In early September, Julien Tornare, CEO of Zenith Watches, took to the stage for an unusual press conference in Le Locle, Switzerland. There he laid out his vision for the LVMH-owned maison. Those lucky VIPs still able to travel looked on, wearing masks while seated in a socially distanced configuration. The rest of us watched from home. It was notably different from the extraordinary press conference held earlier this year in Dubai, where attendees traveled from around the world to celebrate the first LVMH Watch Week, setting a powerful new precedent for the unified luxury group.

Julien Tornare, CEO of Zenith Watches

Our world has changed dramatically since LVMH Watch Week, but for Zenith, their underlying message is still the same, to produce their own movements and complications in-house with groundbreaking innovation and outstanding reliability. No matter the circumstances, the main objective is to fulfill these ambitions. It’s what drove Georges Favre-Jacot, the founder of Zenith, to success in 1865. It’s what inspires Zenith today. It informs their ongoing global campaign, “Time to Reach Your Star.” The initiative positions Zenith alongside those who reach for their dreams, regardless of circumstance. In addition, a new “DreamHers” campaign, announced by Tornare in September, places a renewed focus on women. For in a year of shifting politics, impossible setbacks, and financial difficulty, it’s a mantra we can all stand behind. It’s a message of positivity—a message of vision. Speaking with Revolution after the presentation, Tornare exhibits both, sharing great insight on how Zenith — and the rest of us — can move forward.

Gymnast and TV personality, Airi Hatakeyama, Ambassadors from the new DREAMHERS global campaign represent accomplished women from around the world for the launch of Zenith's first exclusive ladies collection, the DEFY Midnight.
Dancer, Precious Adams, Ambassadors from the new DREAMHERS global campaign represent accomplished women from around the world for the launch of Zenith's first exclusive ladies collection, the DEFY Midnight.
Actor, Song Jia, Ambassadors from the new DREAMHERS global campaign represent accomplished women from around the world for the launch of Zenith's first exclusive ladies collection, the DEFY Midnight.
Artist, Teresa J. Cuevas, Ambassadors from the new DREAMHERS global campaign represent accomplished women from around the world for the launch of Zenith's first exclusive ladies collection, the DEFY Midnight.

“I think we’ve learned a lot going through this tough time. All of this has to push us to evolve as a company of the 21st century. Because in the watch industry, you tend to have two categories. You have watch brands that have a long history that are scared and nervous about going forward and not repeating the past,” Tornare says. “We have to preserve our purists, the collectors, saying we should not do this, we should not do that. Other brands can start with a blank piece of white paper and the ability to innovate. They don’t offend anyone from history. I’ve always believed, and I had a long discussion with Jean-Claude Biver [the architect of LVMH’s watchmaking division] about this. The past should not be opposed to the current time we live in or the future. Tradition should not go against innovation.”

Innovative but Timeless

Imagination lies at the core of Zenith’s strength. Always has. It can be found in the creation of the groundbreaking El Primero automatic chronograph movement in 1969. It continues with the remarkable story of how that movement survived the Quartz Crisis, its architecture stashed away carefully by Charles Vermot, a senior engineer at Zenith who hid the El Primero’s technical plans. Hoping that Zenith might return to mechanical watchmaking after management decided to cease production of the El Primero in 1975, Vermot defied his superiors with his company-saving insight for the future. Vermot dared to preserve the manufacturing process needed to build the famous chronograph movement. His decision changed history.

“When I celebrated the El Primero last year, I met many of the people who worked on the movement, people in their eighties, and these gentlemen, they told me, ‘Julien, you should not only repeat and give tribute to what we did in the ’60s. You have to innovate because contemporary today will become tradition tomorrow,’” Tornare says. “Innovation today might become icon pieces in the future. I think it’s our responsibility. I feel very comfortable playing between the past and the future. I think this is a way to show the younger generation the watchmaking industry is not static.”

Storytelling remains essential for watch companies, and today there are faster, smarter, better ways to get their messages out. In observation of social distancing measures, Zenith has found new ways to bring clients, friends of the brand, the media, and ambassadors together like never before. Digital activations — like “live” features on social media, Instagram’s “On Air” initiative, and e-commerce operations — continue to advance with speed. At the same time, Zenith focuses on its boutiques and retailers, introducing limited number editions and exclusive regional editions at a rapid clip.

“We’re a small production and Zenith is still very, very intimate. Whatever Zenith you buy, you’re part of a small club, and sometimes we need to create even smaller clubs,” Tornare explains. “The Manufacture Edition, which evolved from a dial that we found in the attic, makes people crazy right now, just because it’s not readily available. That’s part of the power of luxury, I think. We don’t do it on purpose. We limit the channel of distribution through our manufacturing site and e-commerce. It’s part of the magic, and it’s very important to work smartly around this concept.”

Zenith’s archival references are thoughtful, expressing a balance more in tune with today’s dress codes than recreating museum artifacts. But for Zenith, a lineage of imaginative design and mechanical mastery must be maintained, and in a market often obsessed with vintage, it’s rare to find such a bold approach to inventiveness. It’s easy to replicate the past, but creating real concepts for the future requires courage. It’s why Zenith’s “Defy” range is so aptly named. It’s why Zenith’s entire collection feels so progressive.

“We would like to be seen as innovative but timeless. A perception driven by our ‘Time To Reach Your Star’ philosophy that is reflected in the past, present, and future: be it e-commerce, boutique design, watches, PR, ambassadors, and most importantly, our employees. We will continue to pursue this strategy, focusing on our four main pillars — namely Chronomaster, Defy, Elite, and Pilot — and celebrating women with the Defy Midnight in the ladies’ segment,” says Tornare. “We have just revealed on social media and our website the new global ‘DreamHers’ campaign in this regard.”

These days, vision emerges from Zenith’s Defy laboratory, a testing ground for wild innovations and groundbreaking technical achievements. Look to Defy, a collection built with over a century of knowledge, but with a propensity for maximum visual modernity. The Chronomaster provides timeless interpretations of the legendary El Primero. It’s been a year of bold materials, intense colors, and mechanical wonders based on a legendary chronograph movement, with roots stretching back more than 50 years. Introductions from 2020 continue to propel Zenith forward, but remain invariably respectful of the past. 2021 promises further discovery and innovation. Zenith never lacks vision.

Defy Classic Carbon

This futuristic skeleton, the Defy Classic Carbon, is the first all-carbon watch in Zenith’s history. Incredibly lightweight, at only 65 grams (!), the watch is 40 percent lighter than the Zenith Defy Classic in titanium. The patterning of the carbon occurs during its manufacture, those unique textures picking up light with its dark crystalline iridescence. The classic tonneau-shaped case is redefined in black carbon, with a matching bracelet made of more than 50 components, requiring incredible technical skill to assemble. Limited in number by the complexity of production, the Defy Classic Carbon resembles watches costing 10 times the price.

Technical Specifications

Reference

10.9001.670/80.M9000

Movement

Self-winding skeletonized Elite caliber 670 SK; hours, minutes and seconds; date; 50-hour power reserve

Case

41mm; carbon; water-resistant to 100m

Strap

Carbon bracelet

Price

USD 19,500

Defy Midnight

Introduced in Dubai, the Defy Midnight expresses all the mystery, glamor, and natural beauty of the Middle Eastern city where it debuted. “Plenty of women are interested in mechanical movements, and we wanted to offer a contemporary watch that would suit today’s modern tastes,” Tornare explains. For now, ladies’ watches are the smallest percentage of the Zenith business, but the potential appears as endless as the starry sky depicted on the dial. With additional watches for women planned for this year, and 2021, this category’s growth potential is unprecedented.

Technical Specifications

Reference

16.9200.670/01.MI001

Movement

Self-winding Elite caliber 670 SK; hours, minutes and seconds; date; 50-hour power reserve

Case

36mm; stainless steel with diamond-set bezel; water-resistant to 100m

Strap

Stainless-steel bracelet with an interchangeable strap system

Price

USD 10,700

Defy Classic Black & White Edition

When the Defy Classic was introduced, it disrupted the status quo, looking ahead rather than resurrecting the past. The Black & White Edition pushes the bold aesthetic further, updating the case and dial with a slick monochromatic sharpness. The matte ceramic case with the white ceramic bezel complements the open dial’s graphic lines, pushing an already contemporary watch toward ultra-modernism.

Technical Specifications

Reference

49.9005.670/11.R943

Movement

Self-winding Elite caliber 670 SK; hours, minutes and seconds; date; 50-hour power reserve

Case

41mm; black matte ceramic with white ceramic bezel; water-resistant to 100m

Strap

Black rubber with white “Cordura effect” rubber

Price

USD 8,200

Defy 21 Black & White Edition

The 1/100th of a second chronograph reinterpreted in the Black & White Edition outlines the movement with an incredible appeal. Similar to the Defy Classic edition, the Defy 21 allows the contrasting ceramic bezel to create a striking framework for the exposed El Primero 21 movement inside. Subdials stand out sharply, the two colors playing off each other, highlighting the styling’s futuristic spirit.

Technical Specifications

Reference

49.9007.9004/11.R923

Movement

Self-winding El Primero caliber 9004; hours and minutes; subsidiary seconds; 1/100th of a second chronograph; 50-hour power reserve

Case

44mm; black matte ceramic with white ceramic bezel; water-resistant to 100m

Strap

Black rubber with white “Cordura effect” rubber

Price

USD 13,600

Defy 21 Ultraviolet

Unexpected color has become a hallmark of Zenith’s watches recently, and the Defy 21 Ultraviolet uses this striking shade to its best advantage. For Zenith, color is not merely an accent; it becomes an essential element reflecting the design’s audacious originality. “The colors violet and ultraviolet have the highest frequency for the eye,” explains Tornare. “This is the fastest frequency for a chronograph, with the highest frequency color, it’s a perfect match. We created a prototype, and when we saw it, everybody was like, ‘Yeah, this is a gorgeous watch.’ So we launched it as an edition of Defy 21. Sometimes it’s not rocket science. But we went looking for something special, and then we realized that the ultraviolet color was a perfect fit.”

Technical Specifications

Reference

97.9001.9004/80.R922

Movement

Self-winding El Primero caliber 9004 with ultraviolet finishing; hours and minutes; subsidiary seconds; 1/100th of a second chronograph; 50-hour power reserve

Case

44mm; micro-blasted titanium; water-resistant to 100m

Strap

Black rubber with ultraviolet “Cordura effect” rubber

Price

USD 13,100

Chronomaster Revival Shadow

This blackened steel prototype, designed in the ’70s, was to be revived and reimagined for the El Primero’s 50th anniversary. Once only a rumor, the rare prototype finally became a reality. At the time of its creation, an all-black dial and case would have been incredibly groundbreaking, prophesying a style that appears right at home 50 years later. Classic elements were transposed, but much of the Shadow is new. Micro-blasted titanium replaces black-coated steel, and the visible El Primero movement takes the place of the original manual-wind chronograph movement. Once again, a reinterpretation of Zenith’s esteemed history that’s not stuck in the past.

Technical Specifications

Reference

97.T384.4061/21.C822

Movement

Self-winding El Primero caliber 4061; hours and minutes; subsidiary seconds; chronograph; 50-hour power reserve

Case

37mm; micro-blasted titanium; water-resistant to 50m

Strap

Black “Cordura effect” rubber

Price

USD 8,200

Chronomaster Revival Liberty North America Edition

The definition of Liberty is “the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.” Following the Cover Girl and the Shadow’s recent success, Zenith heads in a spirited new direction with a limited-edition Chronomaster, designed exclusively for North America. Housed inside a 37mm stainless-steel case, the Chronomaster has proven to be endlessly adaptable, taking on a red, white, and blue, as its well-timed subject matter. The trio of colors holds great importance; red signifies courage, determination, and fairness; white for sincerity and integrity; blue denotes vigilance. Deeply meaningful on many levels, the Revival Liberty represents Zenith’s overall ideology, the freedom to reach for the stars, and to achieve them.

Technical Specifications

Reference

03.US384.400/57.C823

Movement

Self-winding El Primero caliber 400; hours and minutes; subsidiary seconds; chronograph; date; 50-hour power reserve

Cass

37mm; stainless steel; water-resistant to 50m

Strap

Blue “Cordura effect” rubber

Price

USD 8,700