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Julien Tornare

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iW spoke with Zenith CEO Julien Tornare during LVMH Watch Week 2021 in January. He detailed how Zenith developed the hot new Chronomaster Sport and why the watch is an especially important launch as Zenith continues expanding its appeal globally in 2021 and beyond.

The new Zenith Chronomaster Sport.

IW: How important is the Chronomaster collection to the Zenith identity?

Julien Tornare: It is clear that Chronomaster is a key product collection for us. You may remember that in 2017 we launched the new Defy, and not everybody was pleased that we were emphasizing that Defy collection. At the time I had issues with the Chronomaster collection because it was going in too many directions at once. This made some people confused. It had a variety of size, shape, colors, and it was too much of a patchwork.

But Defy was selling well; we have been fortunate. Defy was giving the brand fresh air, exactly what we – with Mr. Biver – wanted at that time. And it gave me time to sit back with my friend Romain Marietta (products development, heritage director at Zenith) and think about the key design elements for Zenith, specifically for Chronomaster. We started to show some new designs in 2019 with the 50th anniversary celebration of the El Primero.

Of course we were scheduled to launch the new Chronomaster Sport this past June. Plus, we were to launch a new classic version later during 2020. So now we are on a slightly delayed schedule.

Are you pleased with the reaction to the new Chronomaster Sport?

We knew that we would bring back an iconic watch with the Chronomaster, which many people were waiting for.  We expected a good reaction, but put the reaction since it was launched has been incredible. We did not expect the enthusiasm to such a great extent.  I am very happy and proud and I congratulate our entire team.

The morning after we launched the new Chronomaster Sport I had messages from all over the world. I had so many retailers I have known call and say they needed this new Chronomaster.

Does the Chronomaster Sport complete the collection?

Now it is very clear what Chronomaster is.  We have the Revival, we have the Chronomaster Sport, and coming up next we’ll have the Classic side. This repositions Chronomaster very clearly for us. Chronomaster for me is the past and present.  And Defy is the present and the future. So they are connected and complementary.

How did you approach development of the Chronomaster Sport?

We looked at three pieces in 2018 to help us design the new Chrono master sport.

The Zenith A277 was made in 1965, four years before El Primero. But you can already see this sporty influence on the new watch, especially with the sporty bezel and a bracelet. Then, a few years after that, we launched the Luka. This was also a big deal for us. Here you see it again the black bezel, the sporty chronograph look, and the same basic bracelet.

And finally, we looked at the Rainbow, which was also very important for us in the 1980s in the 1990s. That case, and again with the sporty bezel, were influential.

Three historic Zenith watches informed the new design.

All three of these watches help us create the new Chronomaster Sport.

Of course we added the Zenith three-color chronograph counters.  We worked on those colors to have them elegant and more beautiful­ – not too flashy.  The blue and the grays are quite light and very slightly shiny.  The watch is 41mm in diameter and 13.6mm thick, so still elegant and not too thick. Easy to wear.

The new El Primero 3600 caliber offers a 1/10th of second display from the 5 Hz (36’000 VpH) escapement, as well as an extended power reserve of 60 hours.

And you used a new movement inside?

Of course, we worked on the movement, which is the El Primero 3600.  The upgrades from the earlier El Primero include the column wheel in blue, which makes it clearly visible.  We added ten hours to the power reserve to reach a total of sixty hours of power reserve.

And for me a real chronograph should be one-tenth of a second, like the El Primero. When you get 36,000 vph, which is 5 Hz, you can measure one-tenth of a second exactly.  With 3 Hz and 4 Hz you measure the one-sixth or the one-eighth of a second, which is not really how we measure any event. And here we really wanted to show off our ability to measure one-tenth of a second.

Zenith can now showcase three different watches with chronograph hands rotating around their dials at three different rotation speeds.

What were the biggest challenges to making the new Chronomaster Sport?

We wanted to keep the identity of our caliber very clear.  I also told Romain that I want it to be most comfortable watch available in the industry.

I still believe that is very important to put any watch on your wrist to see how it feels. I am too often disappointed by the way certain watches feel on your wrist. This new watch is smooth as silk.  It is super easy to wear.

I wanted a very simple way to measure the one-tenth of a second. And with one of the very first samples, like took it home and gave it to my ten-year-old son.  And he looked at it and he could explain how it worked. I wanted this watch to be that easy to read.  On many watches it is easy to get lost, especially if you’re not familiar with watches.

Of course, here we have a counter for the seconds, a counter for the minutes, and the one at 9 o’clock for the small seconds.

Can you tell us more about other 2021 Zenith debuts?

The Zenith Chronomaster Revival A385.

Our new brown-dialed A 385 Revival watch is also quite interesting. We have done some research, and it seems that this original watch in 1969 is the first gradient type dial. When we launched the A384 Revival in August 2019 it became immediately a bestseller, in part because of its original 37mm size. 

You might remember that ten or twelve years earlier we had lunched this in a larger size (42mm) which I thought lost the proportions of that original. At 37mm you get perfect proportions.

The new Zenith Pilot Type 20 Silver Chronograph.

Will we see additional sports watches from Zenith?

Yes of course. Overall, we have a Revival, the soon-to-be released Classic, and then the Sport. This is a very clear organization within the Chronomaster collection. There’ll be additional sport variations.

How did you choose the newest Zenith ambassador Aaron Rodgers?

In 2019 I went to the United States several times to meet various possible ambassadors. I was in search of someone who could represent the philosophy of ‘time to reach your stars’ for the Zenith. And I didn’t want a celebrity who would just show up on the red carpet with the watch.  I wanted someone who could talk about his or her story and who could explain what kind of a star he or she has been following over the years to reach an objective. We have done this in China and Japan, and in Europe.

It’s more about the personality. I met actors and singers and other sports celebrities, but when I met Aaron Rodgers I thought he was just a great guy. He’s a good spirit. Nothing to prove anymore.

NFL great Aaron Rodgers is the new Zenith brand ambassador for the U.S.

Can you preview any additional watches for 2021 from Zenith?

We will have the third category of the Chronomaster collection.  This will be about elegance, thinness and an A386 spirit, because Chronomaster would not be complete without that particular offering as well. Also look for a new Defy. That will be an amazing watch also. For the United States that will be a big one. 

And of course we do not forget high complications within the Defy collection. This year we will present some of our iconic high complications – and in a crazy material. This will be in a very small edition and it will include an experience that I can almost guarantee none of the future owners have done in their lives.  It will allow him to really feel what a high complication is in real life.

The new Zenith Defy Urban Jungle.

Will we see new watches for women?

I don’t like to talk about women’s watches particularly at Zenith because we focus on making beautiful, authentic watches with our own movements with our own philosophy, and then make them beautiful. 

We don’t really separate them as men’s watches or women’s watches.  I think we make beautiful watches that can be worn by men and by women. Diamonds are used sometimes yes, and in some parts of the world diamonds are very popular among men, and in some others less. If you look at the Chronomaster Sport, it is a typical 41mm watch that can be worn buy a man or woman.

At Zenith we like to live in a balanced way between the past, present and the future.  Between tradition and innovation. And it is clear that we are gaining market share in terms of vintage.  You just need to follow the recent auctions.  We have launched the Zenith Icons program to great success. Chronomaster Sport is bringing a contemporary dynamic into the collection. This will live perfectly alongside the vintage, or Revival, collection, as well as the more classic directions that you will soon discover.