Any serious watch buff knows that Zenith has roots that go back over 150 years in the watchmaking universe and that its legacy includes milestones such as creating the first high frequency mechanical chronograph in 1969 to movements that have been used to create engines for the Rolex Daytona in recent years. In fact, in early May, a turquoise-dialled platinum Daytona went under the hammer for $3.14 million at a Sotheby’s auction. Its movement was powered by the Rolex 4030 calibre that is based on Zenith’s El Primero movement.
Every Zenith has an in-house watch movement. That single fact by itself makes the brand part of a rare club of manufacturers today. “Every Zenith has its own engine,” says Julien Tornare, the CEO of the company, adding that they have been reducing their number of products or SKUs (stock keeping units) quite a bit because it was very confusing for the consumer.
“In fact, Zenith had more than 100 references, so the company categorised them into four families. The Defy, Chronomaster, Pilot, and the Elite, which are slimmer pieces,” he says.
While they come with pedigree, how will Zenith educate the average consumer on its heritage and DNA that hearkens back to the beginning of watchmaking? “Long history, authenticity, and creativity are all part of Zenith and yes, we have to work on the marketing to increase our visibility,” Tornare says. “Right now, we are pushing into America, China, and Japan.” Zenith has 20 boutiques worldwide and sees Asia as a serious market—opening a boutique in Japan’s Ginza district recently, despite the downturn in the watch market over the last year.
“[The year] 2020 was not a very good year for anyone and the overall drop was around 22%-23% which was not that bad considering the worldwide impact,” Tornare says, adding that they did a record year in 2019 and managed to hold strong. Zenith sells on average around 20,000 watches a year.
This year saw Zenith have a good start and the company has already had double-digit growth compared to 2019. That was partly due to the launch of the Chronomaster Sport, which is receiving strong critical acclaim. Other products like the El Primero Chrono, one of their retro throwbacks that they launched, have also been driving sales and brand buzz in collector circles.
“For us as the masters of the chronograph, it is key that we have to re-capture the chronograph segment,” Tornare says.
Rishad Cooper, a watch aficionado, says that what stands out about Zenith is the fact that its “in-house, in-house, and in-house, and the greatest compliment is that a brand like Rolex uses its chronographs for its watches,” he says. “If you even look at the older pre-1900 pocket watches, its quality is outstanding. They continue to run well decades after they have been made and that says it all.”
Yasho Saboo who is founder of Ethos Watches, the largest retailer of fine watches across India, says that what makes Zenith unique is that not only does it stand for in-house movements and top-quality design and aesthetics but that it has also historically displayed a resilience to the ups and downs of the economic cycles.
He hearkens back to how the company retained its original drawings and sketches and designs at one of the junctures in its life cycle when it was at an economic low point. The preservation of that intellectual property itself demonstrates the quality of thinking within the company, he adds. Ultimately the watch trade is all about standing the test of time.