A dynamic 49-year-old father of three, Julien Tornare was born and raised in Geneva. Expert in all-things commercial, he worked at Vacheron Constantin for 17 years, where he managed to increase sales by 300% and profits by 120%, before joining Zenith in 2017. Since then, the brand from Le Locle has witnessed several years of continuous growth and has recon- quered its past glory thanks to some smart strategic choices.
You took over Zenith during a difficult period. What were the problems you inherited and the solutions you applied?
When Jean-Claude Biver asked me to join, I knew it was a strong brand, but I was also aware that it had not evolved enough to satisfy the expectations of 21st century customers. The first problem to solve was how to respect the glorious heritage of Zenith while at the same time bringing it into the future. To do this, we worked on two main dimensions: product and marketing. In terms of product, we first decided to launch a new contemporary watch, the Defy El Primero, which gave a strong boost to the brand and provided me with the time needed to work on the company’s back-end. We then focused on the improvement of the Chronomas- ter collection while preserving its strong connection with Zenith’s DNA. Secondly, we tried to solve a major issue: customers did not understand the brand’s main message. So, we developed a new marketing approach with the launch of the “Time to Reach your Star” platform. This huge effort won us new ambassadors and reinforced our presence online as well as on
The brand experienced its biggest growth over eight years just two years following your appointment. How would you describe your recipe for success?
To me, listening to people is a true recipe for success. To fully understand a brand’s needs you really need to get as much feedback as possible, be it from customers or employees. And this is what I did: I met lots of people in our markets – people who knew Zenith perfectly – to collect the maximum amount of information. This I used to create a new client-centric vision that is still being implemented. It also helped me to motivate the team, which was quite worried about the company’s prospects when I joined. By listening to them and asking them to support this new vision, I managed to get their full support and enthusiasm. Today we experience almost zero employee turnover.
Watch sales are coming back to pre- crisis figures. What is your feeling for the future of Zenith?
I can only be positive. After having worked on the fundamentals between 2017 and 2019 we started to see the first results. With the pandemic, we had to move into crisis management mode. But today we are starting to reap what we have sown: 2021 will be the best year of the last 20 in terms of sales. We are also seeing higher recognition among the watch community, with the Chronomaster Sport awarded winner of the “Chronograph” category by the jury of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG). Two days later, the Defy Double Tourbillon (a unique piece) sold for more than CHF 500,000 at the Only Watch charity auction, a world record for Zenith. The team is enthusiastic, and we benefit from big leverage, so my objective is to quickly double the figures that we see right now. We are growing and gaining market share in Switzerland, something which contributes to my optimism.
You have been managing the brand for four years now. What are your best memories?
Probably, the day I met the people who de- veloped El Primero in the 1960s. They are around 80 years old today. Talking with them confirmed the relevance of the work started when I joined Zenith.
What are the most important decisions that you have taken during this time?
Last year during the crisis I decided to put a hold on big launches, like the Chronomaster Sport or the Defy Extreme. It was necessary to take some time to wait for a more appro- priate moment and to have the courage to exercise restraint.
Zenith has been focusing, like other brands, on women’s watches with a major campaign that started in 2020. Could you tell us more about it? What impact did it have on the brand?
We have always proposed watches for women in the past, and recently we launched the Defy Midnight and the Chronomaster Original with diamonds. However, it is important for us not to differentiate or segment watches for women or men: we just want to create beautiful pieces that fit with client expectations. When you visit a car dealership there is no such distinction, so why should we do it with watches?
“Today we experience almost zero employee turnover.”
Julien Tornare, CEO of Zenith
You mentioned the prize that Chronomaster Sport received at the latest GPHG. How would you explain the success of this model?
The model has already been successful in the past. We tried to look at it retrospectively and took the best elements from its heritage (such as the three sub-dials in colour), and included an innovation to make it more contemporary: we added the 1/10th of a second indication on the ceramic bezel. Part of its success is also due to its ergonomic features: it is super comfortable and light.
What should we expect from Zenith in 2022?
The Defy was launched four years ago, so we started working on a couple of new versions. One, in particular, will be inspired by big city life. Next year will also see a big comeback of the Pilot, which will be central in our range in 2022. Something that is not new, but for which we have been waiting a long time is participating in a watch fair: we will be back at Watches & Wonders in Geneva next year.
What do you do in your free time?
My job takes a lot of time, so I really enjoy spending free time with my kids in Geneva, or swimming in the lake, even when the water is cold in winter. We are also all good skiers. I practice sports on my own to eliminate stress and to keep myself in shape. I used to do top-level water-skiing, and that helped me a lot with my business career: waking up early in the morning, setting the right objectives and reaching them.
What do you like most about Switzerland – and about Le Locle?
I love Switzerland because of its quality of life and its safety. This country is one of the best in the world for raising kids, something for which I am very thankful. Having worked abroad for several years, I came to really appreciate Switzerland’s culture of hard work, which contributes to its prosperity. If you like watchmaking Le Locle is great because you feel that you are totally surrounded by the savoir-faire of this art. People there are truly authentic and honest, and that inspires me in my daily life.