Zenith’s Mechanical Stars

November 2004

Zenith is looking back into its history and is targeting women - all women - with its mechanical timepieces.

Since Zenith’s purchase by LVMH, Thierry Nataf, the brand’s CEO, has given a fresh look to the venerable watch company. Although recognized for its excellence in the domain of the mechanical movement, most notably the famous El Primero chronograph movement, Zenith had lost its sparkle over the years. Nataf began by restoring that sparkle with the transformation, redesign and reviving of the masculine collections.
Today, he is targeting a new market - the ladies’ watch. Clearly stating his goals, Nataf wants to increase production of women’s watches from a small 10% of Zenith’s sales to an ambitious 30%. With a campaign code-named ‘Operation Star,’ the company is working to attract a feminine clientele by offering watches that are equipped exclusively with mechanical movements, unlike most brands, which generally offer quartz in this category.



Understanding women
When asked about this strategy, Thierry Nataf is quite open in his explanations. “For more than 100 years, Zenith made women’s watches, then for 30 years, nothing. It is now time to reconnect with women. Yet, in doing so, I do not want to deviate from our identity, which is tied to the mechanical timepiece. Offering mechanical movements to women is even more important at this time, now that we have seen a new desire on their part for this type of timepiece. Since we are in the fold of LVMH, we are rather tied to fashion, which means that we have learned to feel trends, to understand those deep desires that are born and grow. The mechanical watch is a part of this experience and the trend in this direction is definitely there. You have only to look at how women live to understand want they want,” declares the CEO.
“I am sure that this is also only the beginning,” Nataf continues. “The trend for the mechanical movement began, perhaps, when women – it happened first in Italy – started wearing large men’s watches and then became used to mechanical pieces. They understood that the exterior qualities had to correspond with the interior qualities. They understood this with their intuitive nature. We men need to raise the hood of a car to see the motor. For a woman, it is much more intuitive. It is enough for her to feel the power to know that the motor is there…”

Three images
The objective of ‘Operation Star’ is to locate the “desire for mechanical watches” and then to “amplify” it. From a design standpoint, Zenith’s new feminine collection is available in three distinct families, each representing three different images of a multi-faceted woman: the romantic, the ‘femme-fleur’ with the Baby Doll; the woman in love with the Queen of Hearts; and the rebel with Glam Rock.
From a technical point of view, these new collections are equipped with three different calibres. The El Primero 4002 (a new generation automatic chronograph (36,000 vibrations/hour with double counter) and the Elite 67 (a 32-mm automatic movement specifically designed for feminine watches) are found in the Glam Rock and Baby Doll collections. The ‘Star Open’ model of the Queen of Hearts line requires a specially-constructed version (4021) of the El Primero calibre. In the 4021, the power reserve indicator was moved to the hour axis in order to clear space on the dial to better see the “heartbeats” that Thierry Nataf calls “the source of time.”
Fashion and timeless elegance
”So that I make myself clearly understood,” insists Thierry Nataf, “I want to say that I have absolutely not, with our new lines, taken the stance of ‘teaching women what the mechanical watch is.’ Not at all. By putting exceptional movements into these watches, I want to unite two apparently contradictory elements: the spirit of fashion and the notion of timeless elegance. In fact, what we are doing is closer to Haute Couture. The technical mastery is, of course, there, but we go beyond it towards sentiment, towards pure emotion and desire, a desire enhanced by the knowledge of the unconditional quality in the execution of the details, in the interior beauty, a beauty that has no reason to envy the exterior beauty. When these two elements come together, veritable passion is born.”

The ‘femme-fleur’
Uncompromising down to the slightest detail, Nataf describes the ensemble of elements that form the basis of the new collections. The first ‘image’ is the ‘femme-fleur’ of the Baby Doll collection. “This watch is strong and gentle at the same time,” he explains, “and I wanted it to have a bracelet that expresses this ambivalence, in other words, a wrist band that is strong upon which the watch can be fixed with its normal bracelet. The grey, rose, blue or green leathers of these bracelets are treated in a very particular manner, using an ancient technique where they are immersed in a brief bath, then rubbed with diamond powder (pumiced), thus giving a superb satin finish. The dials are guilloched as in olden times in a silky-sun pattern, and the dancing leaf-shaped hands and numbers are inspired by designs from the period of 1910 to 1915. The numbers are arranged in an oval, like an almond, evoking an eye, and are emphasized by diamonds set in the form of eyelashes. The movement is visible through the sapphire crystal caseback and the oscillating weight is engraved with the Zenith stars. A star also decorates the crown.”

A woman in love
Passing to the model, Open Love, Thierry Nataf explains that all variations are based on the theme of love. “The opening onto the dial is in the form of a heart which lets the wearer see the harmonic beating of the movement at 36,000 vibrations per hour. The small seconds hand is also a red heart.” Continuing this theme, the 55-hour power reserve transforms into a “reserve of love with its Cupid’s arrow, while the dials come in the colours of “soft peach, passion red, black, orange, fuchsia or blue,” and the bracelets are in “haute couture satin with a calfskin lining.”

The rebel
The third ‘image’ in Zenith’s feminine collections is ‘Glam Rock.’ It represents “rebellion, the black and white, the association of perfection and diamonds.” Glamour and rock 'n roll, the model comes with a choice of bracelets: rubber with relief symbols or signs set with precious stones; a ‘robust’ bracelet made of leather or galuchat; steel; rose or yellow gold.

Meeting the markets
“With this collection, we are really going to meet the market head on,” affirms Nataf, “or rather we should say the ‘markets’ since we are launching on a global scale that will take place gradually through to the end of the year. The premiere market is the United States, quite a successful market, followed by Asia with Hong Kong and China. Japan is also excellent for us. We are currently present in Switzerland at the best retailers, and we are also doing well in France, England – a very good market – and in Spain.”
“After a period of dormancy, Italy is taking off, and we are making great progress in Russia, for example,” he adds. “The great strength of women is that they understand very quickly. It is ‘all or nothing.’ Their purchases are not necessarily rational. They are about the beauty, the poetry of the piece. I am convinced that with our ‘Stars’ we are aiming in the right direction. Like Cupid’s arrow, we have touched the heart!”

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