Julien Tornard became Zenith CEO two years ago by the decision of Jean-Claude Biver, head of the LVMH watch business. Previously, he worked for Vacheron Constantin, responsible for international markets, including North American and Asian. For Tornar, Zenith, with its glorious legacy in 2017, was like the Sleeping Beauty to be awakened, dressed in a modern fancy dress, made to live and delight fans.
- How to connect the past and the future? What's your recipe?
- It's easy if you have a past. Many brands dream of having a story, but Zenith is lucky: we have 154 years behind us, and on this basis we are building the future. There is a common misconception that history must be respected and repeated. But this is not the case. Yes, many years ago people did some serious work creating incredible watches with their own hands and using simple tools. But today all brands use computer support, 3D simulation, algorithms, ingenious tools that help to assemble watches. And by directly repeating the past, we, in fact, show disrespect, because it is much easier for us to work today. Therefore, we want to be better than in the past. I believe in one very important thing called authenticity.
- What does this word mean to you?
Firstly, all the watches we sell are powered by in-house Zenith movements. How many manufacturers can say that? I think 4-5, no more. And, of course, you must always be yourself. You know, Jean-Claude Biver asked me after two weeks at the company: "Do you want to make a connected watch?" I thought, "My God, what is the answer to the boss?" And then he said: "No, I don't want to, because Zenith is different." We are not going to make smartwatches or mix materials like our neighbors under the LVMH wing do. Zenith will work in its own field - in the field of timekeeping and high precision, but will do it in a modern way.
- What is the most important thing for yourself from your communication with Jean-Claude Biver?
- I learned so much from him, although I worked with him for only two years - the best and most intense in my professional career. First of all, be humble, not take yourself too seriously. There are so many arrogant, important people in this industry. Beaver is the real king of the watchmaking world, but it is absolutely open and accessible. Jean-Claude always said: "If you reach the top while climbing a mountain, do not stop - keep climbing." This is very good advice. I always did this because I was raised that way, but when I heard this thought again from such an important person who has many reasons to behave differently, I realized how instructive it is. This is a big part of his success.
“For 50 years, Zenith has had an iconic movement - the legendary El Primero. What is a cult product?
- This is the problem of the brand. Jean-Claude Biver also asked me: what should we do with the El Primero movement? Is this our strength or weakness? I am absolutely sure that this is our great trump card - so many brands dream of a legendary movement with a worldwide reputation! But the problem with the brand is that we didn't have an iconic watch. Therefore, from the very beginning, my task was to give the El Primero caliber the right authentic shell that would increase brand awareness and appeal. In the eyes of the younger generation, Zenith was somewhat boring and dusty, I would even say, not sexy enough. Now we have a new modern Defy collection - Defy 21, Defy Classic, and from this year and the futuristic Defy Inventor. These are the models the younger generation wants to see. That is why the Royal Oak models are so strong and in demand at Audemars Piguet,Overseas at Vacheron Constantin, Aquanaut and Nautilus at Patek Philippe.
Defy Inventor and Defy 21 © press service
- Defy Inventor is a Defy Lab concept implemented in industrial production. How costly was this process?
- It really costs a lot, especially the research part. When we launched Defy Lab, many said that it would not be possible to turn it into a serial product. But a team of five people, led by the excellent watchmaker Yves Cortesi, has been actively working for the past year and a half. As a result, we increased the frequency of the silicon oscillator from 15 hertz to 18 hertz, which helped to adjust the power reserve (in Defy Inventor it is 50 hours). Unfortunately, so far we can produce only 300-400 such oscillators per year. But we started with just 10! Huge progress! In production we are assisted by CSEM, an engineering institute in Neuchâtel. In particular, they have a special laser to cut this intricate detail, which replaces the 31 elements of the traditional oscillation controller.
- What is the potential of this oscillator? Can I use it in other watches?
- Its potential is enormous. Having established production, we will gradually begin to install it in all Zenith models. I think this invention will be of interest to our neighbors, Hublot and TAG Heuer. We are ready to share! The silicon oscillator has many advantages: it is not subject to the influence of magnetism and temperature changes, which means it maintains the accuracy of the watch. And besides, this one-piece piece completely eliminated the problem of friction, the main headache for watchmakers.
1 of 3 ZENITH El Primero Revival A386 © Press Office ZENITH El Primero Revival A386 © Press Office ZENITH El Primero Revival A386 © Press Office
- Let's talk about El Primero. How do you celebrate the anniversary of the legendary caliber?
“Every month we travel to different countries and cities to meet with customers, show off our extensive collection of vintage El Primero calibers and the latest watches, tell our story and share our passion for watchmaking. We have already visited Milan, London, Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong, Mexico, and we will get to Moscow. We have prepared a gift set, 50 of which are already sold out. Now we have decided to make replicas of the very first model of 1969 in different types of gold, so that as many people as possible have the opportunity to join our anniversary. But do you know what is most interesting about them? This is a 50 year warranty! This has never happened before! You buy a watch and you don't have to pay a penny for maintenance. That is, the warranty will end when El Primero celebrates its 100th anniversary. I thinkthat a big event will be organized - perhaps I will have a chance to go there (in 50 years I will turn 97).
- There is one vacancy in this 50th Anniversary Collector's Set. When will it be filled?
- Yes, this is the place for a mechanism that will measure a thousandth of a second. Hopefully we can present this concept in 3–3.5 years. And all collectors who buy the anniversary set will receive the missing chronograph. This is another way for us to show people that we are not stuck in the past and continue to build the future of Zenith.
1 of 2 Collection set in honor of the 50th anniversary © press service © press service
- What do you personally admire about this story with El Primero?
“The El Primero is not just a great mechanism, brilliant engineering. This is also the history of human relationships. A couple of months ago, I invited Charles Vermaud's son to lunch - the very same manufactory worker who saved this caliber from destruction and complete oblivion. Michel Vermo brought with him five more who had worked at the Zenith manufactory back in 1969 - production director, financier, sales specialist. The youngest of them was born in 1945, the oldest - in 1933. I heard incredible stories from living witnesses of the birth of the legend. It was a fantastic lunch!
- What did Michel tell you?
- His father constantly traveled to Le Locle during that dramatic moment of saving the El Primero caliber (in 1975, when it was decided to stop the production of mechanical watches Zenith, Charles Vermot hid all drawings, tools and molds for stamping in the attic of one of the factory buildings.). But at the same time, he did not explain anything to his wife, so Michelle's mother was already ready to suspect something was wrong. So Charles Vermot risked not only his place of work, because he violated the orders of his superiors and did not destroy the tools and documentation - his family was also at risk. Fortunately, everything worked out. And today we have the opportunity to demonstrate to the world one of the most accurate and reliable watch movements.>