Monochrome Watches
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Julien Tornare, CEO of Zenith, On 2020’s Challenges, Strategy for 2021, CPO and Chronomaster Sport

A time of challenges, and also for opportunities

| By Xavier Markl | 6 min read |

During the digital version of LVMH Watch Week, Bvlgari, Hublot and Zenith presented some of their novelties for 2021. It was also an opportunity for MONOCHROME to interview Julien Tornare, the CEO of Zenith, to find out how the brand has navigated 2020 and to take a look at the brand’s strategy for 2021.

Xavier Markl, MONOCHROME – Needless to say, 2020 was a challenging year. What tactics did Zenith adopt to navigate the difficulties?

Julien Tornare, Zenith – It has been an intense year. Following the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the El Primero, we kicked off 2020 in Dubai with the LVMH Watch Week 2020, where the presentation of our novelties encountered great enthusiasm. Then came the lockdown during which we had to close the manufacture for six weeks. It’s been tough months for the watch industry. We wondered what we could do… Traditional resilience planning was not enough and I asked my team to be very active, to take initiatives and to speed up the digitalization of our activities. We launched our e-commerce in June for Europe and in July for the USA. With regards to marketing and communication, we have been actively pushing digital initiatives. And of course, we launched exciting watches during the year like the Chronomaster Revival Shadow and the Chronomaster Revival Manufacture edition. The Defy Midnight was a major launch too, very well received by our female clientele.

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Zenith Chronomaster Revival El Primero A384 Shadow
The Zenith Chronomaster Revival El Primero A384 Shadow

Then we presented the “Zenith Icons” program (Editor’s note: CPO or certified pre-owned program) and the “Time to Reach your Star” brand campaign. We’ve done a lot. Business has been challenging, but in terms of brand building and market share, we have gained ground. It has been a rich and ambitious year.

Could you tell us about the scope of the Zenith Icons program, and how you got into the CPO market?

We knew, and this was confirmed during 2019, the year of the El Primero 50th anniversary, that Zenith was more and more in demand on the secondary market, as well as on the auction market. Zenith was the first brand to collaborate with an Auction House, namely Phillips and Aurel Bacs, to develop a limited edition and we saw a very big interest. I deal a lot with Aurel Bacs who, in my opinion, is the one and only leader in this business. He told me repeatedly that Zenith would be the next brand to perform well at auction. So, we had to take a close look at the vintage market. Today, you are never really sure of what you are buying on the vintage market. Often people are disappointed by the quality of the watches they buy. There a lot of doubts and uncertainties.

The two El Primero A386 Revival for Phillips Auctions

We decided to acquire watches, some of the iconic Zenith timepieces from the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s, restoring them (their movement, not the exterior look) using original spare parts that we have at the manufacture. We authenticate, certify and offer these for sale with a two-year warranty. This gives clients the opportunity to buy an iconic watch from those years with security and with the backup from the brand. We started in October and it has been really successful. The difficulty we are facing today is sourcing watches. With the growing interest in Zenith vintage watches, owners are getting more and more reluctant to sell their watches.

The Zenith Icons program is also a fantastic tool to sell contemporary watches. By placing vintage watches next to the contemporary models, we can explain their origins. If you look at a De Luca Chronograph and our new Chronomaster Sport, you can understand where the bracelet, the bezel, etc. come from. This lets us further consolidate our brand equity.

We started with our Tokyo Ginza boutique and very soon in other locations. And we are thinking of developing this online too. 

Zenith Chronomaster Sport 2021
The new Zenith Chronomaster Sport

Moving to 2021, can you tell us about the highlights of the LVMH Watch Week?

We started a few weeks ago with a pre-launch of a revival watch I like a lot, a re-edition of the beautiful Chronomaster Revival A385. It is derived from the A384 but with a gradient dial, originally the first gradient dial ever made in the industry. It is one of the iconic Zenith watches and people love it. It is available on a brown leather strap matching the colour of the dial or on the well-known Gay Frères, ladder bracelet. 

Zenith Chronomaster Revival A385 El Primero
The new Zenith Chronomaster Revival A385

Do you remember the three-hand limited edition we had in the pilot line, which was quite a surprise for our collectors and that sold out quickly? We decided to produce another limited edition of 250 pieces of the chronograph model powered by the El Primero movement and with a fuselage effect on the dial.

Finally, we launched the Defy 21 Urban Jungle, khaki green edition of our Defy Line, presented in green ceramic with a green movement. Clients are anticipating these editions and there will also be a major launch concerning the Defy later in the year. And of course, there is the Chronomaster Sport. 

What is the role of the Chronomaster Sport in this collection?

I remember my first discussion with Jean-Claude Biver when I came on board in 2017. We wanted to rejuvenate the brand and we came up with the Defy collection that created a lot of buzz. But the other pillar was the Chronomaster. I needed time with Romain Marietta, our Director of Products & Heritage, and the team to identify what the Chronomaster should be. There have been many Chronomaster variations, and we needed to focus to create a coherent offer. Finally, we have the Chronomaster Revival, the Chronomaster Sport and the classic Chronomaster that you will discover in a few weeks. 

zenith chronomaster sport white dial
The new Zenith Chronomaster Sport

The Chronomaster Sport is the most contemporary watch of the Chronomaster collection. It is going to be a flagship. Collectors can refer to the past with watches such as the A277 that was released before the El Primero or with the De Luca later. The pillars of the collections are Defy and Chronomaster. On a tactical front, we have the Pilots and the Elite line. 

How have you been developing e-commerce?

During the March lockdown, I asked the teams to think about going digital. The sales and marketing team immediately responded with e-commerce. We were able to develop our offer in just six weeks, launching in June in Europe and July in the USA. Asia took more time; we just opened up a WeChat boutique in China and the other markets will follow. 

Zenith Chronomaster Revival Manufacture Edition A386
The Zenith Chronomaster Revival Manufacture Edition

The results came quickly. We have been reaching close to 5% of our yearly turnover via e-commerce in just six months in 2020. One of the big successes was the Chronomaster Manufacture edition, which was an e-commerce exclusive.

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1 response

  1. Zenith is well known for their chronograph movements. The dial designs of late, however, had gone from one horror show to another. What is with this slavish devotion to the overlapping sub-dials? The new chronomaster had a chance to chart a new course for the company. Instead, it succumb to the timid same old tired dial design. A company that only looks at the past for inspiration will soon run out.

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