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Zenith CEO Julien Tornare on achieving a record year in challenging times.

by Lynette Koh  /   March 7, 2022

If there’s one thing the pandemic has shown us about the watch industry, it’s that not all brands are created equal. While many have seen sales drop, a handful have thrived. Zenith, according to CEO Julien Tornare, is firmly in the latter category.

Speaking to The Peak via Zoom from Geneva during the virtual LVMH Watch Week in late January, the Swiss industry veteran shared confidently: “2021 was a record year for Zenith. From the launch of the Chronomaster Sport at the beginning of the year through many other launches that have been very successful, we have enjoyed great momentum.”

“We are kicking off 2022 with the same momentum,” he said. We don’t doubt it. Chronomaster Sport chronograph watches may be back-ordered for “more than two years”, but Zenith is not cruising on its existing successes. LVMH Watch Week saw the launch of yet another new collection, Defy Skyline. Tornare shares why he believes the new range stands to succeed, Zenith’s latest forays into sustainability, and how he is building a culture of creativity.

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Defy Skyline is Zenith’s take on the luxury steel bracelet sport watch. One of its distinctive features is its 1/10-of-a-second subdial. Why is it significant?

The watch is fitted with an El Primero movement, which is well known as a high- frequency, 5-Hz chronograph movement. When we developed this new three-hand movement without the chronograph function, we wanted to use the seconds hand, which completes a rotation every 10 seconds, to show the energy and power of the El Primero, in a unique and cool way.

Zenith teamed up with Nona Source this year to create straps made from upcycled fabric. Tell us more about the initiative.

Nona Source is a startup based in Paris, and it was incubated by LVMH, which has helped many startups with great concepts. Nona Source had this idea: “What happens to the leftover materials when LVMH makes beautiful clothing? They throw them away. However, we can upcycle them and make something new out of them.” We contacted Nona Source and said, “We want to make straps from these materials.”

Speaking of sustainability, Zenith is also a founding partner of the off- road electric racing series, Extreme E. How did that come about?

Every employee at Zenith has a KPI for creativity and innovation. We are open to new ideas from anyone, for example, a member of the finance department could propose a new way to handle expenses. Someone who’s very attuned to climate issues suggested partnering with Extreme E. He argued that if we want to go greener and respect the environment, we should not partner with a polluting car company. For me, that was a new angle from which to approach a car and watch partnership.

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What other good ideas have come from this open culture of creativity?

The collaboration we did with Felipe Pantone last year. (Editor’s note: The 100-piece Defy 21 “Felipe Pantone” sold out in hours when it was launched last March.) A 25-year-old guy from our marketing department said to me, “We should work with a street artist.” At my age, I don’t really know any street artists. Also, when I was young, graffiti was not considered cool. (Smiles.) At first, I said, “No, we’re not going to do it.” Then I thought twice and told him, “You are right, because you are 25 and I’m double your age.” But the person who suggested the Extreme E partnership is not young, so older people also have good ideas. (Laughs.)

The Chronomaster Sport chronograph range was launched in Singapore last January, and there was a long wait list. What’s the current status of those watches?

There is a waiting time of four to six months, depending on the country. The limited production is not intentional. Zenith is one of the few manufactures that can still say that 100 per cent of our watches are equipped with a Zenith movement. It’s much easier to increase production when you source from outside companies, but we don’t. We are working on increasing our production capacity.

How are you planning to boost production capacity?

We produced nearly 20,000 watches last year, and we want to grow by at least 10 to 15 per cent in quantity. We are hiring more people and we also want to improve the efficiency of our processes because we do everything ourselves. But we are doing this step by step, because the most important thing is to maintain the highest quality.

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