Julien Tornare had no illusions about what he was about to embark on when he assumed the helm of Zenith back in 2017. Jean-Claude Biver, then president of the LVMH watch division, was candid about the challenges Tornare would face as the new CEO of the watchmaker.
“He (Biver) said I would be coming into a tough situation and I was ready,” says Tornare to August Man, during the inaugural LVMH Watch Week held in Dubai recently.
Just a couple of days earlier, he says, he presented “very good results,” an indication that “the brand is getting out of trouble.” Perhaps it was a result of the rather unorthodox approach adopted by Tornare who sought to lead the “traditional” brand as if it were a start-up.
“I believe that it is our mission to continue to bring new ideas to keep the industry alive. If you only repeat the past, you have a risk of becoming old, before you become old.”
“The Swiss watch industry is very conservative,” he states, acknowledging the contradiction. “But start-up for me is about a mind-set. I think in a watch company today, it is important to change the habits. Even though they are working in a historical brand, they live today in the 21st century.”
That, he believes, is essential to capturing a younger audience who may no longer see the purpose of owning a watch. “Many colleagues and brands are talking about how to get the younger generation interested in mechanical watches,” he explains. “The new generation are very digitalised with so many screens around them. Are they going for a smartwatch or maybe no watch at all?”
The task at hand for watchmakers then is to get this audience to see a watch as an extension of their personality – a reflection of their image and status. To achieve this, he believes, one can not be focussed solely on the past.
“We have to show that our industry is very modern and very dynamic,” he states. “Sometimes the Swiss watch industry can be bit focused on the past. It is not only about having a long history but also about authenticity. Every Zenith has a Zenith movement, that’s important for me but you should also be able to create new things.”
For Tornare, his challenge – at a “minimum” – is to create a watch for the 21st century. And that, he believes, Zenith has achieved with the timepieces showcased at LVMH Watch Week.
Among them a special edition featuring Zenith’s latest friend of the brand, DJ and producer Carl Cox, hailed as being one of the most influential personalities in the world of electronic music. Limited to just 200 pieces, the Defy 21 Carl Cox features a 1/100th of second chronograph, with a carbon fibre bezel and strap stitching that glow in the dark. Enhancing the “cool” factor is a rotating disk shaped like a vinyl record which serves as a running seconds indicator.
Also coming from the Defy family is the Defy 21 Land Rover Edition, a collaboration between Zenith and the British automaker. The timepiece described as “rugged and stealthy”, reflects the latest reincarnation of the Land Rover Defender, revolutionary in itself in terms of design.
While it takes inspiration from the 21st century El Primero high-frequency chronograph, the Defy 21 Land Rover Edition, gives the 1/100th of a second chronograph a new look with a raw and minimalistic look. The case created from micro-blasted titanium absorbs light from all angles to better accentuate its faceted surfaces. The matching grey dial, meanwhile, features for the first time in Defy 21, a linear power reserve window.
“We will continue to reinforce the Defy, it has been such a growth engine for us,” says Tornare, in light of Zenith now “adding another layer” to the Defy collection with a creation to capture the female market.
“I believe that it is our mission to continue to bring new ideas to keep the industry alive. If you only repeat the past, you have a risk of becoming old, before you become old,” says Tornare.
“At Zenith, even if you have a long history, we should express it in a fun and nice way. For me, it is about using our history in a much more contemporary way. That’s what I am doing with the brand. Sometimes in the world of luxury, people believe that because you are high-end, you need to be quiet. I think it is wrong.”