Julien Tornare is the international CEO of Zenith SA which is a Swiss luxury watchmaker that was founded in 1865 by Georges Favre-Jacot in Neuchâtel and is owned by the LVMH Group.
How has the worldwide virus outbreak impacted Zenith?
Like many of our peers in the watch industry and virtually all sectors of the economy, we took the decision to temporarily close our manufacture as well as many of our boutiques around the world, in order to keep our customers, employees, their families, and local communities safe. The result of that is obviously that manufacturing has taken a hit and sales are naturally affected due to worldwide lockdowns. We are now putting our efforts in making what is left of this year the best of what it can be.
What has changed with Zenith as far as selling online since the pandemic?
The pandemic and the ensuing consequences resulted in us accelerating the e-commerce process although it was always high on our agenda. So far, we have launched our platforms in six European countries plus the US which is a big focus, and all are doing well, especially with regard to our Manufacture piece which is not a limited edition and has been the subject of a lot of online demand.
How has Zenith’s partnership with Mr. Porter been working out?
Very well indeed and we did some great pieces together in 2019. The El Primero Edge Of Space developed in conjunction with Bamford and Mr. Porter is just one example that has an amazing design and has sold extremely well.
When we spoke in New York, what seemed like ages ago (March 2020), at the launch of the Defy 21 Land Rover Edition, we were discussing travel coming to a halt, Baselworld being canceled, and how the outbreak impacted older generations like our parents. We discussed that the Defy is now Zenith’s best-selling line. How is that strategy progressing?
Together with Chronomaster, Defy is still our best-selling collection with great new products that have worked and continue to work very well — such as the Carl Cox and Land Rover editions as well as collection pieces such as the recently launched Defy 21 Ultraviolet.
What’s it like working with the Watches of Switzerland group, how does that play into your overall corporate strategy?
Wholesale and retail still play an important role for Zenith. Watches of Switzerland is a great example of this, and we enjoy a great relationship with the group. Zenith points of sale (retail) remain a key part of our strategy and in testimony to this, are currently being refurbished to be more in line with our branding and Time To Reach Your Star designs today.
How many dedicated boutiques does Zenith operate? Is that a focus of the LVMH/Zenith strategy?
Zenith currently has 19 boutiques that are open and running, of which Ginza Japan, opened in recent months, is the latest. As mentioned above, wholesale is a key part of Zenith’s strategy, as are our boutiques which is where clients can breathe our very DNA as they get to know and live the Zenith experience.
Although it’s very far-out, will Zenith have a dedicated space at the LVMH-owned ultra-luxury Cheval Blanc hotel on Rodeo Drive planned for 2025?
2025 is effectively still pretty far off so let’s see. No decision has been taken on that yet.
What’s it like trying to fit into the grand scheme of the LVMH hierarchy considering TAG Heuer represents the volume and cash flow, Hublot is the upper luxury end of the LVMH, and Zenith is in the middle considering Zenith’s incredible heritage? It’s almost like Zenith should be sitting at the top, what do you think?
It all depends on what angle you are looking at it from however and we are not trying to compete with Hublot or TAG Heuer in any way as our objectives and target audience are completely different.
Are there any unique digital initiatives or partnerships being planned to grow the e-commerce business?
Certainly — quite a few. We are working on a customization app with Bamford which is a work in progress for a start, as well as developing the previously launched 360° virtual experience, where visitors could dive into the Charles Vermot attic so that they can now also see the watches here and be redirected to the e-commerce page; and last but not least, we are opening e-commerce sites in new countries while making straps more available online.
When do you foresee a watch recovery to the peak numbers seen before the pandemic?
I wish I knew what the future will look like as there are so many uncertainties at the moment and little visibility forward. However, I hope we can get back to 2019 numbers ideally in 2021 and definitely in 2022 depending on the worldwide economic situation. Zenith achieved excellent results in 2019 and we, therefore, are confident to capitalize on the work done over the last few years to resume growth rapidly.
What’s the importance of newness in the watch industry?
It’s a question of survival! One has to keep innovating whilst remaining true to one’s brand identity and heritage.
With products constantly in the pipeline for this year, next year, the following year, and so forth — are there any anticipated new watch releases you can share details on with PW readers?
All I can say is that we have obviously had to postpone many of our 2020 launches to 2021 due to the current pandemic and global situation. The flip side is that as a result, we have some very exciting launches coming out early next year in the Chronomaster collection; not to mention a large number of exciting variations that will be released before the end of the year — including a few good looking ones on the US market especially!