Over the past few years, watchmaker Zenith has gone through a transformation. Now aiming to develop its market growth, the historic brand is all set to make a breakthrough under the direction of its new CEO, Julien Tornare. With almost two decades’ experience in the industry, including 17 years spent growing Vacheron Constantin’s business, Tornare was appointed by the then LVMH watch chief Jean-Claude Biver. He is now entrusted to lead Zenith in a new direction, and he continues to revitalise the brand’s core values to reflect its description as the “future of Swiss watchmaking since 1865”. Zenith didn’t have to wait long before Tornare made an impact. The charismatic CEO is not only making big moves with new products and new avenues for sales, he is even involving himself in the manufacturing process. During the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the brand’s legendary calibre, the El Primero, in Singapore last month, we sat down with the humble CEO to talk about his vision for Zenith and how his start-up approach is helping to take the brand to the forefront of watchmaking.

You have been in the watch industry for almost two decades now. How did your experience help create a vision for Zenith, and how will you take the brand forwards?

Zenith has an amazing history and brand culture, but it’s not been so clear in its direction. Since I joined, I learned that I needed to develop brand awareness and I needed to develop brand desirability. Under my direction, I am committed to building up the marketing side to make the brand more attractive to people who aren’t watch specialists.

You have become known for bringing a start-up spirit to Zenith. What changes have you made?

When I came on board as CEO, the situation was not so easy and I had to bring a positive message from day one. First of all, we needed to “wash” our brains and find a new way of doing things. When I joined, we started working on developing a very dynamic, challenging, and start up spirit. We have tried to remain close to the market. I am also trying to support everyone in the company. When I became CEO, first thing I said is that I was not going to fire anyone. Many leaders, when they start, they fire three-quarters of the people and replace them with people they know. However, I decided to do the opposite: I told them that I am going to show them what to do with the brand and everyone was welcome to join. We also started to let our customers visit our manufacture in Switzerland. Starting last year, we were the first brand in the world to open up visits to the public.

What are your priorities now?

This year has been extremely busy because we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the El Primero, and from the first day of the year, I told myself that I will attend every single event—so far I have been healthy and able to manage being everywhere, so I want to continue to do that. In addition, one of my short-term objectives is really to finish this year with successful results and to continue to do so. As regards long-term objectives, I need to develop brand awareness and brand desirability. Zenith has such leverage to do better with a beautiful 154 years of history, and that needs to be highlighted.

How do you see the market for Zenith in Asia, and what has changed here in the past few years?

I think the watchmaking industry is in the middle of a global transformation. Today, a lot of brands are getting more innovative and they cater more to clients’ needs. In this digital era, we have to adjust our pace to the rest of the world. With growing economies, more and more potential clients are into watches and luxury items, especially in Asia. It is such a growing market for brands because it has many more potential buyers; people have a watch-loving culture, and they respect the craftsmanship.

With the celebration of the El Primero and your appointment as CEO, what is Zenith’s main message for the year?

It’s a very important year for us as we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the El Primero. We have had a year-long celebration and a worldwide tour on which we share our vision of the brand with the rest of the world. We still have a long journey, but we want to continue to bring more creativity and innovation to Zenith. With this vision, we are also introducing the DEFY Inventor, which is inherited from the DEFY Lab prototypes we launched a year-and-a-half ago, and I am very happy to launch this piece this year.

This story appears in the October 2019 issue of Indonesia Tatler. For the full story, grab the copy at your nearest newsstand, or subscribe here.