With the popularity of pre-owned watches only growing, it’s only natural for watch brands to look at setting up divisions that will handle this part of the business for their clients as well. After Audemars Piguet, F.P. Journe, MB&F, all announced that they are looking at actively addressing the pre-owned space, a space that is worth $16 billion annually, we have now learnt that Zenith is looking at incorporating pre-owned watches into its boutiques.

The Defy El Primero 21 ushered in a new era at Zenith

“Selling pre-owned watches today is a trend in which we need to be involved. Consequently we have a new concept which we are working on incorporating into our own boutiques, within which we will offer secondhand watches that are authenticated, checked and maintained by the brand, so that we are sure that our end-users are getting the quality we want,” says CEO Julien Tornare. He didn't, however, give us a timeline on when this is going to roll out.

Tornare, who spent 17 years at Vacheron Constantin before he was tapped for the CEO’s job by the then LVMH Watches division chariman JC Biver, took over as at Zenith in May 2017. Here are some excerpts from our chat.

In an interview before you took over as CEO, JCB Biver said Zenith “revealed too little energy”. What did you do to change that mindset?

The hardest part of any culture change is bringing people with you and getting the team on board with my vision was a major challenge partly because I was an outsider and partly because Switzerland and mountain villages in particular are traditionally conservative in their approach to things. So in order to encourage them to change their way of thinking and to think creatively and with a focus on innovation. Today, the team is operating at a completely different level and the start-up spirit I was seeking is becoming firmly entrenched.

Tell us a bit more about your collaboration with Phillips. It’s not often that a watch company produces limited editions in association with an auction house.

Absolutely, although we are very selective about the kind of partnerships into which we enter. In terms of our collaboration with Phillips, the latter designed a unique piece in association with Bacs & Russo to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Zenith’s El Primero chronograph, which was auctioned in Geneva and the proceeds given to Zoe4Life, a Swiss non-profit organization, part of the Childhood Cancer International network.

The El Primero Trilogy produced in association with Phillips

The event around this special and unique timepiece crowned the Zenith El Primero 50th Anniversary World Tour across five continents throughout 2019, celebrating the first automatic chronograph in watchmaking history introduced by Zenith in 1969.

Zenith is often considered an exception in the industry because its El Primero movement is more famous than most of its watch models. Do you think that perception is changing with the success of the new Defy range?

We are not just riding on the crest of one movement, we are offering new and fascinating vistas in time measurement. We have clearly demonstrated our innovative focus and skill through the launch of not just one, but a series of groundbreaking inventions we have launched over the past couple of years including 1/100th of a second timing with the Defy El Primero 21; and a whole new dimension in technical performance and modern aesthetics from the 21st century Defy Lab, to the groundbreaking Defy Inventor, equipped with its own patented regulating organ. 

The revolutionary Zenith Defy Lab Caliber

What was the most challenging part about getting a revolutionary concept like the Inventor into a regular production cycle?

Getting to a point that we could “mass” produce it! Today we can produce a run of several hundred units each equipped with its own patented regulating organ. And the fact that Zenith is capable of developing and producing an entire mechanical movement complete with regulating organ represents the ultimate achievement for an independent Manufacture – an achievement that has replaced the sprung balance used in mechanical watchmaking for three and a half centuries. It remains a major undertaking, however, because it is very delicate to produce the oscillator. If there is a mere micron of a difference in the fabrication, it will not work perfectly.

Defy Midnight is aimed at women and was launched in January 2020

What are your key focus areas in 2020?

Women’s watches – which have taken something of a backseat - are currently firmly in the forefront of the brand’s creative endeavors. We recently launched an innovative collection of feminine watches at the first edition of LVMH Watch Week in Dubai. This is the first time that Zenith has conceived women’s watches from the ground up and with these new creations dedicated entirely to women, Zenith is elevating both ends of the spectrum of women’s watches with the resolutely contemporary Defy Midnight on the one hand, and the timelessly elegant Elite collection on the other.

Zenith can do classical as well as cutting edge now. Is it had to maintain this balance?

We are very focused on the future while remaining extremely cognizant of our heritage. Our aim is thus to reach different market segments with this approach. It is my belief that the market today wants traditional complications that are reinterpreted in a totally contemporary manner.

The new Defy Land Rover edition

Rejuvenating the codes of mid-20th century watchmaking without in any way repeating the past, the newly revamped Elite collection of unisex watches perfectly embodies this, catering to the desires of those who value the aesthetics and enduring appeal of watches from bygone eras, with just enough modern accents that it never feels antiquated. We have also revisited our iconic Pilot’s Watch to offer the utility of a modern instrument with all the analog charm of the past.