presence in the world of women’s watches.


ZENITH Ladder Strap


You have reintroduced the Ladder Strap – what can you tell us about that?


As much as we worked on the other concepts – the first time I started to look at the A384 was when we created the DEFY 21 because we actually got inspiration from this design. Then last year within the El Primero 50th celebration we launched this watch as a revival piece but with a leather strap. It was a huge success, beyond our expectations. During the year we had a lot of requests for the original ladder strap. So, purely because so many people were asking for it, we decided to bring it back. We want to make our clients happy and that’s what it’s all about. This bracelet is very similar to the original one and people love it so far.


ZENITH Ladder Strap


Is this something that you might do more of?


Sure. We have such a huge treasure in our archive, it’s a museum and there are other pieces we should revive or use as an inspiration for new watches. That’s how Zenith is different from other brands.


What do you think makes Zenith stand out from other brands?


In the watch business, there is a clear segmentation. There are the brands who have a long history who think that to respect who they are they need to repeat the past and they don’t dare to bring new things to the market. And then on the other side, you have brands that have no or short history. They are free to be creative and they are doing a good job. But what I don’t understand is that you can easily have both and that is what I’m doing with Zenith. Don’t forget that Zenith has a long history. One hundred per cent of our watches are made in house and have a Zenithmovement and this makes us authentic. But we want to be contemporary as well. This is why our events are fun, our communication is contemporary and we are producing watches in today’s world. Let’s not forget that when the El Primero was made in the sixties the men who were working on the watches were super innovative and creative. So the minimum that I should assume is to continue to create in this way.


You’ve spoken previously of your desire to create “start-up spirit” within the company – do you think this is something you have managed to do?


Yes definitely. The mindset and mentality of people have totally changed. We have made so many changes. I’m not saying that we reinvented the wheel but we made small changes. For example, we created a room for people to enjoy themselves, each week we have personal trainers coming for training sessions, we have a masseur, I organise monthly breakfasts. I ask my staff to tell me everything that is going right or going wrong. I want them to know that I am here to help. So we created a different spirit and now people are more open and the happiness in the company is much better. I really believe that if you have happy employees you will make your customers happy, you will make great products and as a result, the company will shine.


ZENITH Defy 21 Carl Cox


What can you tell us about your collaboration with Carl Cox and how do you choose the people that you decide to align the brand with?


I got to meet Carl Cox through a mutual friend and he shared with me his story about how he had always dreamed to work in music. He failed quite a few times before he started to become successful. As he described this to me he said that he realised that he went from his childhood dream to reach his star. And this is very close to the way we think here at Zenith. So going forward if I have any friends of the brand or ambassadors, they will have to be a perfect fit with our brand philosophy. I don’t just want them to wear a watch but I want them to explain why they are with us because as a brand we are connecting with people who are chasing their stars. I want our brand ambassadors to express that it is a fit between the philosophy of the brand and the philosophy of their own life. And that’s what we had with Carl Cox in a very obvious way. We have been partnering with the music industry for a while, it has been a great success so far and he will allow us to tactically reach certain markets.


Are you going to be partnering with any women for the DEFY Midnight collection?


To support the launch we are working on a concept that will be introduced later in the year but to give you a little hint it will be called “Dream Hers”. It will be a platform where we will have successful women who have found their star and achieved their dreams. This is a great way to communicate and get support from different women all over the world.




You have some new Pilot watches launching what can you tell us about them?


We cannot do everything at the same time so for Pilot we will be having only minor launches but we are working on something more for 2021. So for this year, we have the Pilot watch in regular steel which has a more modern and contemporary look and it’s been very well received so far.


What do you like to do when you visit Dubai?


I like to take the opportunity to go outside and do sports. I enjoy Middle Eastern food and you have great restaurants here. And of course, I spend time in the malls because I need to go and see what is going on in the market.


What’s your professional motto?


Never have a fixed mindset. Continue and force yourself to embrace growth and don’t put limits on yourself.


What’s a book that you’ve read recently that’s inspired you?


I actually just read one called Growth Mindset! It’s all about this concept and it’s very interesting. I also recently read Jean Claude Biver’s book for the second time. I like to read it every few years because it gives you so many insights and it’s really interesting and really refreshes your mind.


What watch are you wearing today?


I’m wearing a big complication as we aren’t launching anything like this at the moment so I thought it was nice to show our expertise and what we have done over the last year while I was in Dubai. So this watch is a carbon bi-layer limited edition double-tourbillion with 100th of a second. It is the fastest chronograph in the world combines a double tourbillion and it’s lightweight. It’s a limited edition of only forty pieces.



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