A Zenith success: an interview with Julien Tornare

This year, Zenith celebrated the 50th anniversary of their iconic El Primero movement. L’Officiel Arabia sat down with CEO, Julien Tornare to find out about what watch fans can expect in 2020 and beyond
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2019 has been an incredibly special year for Zenith. Please could you tell us a bit about that?

It's been very, very busy because we celebrated the special anniversary of the El Primero movement this year. Celebrating a movement is not so common. Most brands celebrate their own anniversary or they celebrate a particular watch model. We wanted to give a big tribute to this amazing movement that became a legendary movement. So, we said, "Okay, let's organize a few big parties, but we want to go everywhere in the world." And that's why I've travelled to around 19 different destinations this year, initially, we wanted 12 - one per month. But we got so many demands that we went up to 19 celebrations, inviting 50 people, 50 guests to each. So, each event was quite intimate and we got to talk about the El Primero movement and explain why it's become a legendary movement, what happened during all those years, and also what we have learnt over the years. Because that's the most important. Celebrating the past is good, but we should learn for the future.

Wow that’s a lot of travel in just one year… 

Yes, it’s been an exciting year for the brand. We also launched some limited edition pieces celebrating this El Primero movement. Alongside those, we launched some watches that were very close to the original one made in 1969, so real collector's pieces. They have now, of course, all sold out, but it's been a great way to communicate Zenith’s core message, as an iconic brand with an iconic movement and that was something super important for me to discuss with people in the 19 cities we visited this year.

You also had an exclusive launch in the Middle East this winter. Please could you tell us about that?

Absolutely, I came to Dubai for the event, it was for 50 guests, to celebrate the El Primero. I got to share some special stories about what has happened over the years with the brand. The El Primero movement came about during the 1960s due to the spectacular innovation and creative spirit among our team. So, I talked quite a lot about that. These people who came up with the movement were so dynamic and had a true startup spirit during the 1960s which is something we have always retained at Zenith. It’s why Zenith has a long history of watchmaking because we are innovators always looking to the future of Swiss watchmaking. It’s something that I think really resonates with people in Dubai, so it was important for me to stop in the city and meet our friends and partners in the region.

On the subject of history, Zenith is one of the world’s oldest luxury watchmakers. How do you continue to innovate while remaining true to your heritage?

It's a very good question. I'm Swiss, and from my perspective, the Swiss watch industry tends to be focused on the past, and as a result, you see a lot of repetition. However, I think it's not by repeating the past that you are respecting the past. If you want to respect the past, you need to build new things because again, the people who made the first chronographs, you had Primero chronograph, the people who made the first perpetual calendars. They were geniuses and they were super innovative. So again, we also need to continue to build the future. And I think in the watch industry, many brands that have had a long history, they only wanted to repeat the past. And some brands that were starting from a white sheet of paper, new brands, they said, "Okay, we can be crazy, we can be fun, we can be innovative."

With Zenith, I think I can easily combine the two because we have a great history. We are very authentic. Zenith is one of the last four or five real manufacturers, in which 100% of the Zenith watches have a Zenith movement. We don't buy externally. We make and create our movements. We equate all our watches. So heritage, history, authenticity, are all key. We really do everything with our watches, but it doesn't mean we should express ourselves in the same manner that we did a hundred years ago. We live in the 21st century. It's not because you have a long tradition that you cannot continue to move, so Zenith will be more and more contemporary, more and more modern, but never forgetting who we are and never forgetting our heritage. And I think that's an interesting exercise that has not been done by any other brand in the watch industry.

What is your favourite Zenith timepiece?

The one I am currently wearing is a pilot watch that's been here for quite a few years. I think it's a very interesting complication and annual calendar. And I've always liked annual calendars, so I decided to get that watch, but it's not my favourite. I like to wear the DEFY 21 because DEFY 21 is the fastest chronograph on the market today. It can measure 100th of a second. It's the only chronograph in the world that can do that. And I like to go fast. I want to enjoy life 300%. I like things to get done fast and it's symbolic of my own personality. So, I feel very good with the DEFY 21. 


In your opinion, what qualities do you think that Zenith men and Zenith women have?

I think they want something different. They want something quite unique. They want something authentic and they are looking for something with a strong substance. Today, as I said, only maybe four or five brands are producing their calibres and those are the only ones that can guarantee that every single watch belonging to the brand has its own movement. So I think the Zenith man and woman, are people who appreciate watchmaking and know about watchmaking. I can feel it by the kinds of questions they ask me. They don’t ask me “what kind of celebrities are wearing Zenith?”, but they ask me questions like "can I visit the manufacturer?”  I think it's a very different perspective.

Finally, what can fans of Zenith expect in 2020?

In 2020, there will be quite a few things. But I would say we will come back quite strongly with an offer that should make women happy. And that's important. I'm saying that because we're not going to launch a line that is dedicated to women. I think it's wrong. I think it's out of date with the times. You know, when I was a kid, I used to hear that “there are cars for men and cars for women”.  Of course, this is complete nonsense. So many men are driving Mini Coopers or small cars and so many women drive big cars. You don't make a watch for women. We don't make a watch for men. We make beautiful watches that might have some feminine touches here and there and therefore might be appealing to women, but they are not made for women. I think this is part of living in 2019 and 2020, but as I said, we are going to come back with a very nice piece that will please women.

Next year we're coming back very strong with a new collection of Chronomasters that will really bring us full circle to what we've been doing best over the last 50 years with the El Primero. So, it’s going to be a very exciting year to come for sure. And we are starting the year being back in Dubai.

In January we are doing a big exhibition with our sister brands from LVMH. We'll be a few days in Dubai to also celebrate watchmaking. The perfect way to start the new year.

We couldn’t agree more. 

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