Zenith Watches – long term success through tradition and constant innovation

CPP-LUXURY.COM has recently interviewed exclusively the  Jean-Frédéric Dufour, the CEO of Zenith SA the high-end luxury Swiss watch manufacture founded in 1865 by Georges Favre-Jacot in Le Locle in the canton of Neuchâtel, Switzerland. With a long standing reputation for quality and precision, Zenith is one of few remaining Swiss watch manufacturers that still produce their own movements in-house.

First released in 1969 and still produced today, The El Primero calibre is is still the only series-made chronograph capable of measuring short times to the nearest 1/10th of a second. In 2012, The El Primero Stratos Flyback Striking 10th edition was launched, limited to 1,969 pieces (in honour of the original 1969 release date), that housed the same 36,000 vph movement and a sub-dial measuring in tenths of a second to make a complete rotation every ten seconds.

Since taking over as CEO in 2009, Jean-Frédéric Dufour has made significant changes to the strategy of Zenith, re-launching the entire range of products, drawing on the immense heritage of the company, while maintaining its audacious and adventurous spirit.

I began by asking which temptations he has been resisting since taking over at Zenith and he replied firmly ‘We remain deeply rooted in our heritage. Our vision is long term and there is also a conservative aspect which is part of the DNA of the Zenith brand’. On the possibility of diversifying into other product categories, he ruled out any such association ‘We do have our own cufflinks, but we offer them as a gift to our customers’ he said with a smile.

Regarding the association of Zenith with lifestyle, Dufour explained ‘There is no such thing as a complete luxury lifestyle. Some of our clients who may purchase an expensive timepiece would not necessarily drive a certain car,  wear accessories from a certain brand or play a certain sport. For us in the relationship with our customers it is important that we succeed in creating a memorable experience that stays with the customer for the long term. I am more interested in the mindset of our customers’.

Speaking about ladies’ watches, Dufour confirmed the segment presents exceptional opportunities. Zenith recently launched the first Ladies Watch in its iconic Pilot Collection. ‘Zenith has a long standing expertize in ladies watches and our recently launched Ladies Pilot Watch has been extremely successful.’ Considering the attributes of the watch, I pursued by asking him whether the watch has the potential to rival the models of the other major players – ‘Yes, indee. It is only a matter of investment in marketing’.

As for production, Dufour was hesitant to provide me with an output figure. ‘We do not measure our performance in the number of watches we produce. We have no pressure to produce on a larger scale. Our sustained investments in our facilities, having recently renovated our main building but also our investment in technology and human resources have been critical to our success’.

When addressing the issue of retail expansion, I asked Dufour whether his strategic approach is towards mono-brand boutiques or wholesale. ‘It is a matter of timing and identifying the right location. It can take years to find the right location which also makes sense from a financial feasibility point of view. We would love to be present with boutiques on prestigious luxury shopping highstreets around the world, however, such boutiques need to be profitable. However, in the near future, we are preparing the opening of several mono-brand boutiques in Asia.

I went on and asked him which were the most important markets for Zenith nowadays ‘Our largest export market is Hong Kong. followed by Europe, China, Japan and North America. But we are well aware of the opportunities in several South American and Asia-Pacific markets, which are of priority in the mid term’.

But what makes Zenith unique and stand out from other brands? ‘Dufour said ‘ there is the century and a half of their history, in the same location. They have won over 2,330 different prizes during their history. There are 297 patents received under the name of Zenith, which makes them perhaps one of the highest receiving brands ever. There are over 500 different calibers developed over its history. And there is of course to loyalty and the love of the owners of the watches. You don’t have many brands like this in the world.’