Julien Tornare: “Baselworld should communicate more and become a brand, like how Art Basel is a worldwide brand.”

Julian Tornare, CEO of Zenith

On growing the world’s largest watch fair into a brand of its own

It’s not an exaggeration to say Zenith was almost forgotten by much of the world, as it stagnated under its leadership, until last year, that is. That was when a much-needed breath of fresh air came in the form of Julien Tornare, inducted last May as the new CEO of Zenith, appointed by none other than Jean-Claude Biver, CEO of Tag Heuer and head of LVMH watch division, himself. Since then, Zenith has made a revival, heralding a new future for mechanical watchmaking though the Defy collection. Thus, it came as no surprise that Tornare was future-focused in our interview: He implores us not to turn the watch world into a ‘museum industry’, and instead focus on the up-and-coming smart watches, and improving experience for visitors to Baselworld.

What is Zenith’s take on the neo-vintage trend? What do you personally think about it?

I think it’s a style. It’s a trend which is linked to the fact that everything is going so fast, everything is changing so fast that people need to feel attached to something from the past. But vintage is actually contemporary because it’s cool now; it’s not something for old people. It’s trendy now, but I don’t know about five or 10 years’ time. Maybe it will go away and then come back, as things always do. Right now it’s a trend but I don’t think it’s the new normal.

How is Zenith responding to this trend?

Things have been done and redone. I would not present it that way. We don’t repeat the past. We get inspiration from the past but we do it in contemporary way, for 21st century. It’s like this with the Defy. We got inspiration from the past but we don’t do a replica. We create something more. Swiss watchmaking is sometimes a little repetitive. Repeating complications invented hundred years ago or more, same designs, same things… Zenith is about chronometry; it’s our field. And the Defy Lab for example is about precision and this is also our field of expertise. We want to stay in our field of expertise but create and keep moving forward.

The Defy Lab was a huge step towards innovation. Why does the industry need such products now more than ever before?

We’re turning this industry a little bit into a museum industry if we continue to be in the past. In today’s world, we’re going so fast. We have smart watches coming. If we are not innovative, people will be bored, the new generation, they won’t care anymore. Over the last 15 years many brands did tremendous business with the Chinese clientele. But the Chinese of the first generation is very different from its second generation. They speak English, travel the world, studied abroad… They’re savvy. They don’t want to pay just anything and at any price. And they want to buy something of their time, not the piece of their parents or grandparents.

What is the one change you most want to see happen within the watch industry?

I would say that brands should be more open to the client. Look at Baselworld. Most of the booths have a very narrow entrance and a big reception. If you’re not press, retailer or staff, they don’t let you in. Many brands don’t even show the new models outside. Think about the visitor experience. It’s very poor. They’re better off visiting a boutique in downtown of any city because at least they get to interact with the sales people. Here they pay 60 francs for nothing. Next year I want to change the structure of our booth. I want to break the big walls we have. I want to make it fully open and get people in. The whole first floor will be open to clients. I hope Baselworld will do that in general, that would be great.

I also think Baselworld should communicate more, become a brand. Like Art Basel, it’s a worldwide brand now. It should be like Festival de Cannes or fashion week and invite all the watch crazy guys here to have an experience that we would all offer in the booths. They could create something so much bigger and we would all benefit from that at the end.